10 Apr 2018

New Baker Library Exhibit at Harvard Business School Celebrates 50th Anniversary of African-American Student Union

Pioneering efforts of alumni and faculty are highlighted
Naylor Fitzhugh

BOSTON—Established in the spring of 1968, the African-American Student Union (AASU), a student club at Harvard Business School (HBS), is marking its 50th anniversary. As part of a year-long celebration, with the help of Senior Lecturer Tony Mayo and his colleagues in the Leadership Initiative, the School’s Baker Library Special Collections has mounted an extensive exhibit in the Library’s north foyer documenting the founding and growth of AASU over two decades, from the troubled times of the late 1960s--in the midst of the civil rights movement, protests against the Vietnam War, urban unrest, and the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Senator Robert F. Kennedy--until 1990.

Titled “Agents of Change: The Founding and Impact of the African-American Student Union, Harvard Business School,” the exhibit, which will run until next fall, focuses on “the powerful mission of AASU members as agents of change…through their interactions with HBS faculty and staff and their activism on campus. The exhibition also showcases and celebrates the accomplishments of black alumni from 1915 through 1990,” Mayo writes in his introduction to the exhibit’s catalog. The exhibition also spotlights the accomplishments of a number of pioneering black faculty members.

Tony Mayo

“The founding of AASU, originally the Afro-American Student Union, and its growing impact on Harvard Business School’s academic and social environment is an essential part of the School’s history,” says Laura Linard, Senior Director of the Baker Library Special Collections. “This exhibit explains that effort via photographs and text that put AASU’s challenges and accomplishments into context. We are eager for members of both the HBS and outside communities to visit the exhibit, enjoy it, and learn from it.”

Founded by four black members of the MBA Class of 1969, Clifford E. Darden (DBA 1982), Lillian Lincoln Lambert (the first black woman to graduate from the two-year MBA program at HBS), E. Theodore Lewis, Jr., and A. Leroy Willis, and one student from the Class of 1970, the late George R. Price, “Throughout the last 50 years, AASU has been a catalyst for positive change,” Mayo explains. “AASU members have continuously sought to increase black enrollment in the MBA Program, they have pursued more financial support for black students, and they have advocated for an increase in the number of cases and courses that speak to the black leadership experience. Equally important,” he continues, “AASU has worked diligently to build and cultivate a supportive and encouraging environment for black students during their two years at HBS.”

Highlights of the exhibit include showcases on:

Early black student pioneers, such as Wendell Thomas Cunningham (MBA 1915), the first known African American HBS graduate, who went on to join his family’s prominent real estate firm in Atlanta; Norris Bumstead Herndon (MBA 1921), who guided the growth of the Atlanta Life Insurance Company (now the Atlanta Life Financial Group), founded by his father; Benjamin Tanner Johnson (MBA 1921), a champion of African-American-owned banks and co-founder of the New England People’s Finance Company; Monroe Davis Darling (MBA 1931), who worked for the Colored Merchants’ Association upon graduating and later served in managerial roles for the US Department of Internal Revenue, the American Cancer Society, and the New Jersey Urban League; and H. Naylor Fitzhugh (MBA 1933), who became a professor of accounting at Howard University for three decades, where he also developed the marketing program. He joined the Pepsi-Cola Company in 1965 as vice president of special markets. Long a mentor and supporter of African-American students at HBS and cofounder of the HBS Black Alumni Association (now the African-American Alumni Association) the School endowed a professorship in Fitzhugh’s name in 1996 through the financial support of black alumni, and in 2002, AASU renamed its annual conference in his honor.

The AASU founders and their efforts to address the challenges they experienced in the classroom as a racial minority as well as broader socio-economic issues faced at that time by African Americans through the United States. Darden, for example, now a professor emeritus of organizational theory and management at Pepperdine University’s business school, developed AASU’s organizational strategy and became its first chair. Lambert, Price, and Willis met with the then-Dean George P. Baker to urge and help him to take steps to increase black enrollment in the MBA Program, while Lewis also homed in on the lack of diversity in the School’s case studies.

AASU founders’ core 52 demands and proposals to the HBS administration to increase black enrollment in the MBA program, raise more scholarship funds for black students, add news courses relevant to black students, and promote meaningful social interaction and career development. After John H. McArthur, Jr., became Dean in 1980, Baker’s commitment to the admission and financial support of black students was recognized with the establishment of the George P. Baker Minority Fellowship through the efforts of the HBS Black Alumni Association; its president, Walter Ross; and Dean McArthur. Today, that fellowship totals over $4 million, provides approximately $165,000 annually in fellowship grants, and is the largest club-sponsored fellowship at the School. Along with the likes of a more recent $1 million fellowship donation in the name of Bob Ryan (MBA 1970), the Baker Minority Fellowship represents the continuing commitment of black MBA alumni to help provide financial aid to deserving students newly admitted to Harvard Business School.

AASU’s influence on HBS curriculum, including efforts that led to incorporating into the first-year Required Curriculum cases on black entrepreneurship and companies’ expansion into urban environments. Electives such as Business and Society in Black Africa and Systems Analysis: The City were added to the second-year Elective Curriculum.

Efforts to create the Council of Opportunity in Graduate Management Education (COGME) with nine other leading graduate business programs, with a mandate to increase student diversity. COGME also funded the educational endeavors of nearly 2,000 African Americans and other non-white MBA students for almost two decades.

The creation in 1983 of Harvard Business School’s popular Summer Venture in Management Program (SVMP) to inform rising college seniors from underrepresented groups about the wide range of opportunities made possible by a business career. SVMP, which has since then attracted thousands of students for a one-week on-campus experience at HBS, began as a joint enterprise of HBS, the Harvard Business School Black Alumni Association, and corporate sponsors.

Thought leadership by Professor Linda A. Hill, an expert in organizational behavior, leadership, and corporate innovation, and the first black woman to earn tenure at the School; Professor Emeritus David A. Thomas, an authority in cultural diversity in organizations, executive development, and organizational change and now president of Morehouse College; Professor Emeritus James I. Cash, Jr., an expert in the strategic use of information technology and the first African American scholar tenured at HBS; former Assistant Professor Claudine B. Malone, who immediately after graduating in 1972 with high distinction as a Baker Scholar joined the faculty, with research interests in the regulatory responsibilities of the Securities and Exchange Commission, product profitability, merchandising, pension costing, and the role of corporate directors; and the late Andrew F. Brimmer, a renowned economist, consultant, and the first African American appointed, in 1966, to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, who taught at HBS from 1974 to 1976. (Brimmer’s family recently donated his entire collection of manuscripts and other materials to the Baker Library’s Special Collections.)

“Since 1915, over 2,300 black students have attended HBS and embraced the School’s mission to become leaders who make a difference in the world,” writes Mayo. “Through their guidance, impact, and influence, they have shaped the economic, social, and political landscape of their time” as well as “mentored, nurtured, and educated the next generation of black leaders.”


Jim Aisner

About Harvard Business School

Founded in 1908 as part of Harvard University, Harvard Business School is located on a 40-acre campus in Boston. Its faculty of more than 250 offers full-time programs leading to the MBA and PhD degrees, as well as more than 175 Executive Education programs, and Harvard Business School Online, the School’s digital learning platform. For more than a century, faculty have drawn on their research, their experience in working with organizations worldwide, and their passion for teaching, to educate leaders who make a difference in the world. The School and its curriculum attract the boldest thinkers and the most collaborative learners who will go on to shape the practice of business and entrepreneurship around the globe.