Forgotten African American Heroes

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A cool autumn breeze swept across the campus green on the morning of September 9, 1890, as John Hope ascended the steps of Manning Hall. Inside the chapel students crowded into pews for the annual Convocation ceremony. Former graduates, professors and faculty filled the side aisles. The morning sun cast golden rays on the smooth mahogany floor as John Hope walked to the back row.

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For this brilliant young African American, the day rang full of promise. After leaving Brown, Hope would go onto become the first African American president of Atlanta University and an early advocate of civil rights organizations, including the W.E.B. DuBois-led Niagara Movement, the NAACP, and the southern-based Commission on Interracial Cooperation.

When Atlanta University awarded him the Spingarm Medal posthumously, the chairman praised Hope, saying, “Dr. Hope proved to himself that there are no bounds or limits to be set for men and women because of their color.”

On that same day a few yards away, Frank Levi Trimble stretched his legs out in his bed in Hope College dormitory. As a third year student, Trimble had sat through a similar convocation ceremony just a few years earlier. The memory of the experience lingered in his mind this morning as he readied the room for his new roommate, John Hope.

Like Hope, Trimble was one of the few African Americans in his class–he came to the University from the south in the early days of African American enrollment. Like Hope, Trimble believed Brown could provide intellectual freedom and fulfillment. Both expected to face hardships–beyond the smoothly polished Van Wickle gates tensions were mounting between blacks and whites; states like Mississippi had just instituted measures to prevent blacks from voting, including toll taxes and literacy tests.

These were the problems on the surface; the difficulties acknowledged by the collective conscience. But, Hope and Trimble would suffer burdens of a different kind–hardships that extended beyond the apparent difference of their skin color–that few in the University even realized before it was too late.

As the Convocation ceremony drew to a close Hope chatted with the students seated around him. He soon rose to leave and glanced out the window at his new dorm, Hope College–coincidentally named but after an unrelated Hope family. Anxious to meet his new roommate, Hope left the chapel and headed in the direction of the dorm.

After climbing three flights of stairs, Hope found his room, number 45, at the end of a long dark hallway.


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