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Friday, May 25, 2018

Activities & Organizations

Fifty years ago, UH crowned its first black homecoming queen


Lynn Eusan was crowned as the first black homecoming queen in 1968. | Courtesy of UH Library Special Collections

Half a century ago this fall, 20-year-old Lynn Eusan was crowned under the bright lights of the Astrodome as the first African-American Homecoming queen in the history of the University of Houston.

But even before her big night, Eusan had stood out as a student leader on campus, helping found the school’s chapter of the Afro-Americans for Black Liberation and, the year after her coronation, having a hand in the creation of the African-American Studies program at a university founded on excluding people who looked like her.

“She was an incredible leader on this campus,” said kinesiology senior Kayla Williams, president of the Black Student Union. “For lack of a better word, she was a trailblazer.”

With her high, polished afro, the San Antonio native stood out in the group of the other, mostly white candidates for the crown on that humid, typically-Houston night in November 1968.

Eusan’s candidacy for the crown and eventual victory were unusual beside the obvious reasons — she was the first Homecoming queen to win without support from any of the white Greek organizations on campus. Despite being in the minority, Eusan was not the only person of color in the running, with advertisements for students to “Go Latin!” appearing in The Cougar before the race.

“This was the first time black students on the campus have banded together and really been effective against overwhelming odds,” Eusan told the Houston Chronicle in December 1968.

Her coronation marked a turning point in race relations and African-American culture at the University, African American Studies Director James Conyers said.

“At the same time in American history and culture, she provided an Afrocentric awareness of ethos,” Conyers said in an email. 

Facing minstrel shows from white fraternities in the weeks leading up to the election, Eusan was supported by the AABL and focused her campaign on uniting students of color, her escort and friend Omawale Luthuli-Allen told the Chronicle.

Three months after being crowned, Eusan and 100 other black student activists presented then-President Phillip Guthrie Hoffman with 10 demands, including the formation of an African-American studies program and the hiring of more black faculty and teachers.

“Lynn Eusan’s legacy marks academic and civic excellence,”  Conyers said. “She provided impact on campus as a student and in the greater Houston community, in the way of social activism.”

For all the work Eusan put into expanding programs and organizations that catered to advancing the presence of African-American students on campus, she didn’t live to see UH become the second most diverse university in the nation.

On Sept. 10, 1971, Eusan was seen waiting in the rain for a bus just off campus. One month shy of her 23rd birthday, her body was found in the backseat of a car after the 26-year-old driver collided with a police cruiser. The driver was arrested and charged with her murder.

He was acquitted in 1972 and the case remains unsolved.

The circumstances surrounding her death, a little more than a year after she graduated with a journalism degree, remain murky.

“What happened?” Williams said. “We still don’t know what happened to her and the secrecy behind it.”

Despite her premature death, Eusan’s legacy lives on at the University, both physically, as the namesake of the biggest park on campus, and in the spirit of the organizations and programs she helped found.

“Eusan’s impact provided a base of human possibility for African American students on campus, the recruitment of students in the following years to come, and the mark of academic excellence, exhibited unapologetically registered from a Black perspective,” Conyers said.

Lynn Eusan Park was established on campus in her honor near Cougar Village I. | Thomas Dwyer/The Cougar

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