Honoring the Voices of our Ancestors

For Black History Month, we acknowledge the milestones and exceptional people who have helped to make the California State University what it is today: a place of academic rigor, exceptional achievement and pioneering inclusiveness.


Willie Brown, who became the first African American to lead the California State Assembly in 1980, earned his bachelor's degree in liberal studies from San Francisco State in 1955. He continued to serve as Speaker of the Assembly until 1995 and was later elected the first African American mayor of San Francisco.


Campus supporters (and bulldozers) stand ready at the groundbreaking celebration for CSU Dominguez Hills on Dec. 5, 1967. Rising from the ashes of the Watts Rebellion, the campus was deliberately situated in Carson to bring the transformative power of higher education to communities that had long been denied power.


Less than six months before his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. addresses a crowd of nearly 6,000 guests at Sacramento State's Campus Stadium (later Hornet Stadium) on Oct. 16, 1967. The civil rights leader had also graced San Diego State College (now SDSU) three years prior.


Protests for civil rights, women's rights and student rights and against the Vietnam War were pervasive on college campuses in the 1960s. Here, San José College alumnus and activist Harry Edwards speaks to a crowd in 1967. He later earned his Ph.D. from Cornell University and became a renowned scholar, educator and advocate.


When Olympians and San José State students Tommie Smith (gold) and John Carlos (bronze) took the podium in October 1968, each raised a black-gloved fist in silent protest. Australian silver medalist Peter Norman wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge. The trio reunited in 2005 at the unveiling of the Olympic Black Power Statue at San José State.


Following a six-month strike on campus led by the Black Student Union and the Third World Liberation Front, San Francisco State College (now San Francisco State University) established the nation’s first College of Ethnic Studies with the support of faculty, student-activists and the community. Today, the college consists of Asian American Studies, Africana Studies, Latina/Latino Studies, American Indian Studies and Race and Resistance Studies.


As the second African American professor at Cal State Long Beach in 1962, San Francisco State alumnus Dr. Joseph White noticed a very small number of African American and Latino students on campus. His efforts led to the 1969 creation of the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), which provides admission, academic and financial support to historically underserved students throughout California.


Dr. Claudia H. Hampton was the CSU's first African American trustee, serving from 1974 to 1994 and three times as chair. A retired school administrator, Dr. Hampton later served on numerous boards and commissions and earned countless honors for her community service. A scholarship in her name recognizes disadvantaged students pursuing a career in teaching.


A fixture at Cal State Los Angeles for 34 years, from 1979 to 2013, President Emeritus James M. Rosser served on numerous national, state and local boards, with a special focus on advancing opportunities for African Americans in science and health care. Here he greets 1982 commencement speaker Alex Haley, author of “Roots.”


A mathematician, Dr. Milton A. Gordon served as the fourth president of Cal State Fullerton, from 1990 to 2012, leading the largest construction period in the university's history with more than $636 million in new and renovated facilities. He also built campus degree programs and propelled CSUF to become No. 1 in the state for graduating Latinos.


Dr. Blenda J. Wilson was the first woman and first African American to serve as president of CSUN, as well as the first African American woman to lead a U.S. campus with 25,000 or more students. Dr. Wilson was praised for maintaining campus operations and leading its $400 million reconstruction after the 1994 Northridge earthquake damaged 107 buildings. A campus courtyard is dedicated to her.


Higher education leader Dr. Marvalene Hughes served as the first Black and first female president of Stanislaus State, from 1994 to 2005. Coming out of retirement, Dr. Hughes is credited with saving lives through her quick actions as president of historically Black Dillard University when it was struck by Hurricane Katrina just a month into her service.


After earning her bachelor's degree at San Francisco State, Dr. Yvonne Cagle joined NASA as part of the 1996 astronaut class. She went on to become an award-winning U.S. Air Force colonel, professor and certified flight surgeon out of NASA's Johnson Space Center, with special expertise in space crew behavioral health and performance.


Pursuing a degree in recreation administration, Violet Palmer led the Cal Poly Pomona women's basketball team to two consecutive NCAA Division II championships before becoming the first woman and first openly gay referee to officiate for the National Basketball Association. Honored with the 2013 WNBA Boost Mobile Pioneer Award, she officiated 919 NBA games.


With a doctorate in education from San Francisco State, Dr. Vincent Matthews served as superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District, the eighth largest school district in California and the third largest employer in San Francisco, from 2017 to 2022. He worked steadily to raise academic achievement and close equity gaps.


CSUDH President Thomas Parham accepted the City of Los Angeles Black Heritage Month Hall of Fame Education Award in 2020. A longtime psychologist and higher education leader, Dr. Parham remarked, “At Cal State Dominguez Hills, we have committed ourselves to unlocking the shackles of conceptual incarceration that keep people blinded to the possibilities of potential.”


The CSU's 23 campuses offer student resource centers, academic programs, specialized support and affinity groups focused on closing equity gaps and supporting the success and well-being of Black and African American students. More than 4,300 African American students earned CSU bachelor's degrees and more than 800 earned CSU graduate degrees in 2020-2021 alone.


Cal State Long Beach alumna Caitlin Dickerson served as a reporter for NPR and as the national immigration correspondent for the New York Times before becoming a staff writer for The Atlantic. She earned a 2023 Pulitzer Prize in the explanatory reporting category for her “deeply reported and compelling accounting of the Trump administration policy that forcefully separated migrant children from their parents, resulting in abuses that have persisted under the current administration.”


In June 2023, the CSU released “Advancing Black Student Success and Elevating Black Excellence in the CSU: A Call to Action,” a plan featuring 13 recommendations designed to both elevate Black excellence and address the continuing decline in Black student enrollment, retention and graduation rates. The report is the product of a workgroup created after the CSU's inaugural Juneteenth Symposium in 2022.


Through programs such as Super Sunday, the CSU proudly partners with churches, K-12 schools, community colleges and non-profit organizations to increase preparation, enrollment and graduation rates for students from underserved communities. The CSU is now home to more than 18,000 Black and African American students.


With a degree in General Engineering from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Victor Glover went on to become a naval aviator, test pilot and NASA astronaut. In 2023, he was named the pilot of the Artemis II crew, which will travel around the moon as part of NASA’s efforts to establish a long-term presence on the moon.


Six CSUs are currently led by presidents of Black and African descent who are striving for the success of all students. These include CSU Bakersfield Interim President Vernon B. Harper Jr., CSU Dominguez Hills President Thomas A. Parham, Cal Poly Humboldt President Tom Jackson Jr., Cal State LA President Berenecea Johson Eanes, Cal Poly Pomona President Soraya M. Coley and Sacramento State President Luke Wood.

Learn more about the accomplishments of African American students, faculty, alumni and staff of the CSU.