February 10, 2017

Presentation on Alexander Lane is Feb. 16

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale will celebrate its long history of diversity and inclusion with a special presentation honoring the university’s first African-American male student.

“Alexander Lane: From Slavery to Freedom” is set for 3 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 16, in the John C. Guyon Auditorium at Morris Library. The presenter is Pamela Smoot, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Africana Studies and in the history department as well as recruitment, retention and outreach office coordinator for the College of Liberal Arts.

Lane was born in pre-Civil War Mississippi and his mother, a slave, sent him north with a Union army colonel who promised to educate her son. Lane was living in Tamaroa when he enrolled at SIU Carbondale. The year was 1876 and SIU was founded just seven years before as the state’s second teachers’ college, with a first class of just 143 students. Two women were the first African-Americans to enroll at SIU but Lane was the first black man.

He made the most of his opportunities. After attending Southern Illinois Normal University, as it was then known, Lane became the first principal of Attucks School. He subsequently moved to Chicago, graduating from Rush Medical College in 1895 and earning an appointment as the Cook County assistant physician. He was a prominent physician on Chicago’s south side. 

Lane was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1906 and won reelection two years later. He died in 1911 and is buried in Carbondale. SIU’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute has established the Alexander Lane Internship Program that enables at least one student each spring to work with and learn from a minority Illinois General Assembly member.

SIU’s Morris Library and its Special Collections Research Center are the sponsors of the Feb. 16 presentation recognizing the life and legacy of SIU’s first African-American male student. The event is free and open to the public.