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The Black House reopens with reflections on the past and a look to the future

After renovations, a new design and feel to a critical space for Black connection and community

After a major renovation over the past two years, Northwestern’s historic Black House will be rededicated today, Oct. 15, with a ribbon-cutting and grand reopening.

The events are scheduled during Homecoming and Reunion Weekend so that the University community can come together in celebration of the past, present and future of the Black House and its function as a critical space for Black connection on campus.

“We are thrilled to welcome back our Black students and dedicated alumni to this significant and vitally important place on campus,” said Julie Payne-Kirchmeier, vice president for Student Affairs. “The work and care that so many of our students, faculty, staff and alumni have put into this project can be felt throughout the entire space, and it shows just how revered the Black House is by so many in our community.”

The rededication program, which begins at 3:30 p.m. at 1914 Sheridan Road in Evanston, kicks off a series of events throughout the weekend that pay tribute to Northwestern’s Black alumni, as well as students, faculty and staff and their longstanding history of advocacy and activism.

‘Many years in the making’

“This moment is many years in the making,” said Lesley-Ann Brown-Henderson, assistant vice president for inclusion and chief of staff in the Division of Student Affairs. “Over the past five years, we have diligently worked to center Black student voices through every phase of this project while also engaging with Black alumni, faculty and staff, and together we have arrived at the completion of the project. There was much intentionality put into every aspect of this project, which was overseen by the Black House Renovation Steering Committee.” 

In addition, three sub-committees were formed: The Black House Policy Committee, the Black House Curating the Space Committee and the Black House Reopening Committee. 

“The beauty, thought and care that is evident in the design choices, operations, storytelling and aesthetics of the house is the culmination of the diligent work of many,” Brown-Henderson added.

The Black House renovation is one of Northwestern’s commitments toward racial and social justice as enumerated in a message from University leaders to the community in June 2020.

‘A place to call our own’

Black students fought for the creation of the Black House in 1968 during the Bursar's Office Takeover, a protest that transformed the Black experience and the history of Northwestern. The occupation by more than 100 Northwestern students and allies lasted 38 hours, ending with a negotiated resolution through which the administration responded to a list of eight student demands.

One of those demands related to a dedicated social space for Black students. Students wrote: “We demand a Black Student Union, a place to be used for social and recreational activities. Black students have nothing at Northwestern to call our own. We need a place where we will feel free to come and to go as we please.” 

“The Black House has served as a refuge for many students during their time at Northwestern,” said Charla Wilson, University archivist for the Black experience. “Historically, it’s a place many have depended on for plugging into community, engaging in cultural programming or even just having a listening and supportive ear.”

‘To be part of the mural legacy’

Visitors to the Black House will see a new mural created by artist and alumnus Dwight White (’16, ’17 MS). A sociology and communications major — and a former Wildcat football player — White spent time at the Black House as a student and leader of the group For Members Only.

The renovated facility, which is operated and cared for by Multicultural Student Affairs, has a new floor plan, furniture and finishes. With a priority on accessibility — there is an elevator as well as gender-inclusive restrooms — the overarching goal was to create a new space that is welcoming to all and true to the Black House’s original sense of character and community.

The Black House Renovation Steering Committee, led by Payne-Kirchmeier and Brown-Henderson, guided the renovation from the initial feasibility study lead by Black-owned Moody Nolan Architect Firm through the design phase and all the way to the end. The construction firm, GMA Construction Group, is owned and led by Northwestern Black alumnus Cornelius Griggs (’14).

“May this historic renovation be a symbol of our unyielding commitment and collective action to make Northwestern a more just and inclusive campus for our Black students and certainly for all marginalized students,” Brown-Henderson said.