The house that Crosby built

Amadeus Smith

Edward W. Crosby, professor emeritus and former Pan-African Studies department chair, said Oscar Ritchie was the first black professor to be hired at a predominantly white university in Ohio.

In the mid-’70s, the student union, which originally occupied the building, was moved to the newly constructed Kent Student Center, leaving the building unoccupied and unnamed. Crosby told Black United Student members to propose the name to the administration in 1977 because, at the time, other students were suggesting names of radicals for all the new buildings.

In 1978, the structure was named after Ritchie, but before establishing the name, Crosby had to convince the administration to give the building to Pan-African Studies.

“I told the students, ‘We’ll ask for the ground floor, and we’ll ask for it in this way,’ that it would be a cultural center that housed the department,” he said.

He said he proposed it this way to ensure that if the department expanded to a point where it needed additional space, it would be able to get it.

“The culture center was, indeed, the entire building, and the department was the tenant of the culture center,” he said.

The proposal, he said, also solved two problems: The request had to be reasonable, and the building had to be shared by faculty offices.

The department obtained the first floor of the unnamed building, with the art department occupying the second floor and the honors college on the third.

Around 1976, the institute developed into the Department of Pan-African Studies, and by 1985 the honors college and the art department had moved to different buildings. The Pan-African Studies department had taken control of the entire building.

The last addition to the building was the construction of the African Community Theatre on the second floor.

Crosby said the department has always been concerned with making renovations.

“We chose a space we felt we could hold classes in and in which the culture center could flourish,” he said, as he began to chuckle. “But I had already planned that I was going to ask for some money.”

Contact minority affairs reporter Amadeus Smith at [email protected].