Published: Feb. 28, 2018

Event is the second of three this spring commemorating the centennial of the graduation of the first African American woman to graduate from CU

The first African American woman to graduate from the University of Colorado, in 1918, earned her degree in German. A trio of experts this month will discuss the historical trends that framed her choice.

As part of the university’s recognition of the centennial, the scholars will participate in a forum titled “African Americans in Germany: European and African American Intellectual Exchanges in the 20th Century.”

The event is the second of three this spring to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the graduation of Lucile Berkeley Buchanan, the first African American woman to graduate from CU. Buchanan, the daughter of slaves, earned a degree in German here.


The cover of Polly McLean's book, which will be published in May. Featured at the top of the page, W.E.B. Du Bois and Lucile Berkeley Buchanan.

The forum is scheduled for Thursday, March 15, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in Hale 270 on campus. The event is free and open to the public.

The event will feature these scholars:

  • Reiland Rabaka, professor and chair of the CU Boulder Department of Ethnic Studies,
  • Beverly Weber, associate professor of Germanic studies and Jewish studies, undergraduate associate chair in Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures, and director of graduate studies in the Program in Jewish Studies 
  • Claire Oberon Garcia, professor of English at Colorado College.

Rabaka will offer a presentation on “arguably the most famous African American German exchange student,” W.E.B. Du Bois, a leading sociologist, author and activist.

Rabaka, who has written several books and chapters on Du Bois, said he will discuss not only what Du Bois studied in Germany, but also “how he synthesized late 19th century/early 20th century African American intellectual culture with late 19th century/early 20th century German intellectual culture to develop his distinct historical sociology and political economy preoccupied with African American uplift, civil rights, voting rights, women's rights and, ultimately, human rights.”

Weber will speak about transnational black feminist networks and solidarities, including contact between Audre Lorde, May Ayim and Katharina Oguntuye during the founding of the Afro-German movement.

Garcia, whose current book project is Beyond Baker and Bricktop: Black Women Writers in Paris 1900-1960, will discuss the role of France, and Paris in particular, in the African American imaginary in the first half of the 20th century, as anti-colonial and black citizenship rights movements were reaching a boiling point.

"Many African American intellectuals and artists were drawn to France, which W.E.B Du Bois described as 'the only real white democracy' while recognizing from conversations with francophone intellectuals that it was also an imperial and cultural tyrant," she said. She will also discuss the legacy of African American intellectuals’ fascination with France, which endures into the 21st century. 

Next month, the campus will host the third event in the centennial observance of the graduation of Buchanan. Polly McLean, associate professor of media studies in the College of Media, Communication and Information, will deliver the inaugural Lucille Berkeley Buchanan Lecture.

Her lecture is scheduled for Wednesday, April 4, from 6:30-8 p.m. in the Old Main Chapel. The event is Free and Open to the public.

McLean is the author of “Remembering Lucile: A Virginia Family’s Rise from Slavery and a Legacy Forged a Mile High.” The book, which will be published in May by the University Press of Colorado, chronicles Buchanan’s life and death and details the decade of research that it took McLean to find and share Buchanan’s story.