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University of Connecticut, Black Experience in the Arts Collection

Identifier: 2015-0002

Scope and Contents

Lecture notes, transcriptions of lectures and interviews, and over three hundred audio recordings associated with a University of Connecticut School of Fine Arts course, "Black Experience in the Arts." The course's instructors included professors James Eversole, Hale Smith, Edward O'Connor, Leon Bailey, and Carlton Molette. The records, particularly the audio recordings, document the contributions of black artists of the time period and the power of art as a mechanism for social change and racial expression.


  • 1970 - 1994

Biographical / Historical

In the late 1960s, the University of Connecticut established the Center for Black Studies. The center, which did not offer classes, encouraged various schools and departments at UConn to provide courses that reflected the black experience in their respective fields of study. The Center’s director, School of Education Professor Floyd Bass, worked with Associate Dean of Fine Arts Edward J. O’Connor to develop a course that celebrated the works of black artists. From this idea, an interdepartmental committee of Arts, Dramatic Arts, and Music faculty, designed the course and chose a unique format: instead of a single instructor, the course’s lectures would be delivered by invited guest speakers. The visiting lecturers included musicians, poets, dramatists, novelists, architects, actors, singers, and dancers. Many of whom were established names in their particular art forms and recipients of their field’s most prestigious honors.

Guest lecturers were selected by Department of Music professor Dr. James Eversole, who oversaw the course during its first year, 1970. The visiting speakers received a captive audience and a $300 honorarium from the university which was initially funded by the Center for Black Studies and later the Dean’s office for the School of Fine Arts. Funding from the Center for Black Studies and School of Fine Arts were ample enough that outside foundation funding or alumni largesse was not necessary. In the fall of 1971, composer Hale Smith, who had spoken to the class during the spring 1971 semester, joined the UConn Department of Music faculty with duties that included sharing with Professor Eversole responsibility for the Black Experience in the Arts. Smith’s acclaimed career as a musician and composer proved invaluable to the course because he knew many of the guest speakers the course was hoping to bring to campus. Professor Eversole left the course in the fall of 1972 and Dean O’Connor assumed his duties.

The Black Experience in the Arts course was designed to be a recurring, credit-bearing course. It met one day a week in the J. Louis von der Mehden Recital Hall for 90 minutes, carried two credit hours, and originally graded as pass/fail. Later, students lobbied the course’s professors to change the pass/fail format and instead offer letter grades. The students believed the work they undertook studying for the course’s examinations necessitated individual grades and the University Senate approved the change from pass/fail to A-F grades. The popularity of the course grew quickly and consistently met its enrollment goal of 200 students. It attracted students from many departments, not just Fine Arts. Professor O’Connor believed the success of the course resulted from students finding the material interesting and a good way to earn arts and multi-cultural studies credits after UConn changed its general education requirements. Once credit requirements were revised and classes became 3 or 4 credit offerings, the University Senate approved two semesters of the course as meeting the general education requirement. Students were not allowed to repeat a semester for credit, they had to enroll and pass both semesters to earn the full four credit hours. When the class was being developed, the primary goal of the course was to change the attitudes of the students. The course’s instructors quickly saw the respect students expressed for the artists and their work. This growing respect developed into an awareness of the tremendous creativity demonstrated by black artists in all art forms. The class was a welcomed addition to the university’s course offering and consistent with the university goals, at the end of 1960s, to provide students with greater exposure of the racial and social dynamics found in American culture.


14 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Existence and Location of Copies

Some audio recordings in this series have been digitized and are available in the Archives & Special Collections digital repository.

University of Connecticut, Black Experience in the Arts Collection
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Repository Details

Part of the Archives and Special Collections, University of Connecticut Library Repository

University of Connecticut Library
405 Babbidge Road Unit 1205
Storrs Connecticut 06269-1205 USA US