By Molly McCracken
There have been many African-American students at Beloit College over the years; these people shaped and paved the way for what the experience would be like for generations of African-American students at Beloit. There is a fair amount of information about these people in the Beloit College archives.
Rubie White Bond ‘29 was the second black woman to go to Beloit. In an interview from 1996, she mentioned that to some she was a bit of a novelty, and to others she was “something the cat drug in.” While at Beloit, Bond waited tables, did housework and served dinners in order to pay tuition. During the summers she would go up to Delavan to work for a family up there. She would make $10 a week and $9 would go towards tuition. Tuition at that time was $350 a year from September through June. One of the memories she has from college was when either the NAACP in Beloit or the College, she can’t remember which, brought in W.E.B. Dubois to speak. He had to stay at someone’s house because African Americans were not allowed to stay at the hotels at the time, despite a Wisconsin law that dated back to 1825 that said you couldn’t deny public services because of “race, creed, or color.” Within the last ten years, Bond was given an honorary degree from the college.
Laurence Outley went to the Beloit Academy (an on-campus high school in the early years of the college) from 1890-1893. After graduating he became a janitor at the City Library, and would tend the fires of student Robert C. Strong in the 1930s. According to Strong, Outley could “converse intelligently,” on any subject, but despite his college education, was unable to get a better job. When Outley died in 1943, he left his entire estate of $10,000 to the college, in order to create a fund to help needy students. Outley’s sister Grace was the first African-American woman at Beloit College. She graduated from the college in 1904.
Velma Bell Hamilton ‘30, was the first black female Phi Beta Kappa. She lived in the Beloit area and therefore did not live on campus when she attended Beloit College, making it difficult for her to get involved in campus activities. She graduated with a sociology degree and after graduating went to teach at Bennett College, a small woman’s college in North Carolina, where felt that she was able to be a role model. After teaching for a little while, Hamilton got her masters and went back to teach at Bennett. In an interview, Hamilton mentions a memory from when she was in 5th grade. There was a group of women called “The Trebel Clef” who would go around to schools and play classical music. They had a contest where students had to take a test. Hamilton’s was perfect, but they claimed that she had left the “s” off of Brahms, so she didn’t win. This was difficult for her, because she knew that she hadn’t forgotten the “s.”
Felton Clark ‘24 became a well-known educator. He served as the president of Southern University and at 36 became the youngest president at one of the only African-American colleges. Clark was given an honorary doctorate at Beloit in 1943 and was a Phi Beta Kappa at Beloit. He would also become a figure in early efforts to integrate lunch counters in Louisiana.
There are many more prominent African-American graduates of Beloit College. For more information, see Fred Burwell in the archives.