UO Black Cultural Center

The Lyllye Reynolds-Parker Black Cultural Center opened in 2019.

This 3,200-square-foot cultural center opened on Oct. 12, 2019. It is here today because Black student groups over the decades advocated for a welcoming place to study, gather and build community.


In 1968, in the days following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the UO Black Student Union presented to UO leadership a list of demands, including space and facilities for study and tutoring.


In 2015, during another period of racial protests in the country and on university campuses, a group of UO Black students organized as the Black Student Task Force. They presented a list of 13 demands to leaders, which echoed some of the earlier students’ demands. Among them was the addition of an on-campus Black Cultural Center.


Longtime UO donors Nancy and Dave Petrone provided the lead gift for the center, which prompted donations, both large and small, from around the world.


Today, this academic, cultural and social touchstone for Black students, offers academic resources and supports, such as counseling, speakers and other events.

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Lyllye Reynolds-Parker, Eugene native, civil rights activist and UO alumna

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The Black Cultural Center was named in honor of Lyllye Reynolds-Parker, a leading advocate for institutional equity, student wellness and student success.


Reynolds-Parker is a Eugene native, civil rights activist and UO alumna. She enrolled at the UO as a 40-year-old single mother and earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1991. She worked as a student academic advisor at the UO for 17 years until she retired in 2012.


She is the daughter of Sam and Mattie Reynolds, one of Eugene’s early Black families, and grew up in west Eugene, not far from the street that now bears her father’s name. She was a member of the first graduating class of Sheldon High School and became active in the civil rights movement while in high school. She was vice president of the local Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced “SNICK”) and later worked with Congress of Racial Equity (CORE).        

 

The Lyllye Reynolds-Parker Black Cultural Center is the first building on the UO campus to be named after a Black woman.


“I hope that the center not only is a place for students of color but a place where the university can come together and create community. I’m hoping that we see a diversity in that building that’s never been seen before. That people are able to learn and grow.”

--Lyllye Reynolds-Parker

Mabel Byrd, the first Black student enrolled at UO

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Mabel Byrd (1895-1988), a graduate of Washington High School in Portland, was the first Black student to enroll at UO in 1917. Barred from on-campus dorms because of her race, she lived in the home of UO history professor Joseph Schafer and worked as a domestic for his family while attending school. After two years as an economics major at the UO, Byrd transferred to the University of Washington where she earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts. She became a civil rights activist and worked with a range of national and international organizations to promote greater equality.

Maxine Maxwell, early advocate for integration of campus dorms

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“My family has always had to fight, and we have maintained a creditable position in Salem, where I have lived all of my life. I do not feel that I am a “foreigner” and that I should be segregated from other students, although I do not want to make trouble for anyone.”

—Maxine Maxwell, Eugene Register, Oct. 2, 1929


Raised in Salem, Ore., Maxine Maxwell, a talented singer and dancer, aspired to study music and physical education in college. In 1928 she enrolled in Oregon Agricultural College, now known as Oregon State University, where she lived with other Black students in a segregated dorm on the Corvallis campus. After a year, she transferred to UO, which at the time was the only Oregon university offering a physical education major. While Maxwell was moving into her room, UO officials confronted her, saying they didn’t realize she was Black. Her only alternative was to live with another female Black student, Nellie Louise Franklin, in an apartment 10 blocks away.


Maxwell and her parents protested the university’s discriminatory housing policies, which generated statewide media attention and tension on campus. However, the university held fast to its policies and Maxwell withdrew from the university in 1929 to pursue her education in a different state. Discriminatory student housing policies at the UO persisted into the 1950s, and Maxwell is remembered as an early student activist who spoke up against discrimination and injustice. 

Nellie Louise Franklin, the first Black woman to graduate from UO

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Nellie Louise Franklin, a music major, enrolled at the UO in 1928 and became the university’s first Black female graduate in 1932. While several Black male student athletes were allowed to live on campus after their football teammates circulated a petition, Franklin and other Black students were barred from living in campus dorms.


Franklin was active in the Women’s Athletic Association, the only Black member of the 200-voice Polyphonic Choir and she joined the Cosmopolitan Club, which provided an interracial support network. Franklin wanted to join a sorority, but she was not allowed to because of her race. A year after her graduation, she collaborated with seven other women to establish the first African American Greek Letter organization in the Pacific Northwest: the Alpha Omicron Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority in Seattle, Wash. Her efforts paved the way for more Black women to earn degrees from the UO and for Black women throughout the Northwest to have the opportunity to participate in sororities. 

William Sherman Savage, the first Black student to earn a graduate degree from UO

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William Sherman Savage (1890-1981) was the first Black student to graduate with a master’s degree from UO in 1926. He came to Oregon after earning his bachelor’s degree from Howard University, a historically Black university in Washington, D.C. He later completed a PhD at Ohio State University and became a history professor. Today Savage’s book Blacks in the West, continues to be a key text detailing Black contributions to westward expansion.

Directions to next location

Go west on E. 15th Ave. toward Hayward Field. The next stop, DeNorval Unthank Jr. Hall, is on your right before you reach Agate Street.