African-Americans have a rich and unique history at Vanderbilt University; however, there are very few, if any, documented accounts of the black experience at Vanderbilt (beyond the Reverend James Lawson affair or the trailblazing efforts of Perry Wallace). In two substantive history books on the university, Gone with the Ivy (1985) and Chancellors, Commodores, & Coeds (2003), the black experience is either relegated to a few pages, or completely washed into the general history of the university. Such coverage ignores the rich contributions that blacks have made to campus life, individually, as well as through various organizations and clubs. In addition, it also ignores the fact that as a black person (student, staff, athlete, etc.) at a predominantly white institution, there are distinct forces that result in your experience being uniquely different from the mainstream Vanderbilt attendee.
Unfortunately, because much of the black history at Vanderbilt has not been officially documented, it lives in the memories of black alumni and former faculty and staff. In the absence of an official record, many students attend Vanderbilt without an appreciation of the struggle and efforts of those who came before them to pave the way. I was once one of those students. I attended Vanderbilt as an undergraduate student from 1994-97, and then as a graduate student from 1997-2003. Despite my longevity at the university, I was very much ignorant to the history of African-Americans at Vanderbilt until 2007.
In 2007, along with the assistance of Stephanie K. Crews, I started studying the manner in which race influences the Vanderbilt experience; in particular for black students. As we started interviewing current students and more importantly alumni, we discovered a plethora of information concerning black history at Vanderbilt. As a result, the focus of the project was redefined to include not only the detailing of the black experience but also documenting black history at Vanderbilt. I hope you enjoy and appreciate our efforts to reclaim what was Lost in the Ivy.