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History of the Black Cultural Center

The Frieson Black Cultural Center (formerly known as the Black Cultural Center) has a long history on UT’s campus. Originally opened in 1975, the center was renamed the Frieson Black Cultural Center in 2002 after two influential UT alums, Ron and Don Frieson. Learn more about the dedication and the Frieson brothers.


The idea for a Black Cultural Center on campus first discussed in 1968.

  • Ralph Boston, coordinator of minority affairs, and members of the Black Student Union (later called Afro-American Student Liberation Force), credited for planning and implementing the center
An Aug. 1975 article in the Daily Beacon student newspaper announces the opening of the Black Cultural Center

Click to view the article enlarged.


Black Cultural Center (BCC) opened during the first week of the fall quarter in August 1975

  • Occupied two floors of a former residence, on the street level and one floor below street level
  • Began as an academic unit under the cultural studies program in the College of Liberal Arts; its funding came from the Liberal Arts budget
  • Its original goals were to
    • Provide a better understanding of the black experience in the university
    • Collaborate with Knoxville College in its academic programs
    • Provide expertise and resources for the surrounding community
    • Included a library, a classroom, a meeting room for organizations, a lounge, desk spaces for campus organizations, and campus mailboxes; storage space, conference room, and exhibit space
  • Original staff: director, clerk, graduate as
    A Nov. 1975 newspaper article spotlights an open house event at the Black Cultural Center

    Click to view the image enlarged.

    sistant, and work-study students and student volunteers

Dennie Littlejohn was appointed director of the center on August 1.

The first open house was held on November 14

  • The Daily Beacon reported the BCC took over some of the functions of the minority affairs office, including planning the Black Arts Festival, Black History Week, and tutorial and advising programs


BCC worked with student groups on campus, including the Afro-American Student Liberation Force, the Ebony Love Dancers, the Repertory Company theater group, and the Liberation Concert Choir

  • Continued to provide advising, tutorial services, cultural programs, and a library and resource center
  • Plans/Participates in Black History Month activities, community research projects, special classes, MLK Jr. memorial lecture-celebration, and Malcolm X memorial celebration


BCC director Dennis Littlejohn reassigned (fired) from his position

  • This action, along with a demand for funding for a black cultural program, prompted students to protest in a weekend-long sit-in at the center, led by the Afro-American Student Liberation Force
  • An eviction notice ordered the end to the sit-in, and led to 18 students being arrested; they were not violent but had refused to leave
  • The day after, 200 students marched to Andy Holt Tower and demanded to see Chancellor Jack Reese; they eventually dispersed once the BCC reopened

The Office of Minority Affairs opened and expanded services, including overseeing the BCC

  • Jane Redman, assistant vice provost, appointed director
  • Office of Minority Affairs restructures BCC’s purpose, moving away from promoting understanding and appreciation of the black experience to serving all students regardless of race, religion, or background


The first mention of the Academic Support Unit – tutoring services and academic advice; a videotape room for free information for research and programs; library for current news, letters, and journals to educate students on black history

  • Minority Career Day – annually sponsored event with Career Placement Office

Coordination with Admissions to recruit students across the state and develops programs to bring high school students to UT to tour campus; talkrf to student leaders and organization representatives, and learn about financial aid and admission requirements

Sponsored guest speakers are brought to campus through the Black Cultural Programming Committee


The first mention of a gallery located in the BCC that houses artwork by local African American artists

Programs coordinated with BCC and Black Cultural Programming Committee

  • Welcome Week Block Party
  • Alex Haley Memorial Picnic
  • Homecoming Ball
  • Kwanzaa Celebration
  • Coffee House Poetry Readings
  • Harambee Celebration Month
  • Health Fair
  • MLK Jr. Celebration

Programs coordinated with the Office of Minority Affairs:

  • Minority Advisors Program, Mentorship Program, Student Speakers Bureau, Early Alert Program, Academic Assistance Program

Programming offered:

  • Freshman Symposium & Orientation, Freshman Mixer, Freshman Rap Session, Student Organizations’ Study Nights, African Heritage Day & Open House, 48-Hours Study Sessions, Male/Female Relationship Workshops, AIDS Awareness Workshops, Bone Marrow Drives, MLK Youth Symposium, African Student Week, Unity Week
A July 1996 news article discusses the purpose of the Black Cultural Center

Click to view the image enlarged.


Office of Minority Student Affairs and BCC split responsibilities

  • OMSA oversees academic and support programs
  • BCC oversees programs related to social interaction and discussion of African American issues

Began offering Bridge Builders program, renamed FOCUS (Finding Our Common Understandings and Strengths)

A Feb. 1997 news article focuses on awareness for black issues.

Click to view the image enlarged.


The first mention of the Book Loan Program, which allowed students to borrow textbooks for an entire semester as long as they are returned at the end of the semester

The first mention of UT’s African-American Hall of Fame – photographs of blacks that made significant impact or contributions to the university


A task force was established in September 1998 to plan a new Black Cultural Center. The task force consists of faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community members.


A groundbreaking ceremony was held for the new BCC held March 27, 2001.

  • Deemed the first building on campus built specifically for black students
  • Designed by Adams, Craft, Herz, Walker of Oak Ridge
  • Contractors: Johnson and Galyon of Knoxville
  • Students voted to fund construction with student activity fees – which cost $2 million
  • University raised private funds for endowment supporting the center’s programs


New BCC opens September 6, 2002, with a grand opening ribbon cutting ceremony and tour

  • Student-designed, 80-foot brick frieze showing African and African-American history
  • Includes wireless computer lab, library, lounge, meeting rooms, offices, a fully equipped kitchen, and other amenities
  • Courtyard paved with bricks inscribed with donors’ names
  • Meeting rooms for Black Student Alliance, NAACP, Black Greek Letter organizations, and other student-facilitated groups
  • Houses African American Hall of Fame
  • Maintains Academic Support Unit of Minority Student Affairs, Book Loan Program, Early Alert Program, 48-Hour Study Session for final exams, and free peer tutoring programs

Resources Consulted

“Black Center.” Volunteer, 1979 (p. 72-73).

“Black Cultural Center.” Volunteer, 1978 (p. 56-57).

Campbell, Kim. “The Black Cultural Center: About Diversity in Academia.” Volunteer, 2004 (p. 126-127).

Clemmer, Polly. “Black Cultural Center prepares to open.” The Daily Beacon, August 1, 1975.

The Daily Beacon Staff. “UT Black Cultural Center to hold open house today.” The Daily Beacon, November 14, 1975.

Dockery, Bill. “Work Under Way on Black Cultural Center.” Torchbearer, Summer 2001.

Garnigan, LaTria. “A New Beginning: Black Cultural Center opens in new location.” Volunteer, 2003 (p. 180-181)

Loveday, S. Yvonne. “Open for Business: New Black Cultural Center.” Torchbearer, Summer 2002.

Parson, Paul. “Cultural center enhances awareness.” The Daily Beacon, February 25, 1997.

Plemons, J. Douglas. “Cultural center open to help all students.” The Daily Beacon, July 16, 1996.

“Sharing Cultures.” Volunteer, 1982 (p. 53).

“A Spark of Dissent.” Volunteer, 1980 (p. 136-137).

Street, Jenna. “Making the Difference.” Volunteer, 2005 (p. 112-113).

University of Tennessee, Knoxville Minority Affairs Information Sheet, November 1, 1994, Office of the University Historian Collection, AR.0015. University of Tennessee Libraries, Knoxville, Special Collections.