First African-American Student

What You Don't Know About IU's first African-American student

By CAREY BEAM, Director, Wylie House Museum BA '01, MLS '12

Harvey Young, the first African­-American to attend Indiana University, was twenty years old when he arrived in Bloomington in August of 1882 and enrolled as a freshman. Bloomington had a population of approximately 3,000, the campus still stood on its original site at Seminary Square, the student body numbered 166, and the university had been co-educational for only fifteen years-since 1867. Young's attendance was a significant first in Indiana University's history, but his story has been largely untold: records of his time as a Hoosier are unfortunately few in number. Thus, the details of his unique experience as the sole African-American member of the student body may forever be unknown, but Harvey Young can be definitively acknowledged as a pioneer of IU history.

Census records reveal that Harvey Young was attending school by age eight, in 1870. He was the son of a laborer and a seamstress and the oldest of four children, all of whom also attended school from an early age. Harvey Young was considered well educated and was one of only two African-American graduates of the Indianapolis High School, both of whom were elected class orators for commencement. Student registration records confirm that Young attended IU as a freshman in 1882 and again as a sophomore in the fall of 1883. Young undoubtedly, like all students of the time, took the courses relegated to freshman and sophomore years: Latin, Greek, French, German, Mathematics, Chemistry, Rhetoric, English Literature, and Botany.

As was common among students of the time, Harvey Young boarded with a local family. In his case, it was a prominent one, the Wylies. Professor Theophilus A Wylie was the vice president of the university and owned the home near campus originally built by his cousin, Andrew, Indiana University's first president. Theophilus Wylie, in a journal entry dated August 20, 1882, wrote,: "Harvey Young, graduate of lndianapolis High School came last Thursday intending to enter the Freshman class. He is well recommended has a good appearance - Intelligent & neat - will be a pioneer colored student in the College - Hope he will do well."

Young did not graduate from Indiana University, but rather returned to Indianapolis after three semesters to become a public school teacher in the Indianapolis Public School system. Articles published in The Indianapolis News reveal that Young taught at IPS schools from 1885 to at least 1895. He married for the first time in 1886 and, after the death of his first wife, married again in 1901. Census records show that Young and his second wife moved to California where they lived out the remainder of their lives.

There are no indications that Young completed a degree or visited Bloomington again, and it would be thirteen years after he first set foot on campus that another pioneer, Marcellus Neal, would become the first African­-American graduate oflndiana University, in 1895. Three years later, Carrie Parker attended as the first African-American female student, leading the way for Frances Marshall, the first African-American female to graduate from Indiana University. Like Harvey Young and Carrie Parker, it is likely that other young African-Americans enrolled for a short period but did not graduate. More may become known of them too, as more of lndiana University's untold stories are uncovered.