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The Cheyney Record: The Student Voice of America’s Oldest HBCU

The February 1949 cover of The Cheyney Record.

Cheyney University has the distinction of being the oldest Historically Black College and University in the nation. Located in Cheyney, Pennsylvania, the founding of the school was made possible by a donation from Richard Humphreys, a Quaker philanthropist. Humphreys bequeathed $10,000 to build the school for the purposes of educating African Americans in the “Mechanic Arts, Trades, and Agriculture to better prepare them as teachers.” The school opened in 1837 as the Institute of Colored Youth. In 1914, the university was renamed Cheyney Training School for Teachers and went through subsequent name changes. Today it is known as Cheyney University in Pennsylvania.

Amistad has several copies of the school’s student newspaper, The Cheyney Record ranging from the years 1927-1949. The newspaper was published monthly by Cheyney’s Teacher’s College and debuted in 1920. It was clear from the paper that students at Cheyney were able to ideologically engage with some of the most illuminating American figures of the early 20th century. Students were able to hear Langston Hughes read some of his poems at a Cheyney NAACP chapter meeting in April of 1927. In November of 1930, Dr. George Washington Carver appeared at Cheyney to discuss his experiments and discoveries in Chemistry. Dr. Carver, who was ahead of his time, revealed his vision for the making of synthetic food which he said society might need in the future. Dr. W. E. B. Dubois visited the campus in 1937 as a part of Cheyney’s Centennial Program on education. He lectured on the educational opportunities that African Americans had taken advantage of through the Society of Friends, a Quaker group. Lastly, a lucky student named Milton James was able to interview Albert Einstein on issues related to racism, warfare, and the atomic bomb. He printed an overview of Einstein’s answers in the February 1949 issue.

The June 1927 cover of The Cheyney Record.

A variety of other topics were covered in The Cheyney Record. The most interesting articles were about the yearly student traditions at Cheyney. The May Day Fete, a celebration for the onset of spring, included an annual dance by the health education class with colorful costumes, dance numbers, and a turn around the May Pole. The school held a yearly Christmas dinner where the dining room was decorated lavishly and students could be treated to Christmas carolers and a feast of holiday entrees. Students were not limited to happenings at Cheyney, and they could also find updates on current and world events. There are plenty of writings about disarmament, race relations, education, and other issues that were occurring in the broader world.

Students could showcase their literary talents or find a stern warning from staff about behavior. A column in the corner of the paper titled “Poets Speak” highlighted a poet of the month. In a “Message From Dining Hall” students were chided to mind their dining hall etiquette with the following advice, “Let us not try to accept food on our plates which we are reasonably certain we won’t eat. Bread is not expensive in a way, perhaps, but anything for which money is paid is expensive if wasted.” The paper kept a great balance between information about students and faculty and local and national news. It truly served as the voice for Cheyney’s students and not as a bullhorn for the university’s administration.

Images from the School Newspaper Collection. Images from Amistad’s website, newsletters, and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.

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