IU's first African American student has Michiana connection

Published: Nov. 1, 2016 at 6:28 PM EDT
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Indiana University has identified the first African American woman to ever attend the school as Carrie Parker Taylor.

It’s a story with a Michiana connection.

While Carrie’s pioneering moment came in 1898, officials actually found one of her direct descendants—a son--alive and well and living in Niles, Michigan.

One-hundred-year-old Leon Parker Taylor insists that he knew at age 10 what I.U. officials only recently discovered. “She told us that she was the first colored girl to go to Indiana U, but Indiana had never acknowledged it.”

Only recently did I.U. discover the identity of its first female African American student wile combing through old newspaper articles. Indeed, it has been cause for celebration with the recent unveiling of a campus portrait.

“She was determined, I know it wasn't easy for women period, and it definitely wasn't going to be easy for an African American woman in Indiana wanting a higher education,” said I.U.’s Director of Archives, Dina Kellams, who made the discovery.

While Leon Parker Taylor was once the campus pioneer’s bouncing baby boy, he’s now age 100 and breaking “100” in the afternoon senior leagues at a Niles bowling alley.

Today, Leon Parker Taylor was wearing his heart on his sleeve and I.U. logos everywhere else. It’s obvious, the family and the school are on the same page in recognizing Carrie’s struggles.

“The principal at her middle school had his own policy that no African American would pass forward and go on to high school in his county, and so he flunked her, he flunked her three times,” said Dina Kellams.

It’s the very type of thing that Carrie’s son apparently encountered no a routine basis. “I’ve seen quite a lot of it. I was president of the Niles, president of the NAACP for 25 years, and I had, we had to integrate the school board, teaching establishment, restaurants, and skating rinks while I was in office there,” Leon Parker Taylor said. “Progress has been made, I mean anybody comes through, I mean the years that I've been through, would see that there's progress, but yet there's still more than could be done that isn't done.”

While Carrie Parker Taylor went to I.U. she did not graduate because she could not balance the demands in the classroom and on the job.