Her fight against discrimination helped establish the first HBCU journalism program
By Randy Mitchell
LINCOLN UNIVERSITY – Did you know Lincoln University was the first historically black college or university (HBCU) to have a journalism program? One of the people instrumental in bringing journalism to LU was Lucile Bluford.
Bluford was born in Salisbury, North Carolina in 1911. She eventually moved to the Midwest and earned a bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Kansas. Bluford wanted to extend her education with a master’s degree. She came to national prominence in 1941 after her discrimination suit against the University of Missouri made it to the Missouri Supreme Court.
Bluford applied (via mail) to the University of Missouri and was accepted. When she arrived on the Columbia, Mo. campus, the administration learned she was Black. They rescinded the graduate school offer of acceptance, making up excuses for not admitting her to classes. She filed a discrimination lawsuit. Bluford was trying to break the color barrier at Mizzou’s graduate school – a seemingly impossible task at the time.
During segregation, Black students in Missouri were expected to attend Lincoln University, the “Black school,” which did not have any type of journalism program. Despite the Supreme Court ruling in her favor, Bluford never attended the University of Missouri because the school shut down its journalism department shortly after the ruling, claiming the department was understaffed as a result of World War II.
While Bluford was never a student at LU, her lawsuit played a major role in establishing the university’s journalism program. The Court found that LU – as an HBCU – should offer journalism for black students. Bluford told the court that she already had a degree in journalism and that Lincoln couldn’t academically assist her. Lincoln students were already publishing a campus newspaper – The Clarion – so journalism was already a desired area of study. The Clarion continues to be published today (www.myclarionnews.com) and is the oldest HBCU newspaper in the U.S.
Bluford went on to be an accomplished journalist, becoming editor and publisher for the Kansas City Call newspaper – a position she held for nearly 70 years. She accepted an honorary degree from the University of Missouri in 1989, and the Lucile H. Bluford branch of the Kansas City Public Library is named in her honor.
Bluford has also been recognized for her accomplishments by the State of Missouri with Lucille Bluford Day, observed annually on July 1st.
Lucille Bluford died June 13, 2003 in Kansas City, Mo.