Within my first week as an archival assistant working on the Digital PV Panther Project, I learned a great deal about the rich history of Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU). My first task was to sort out tape recordings from different events that took place on and around campus. Many of the events took place around the early 1960s to the late 1980s. Events included, summer and spring convocations, dance recitals, ministry conventions, homecoming parades, sports banquets, and athletic games just to name a few. Each tape recording contained the speeches of Former PVAMU President Dr. A.I. Thomas, PVAMU professors, and special guests and speakers, such as Jesse Jackson and Rosa Parks. If you’re wondering, yes the tapes are still in good condition and are playable.
My journey into the archival collections at PVAMU continued at Wyatt Chapel Community Cemetery on the back side of campus. For those who may not know, PVAMU was built on top of Jared Ellison Kirby’s former enslaved labor camp, Alta Vista, and he set aside a small plot of land for a burial site for the enslaved. The cemetery behind dormitories “Phase 3 & 6.” The burial ground contains six headstones of the deceased, while the rest of the cemetery holds the unmarked graves of our ancestors. In the upcoming fall 2022 semester, PVAMU Assistant Professor of History Dr. DeWayne Moore and Special Collections Librarian Lisa Stafford will hire an archaeological firm to conduct a ground penetrating radar study of the cemetery. You can read more about the study HERE. The ground penetrating radar will scan the burial ground to determine the location of grave shafts. Using this technology, we will finally be able to determine the burial locations of our ancestors and other internments in the cemetery.
After exploring Wyatt Chapel Community Cemetery, I visited the fourth floor of the library and learned more about the history of Wilhelmina R. Delco. Born in Chicago, Illinois on July 1, 1929, Ms. Delco was an active student. She served as student body president and member of the National Honor Society. She obtained her Bachelors of Art degree from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. She majored in Sociology and minored in Economics and Business Administration. Moreover, Ms. Delco served in the Texas House of Representatives. She began her career in 1974, when she was elected the first black, female, African American official from Travis County. She was sworn into office January 1975 and she began serving her very first term during the 64th legislative session.
She worked with the community and state on numerous social, educational, and political issues. Her most notable work was done in the area of Education. In 1979, Ms. Delco was appointed Chair of the House Higher Education Committee, on which she served until her next appointment as Speaker Pro Tempore in 1991. In January 1995, she retired from her tenth term and twentieth year in the Texas House of Representatives.
Ms. Delco received many awards, honors, and recognitions throughout her career–two of them being here at PVAMU. The Wilhelmina R. Delco building is home to the Whitlowe R. Green College of Education. Along with an unprocessed manuscript collection of papers, which sits in the PVAMU Archives, the John B. Coleman Library curated an exhibit about her life and career on the 4th floor. It contains an enclosed display of personal pictures, letters, documents, and other media that Ms. Delco used during her time as a representative. These items are up for display, open to staff, students, and the public.
Between the work of Wilhelmina Delco and the acknowledgment of the Wyatt Chapel Community Cemetery, I have became deeply involved in historic preservation at my HBCU. There is a lot of history that has yet to be uncovered. I cannot wait to see what the rest of the year has in store for the Digital PV Panther Project. And remember, PVAMU is the place to be!