OPINION: The Crosbys are Kent State’s best kept secret

Kofi Khemet

Sankofa is an Akan proverb that literally means “return and fetch it.”

Some people believe that as long as we continue to speak the names of those who’ve departed that they will continue to live in the afterlife.

Certainly, it’s important to remember the lives and deeds of our predecessors. When we stop calling their names, that’s when their real death occurs.

I was glad to see the Stater article “Black History Month: A Kent State Legacy,” but was puzzled by the obvious omission of Edward W. Crosby’s involvement in organizing America’s first Black History Month celebration.

Granted, he’s still with us, but some of my fellow alumni and I are quite puzzled with the absence of a building, monument, plaque or even a photo anywhere on campus honoring his legacy.

For those of you who are unaware, Crosby was not only a prime mover when it came to organizing a Black History Month celebration, but he also did more to ensure black students were recruited and actually graduated from Kent than anyone else in Kent’s 119 year history.

No one person did as much to lift black students up and make sure they got a fair shake, in the classroom and the student conduct court.

He is also a fellow alumnus of Kent State, class of ‘57 and one of the first African-American administrators on campus with a Ph.D.

During his 24-year tenure at Kent State, he founded the Institute for African American Affairs (IAAA), the Center of Pan-African Culture (CPAC), the African Community Theatre, the Henry Dumas Educational Resource Library, the Garrett Morgan Computer Center, Uumbaji Hall and the Department of Pan-African Studies (DPAS) while teaching classes and counseling students.

They say behind every great man is a great woman. In this case, Shirley R. Crosby stood beside her man and supported his educational mission with a cultural mission of her own.

After the bombing of Kuumba House, the Black United Students members moved their black cultural center to a number of other buildings on Kent State’s north campus.

The final location was the first floor of the Old Student Union, in what is now Oscar Ritchie Hall.

From 1972 to the present, the Department of Pan-African Studies has been located in the Center of Pan-African Culture, inside Oscar Ritchie Hall.

While Crosby directed the department, Shirley was the unofficial director of the cultural center. She worked there on a voluntary basis from 1978 to 1994. For the next 16 years, Shirley was known as Mama Crosby to all black students from the U.S., Africa and the Caribbean. She earned that title because of the relationships she established with the students, their wives and their children, who continue to send her cards and drop in unexpectedly for visits to this day.

She acted as a surrogate mother and even taught many of the students’ wives how to drive, forming lifelong relationships.

She organized hundreds of successful events, from bake sales to art exhibits and the Pan-African Festival, making sure vendors had all their needs taken care of, promotional materials were distributed and all funds were accounted for.

In order for DPAS and CPAC to exist, both relied on creative financing, collaboration with student organizations and the use of the latest technology to successfully carry out their programs.

The Crosbys are two of Kent State’s unsung heroes. They are not alone. There are many more like them. Kent State’s black history has yet to be told.

Now’s the time to correct that oversight.

Kofi Khemet is a guest columnist. He is the CEO of Blakfacts Educational Research, Inc. Contact him at [email protected]