Illini Everywhere: Jamaican Illini, Since 1914

Since at least 1914, Jamaican students have been attending the University of Illinois. Early Jamaican Illini have included architects, athletes, attorneys, aviators, chemical engineers, chemists, civil engineers, coaches, dentists, entrepreneurs, home economists, instructors, medical doctors, physical educators, and politicians too.

Read on to learn about early Jamaican Illini!

Illinois – Jamaica Connections

Before the first Jamaican students arrived on campus, it was as early as 1907 through 1911, when Botany Professor William Trelease (Record Series 15/4/22) was corresponding with William Harris, of the Jamaican Department of Agriculture, concerning the collection, cultivation, and study of Agave plants. Within fifty years, not long after Jamaica’s independence in 1962, it was during the late 1960s and early 1970s, when there was University discussion of developing a Jamaican Teaching and Research Center at Darley and Wydah at the former sites of the Essential Oil and Spice Ltd. company (Record Series 32/1/30). In 1969 and 1970, Plant Pathology Professor James B. Sinclair (Record Series 8/13/21) had personally traveled to Jamaica for site visits. By at least 1979, among the many international projects of the Library Research Center (Record Series 18/2/15) of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (now iSchool), Illinois librarians were also working in Jamaica too, including at least one circulation analysis at the Kingston Public Library.

Students

But it was probably 1914, when the first three Jamaican students came to Illinois, following their studies from different historically black colleges and universities across the U.S. While one of the men completed their education at Illinois and another completed his education at one of our peer state universities, all three men certainly led exceptional lives.

Mr. Ethelred Erasmus Adolphus Campbell, (B.S. General Science, 1918; M.S. Organic Chemistry, 1919), of St. Elizabeth, completed his studies at Tuskegee Normal School and Industrial Institute of Alabama, before coming to Illinois. From 1908 to 1910, Mr. Campbell worked on the Panama Canal to pay for his voyage to the United States. [] After Tuskegee, Mr. Campbell attended the University High School, before completing two degrees at Illinois. After graduation, Mr. Campbell briefly worked in the University of Chicago’s Department of Bacteriology, before returning to Jamaica where he continued to live a distinguished life. As early as 1920, just one year after graduation, as a Jamaican Department of Agriculture Industrial Research Chemist, Mr. Campbell was recognized for his work in developing a new process for manufacturing vanillin involving pimento leaf oil, the Daily Illini reported. By 1924, Mr. Campbell continued his education with studies in law, at both McGill University and the University of Edinburgh, before returning to Jamaica within just five years. After practicing law for years, Mr. Campbell entered politics with his winning election campaign for the Kingston seat in Jamaica’s old Legislative Council in 1939. Mr. Campbell’s political career continued for decades until his retirement in the 1960s. For an image of Mr. Campbell, he might be one of the men in a 1918 Illio Chemical Club photograph.

Mr. Albert Ernest Forsythe (Chemical Engineering, 1914-1917), of Port Antonio, after three years of study, left Illinois for Ohio where he completed a bachelor’s degree, before also continuing to lead his own distinguished international life. During his junior year, in 1916, Mr. Forsythe was reported to be leaving for London, Ontario, Canada, where he would train with Canadian soldiers before entering the war. After the war, Mr. Forsythe planned to return to Jamaica to be part of its development, The Daily Illini reported. During his last semester in town, Spring 1917, an unexplained encounter off campus led to Mr. Forsythe being shot and hospitalized, and Foreign Student Advisor and University professor Arthur R. Seymour defended Mr. Forsythe against local gossip. No matter the reason, the following year, Mr. Forsythe continued his studies in Ohio, before enrolling in McGill University’s medical school. After graduation, in 1933, Dr. Forsythe and C. Alfred “Chief” Anderson were the first Black pilots to make a round-trip cross-country flight from Atlantic City, New Jersey to Los Angeles, California in a Fairchild 24 plane named “The Pride of Atlantic City”. Together, both men would make more historic flights, with destinations across North America, South America, and, of course, the Caribbean too. No images of Mr. Forsythe have been identified yet.

While Mr. John S. Letman, (1914-1916), of Sheffield, attended the West Virginia Colored Institute (now West Virginia State University) before coming to Illinois. Unfortunately, Mr. Letman may have not left many records of his student experiences behind.

Meanwhile, in Chicago, Mr. Norman O. Hewitt, (Dentistry, 1917-1918), was enrolled in the baccalaureate program in the College of Dentistry.

During the 1920s through 1940s, more Jamaican students enrolled from an even wider variety of backgrounds with equally diverse career paths too.

Mr. Clement Vivian Lloyd, (B.S. Civil Engineering, 1928), of Kingston, prepared at the Kingston Industrial School and Urbana High School, before enrolling at Illinois. In 1923, he graduated from Urbana High School, and he was fifth in his class. At Illinois, Mr. Lloyd was active in international and religious events. Some of his campus activities included: a talk about the general history of Jamaica, as part of a five-student panel on their home countries (October 1923), a six-piece repertoire of Jamaican songs included a performance of the Shay Shay dance in July 1924 and November 1924, a piano solo at the annual Y.M.C.A. Yule Party (December 1924), and one final performance of Jamaican folk songs during an international culture night (November 1927).

Mr. Birtell Arthur Lloyd, (Chemical Engineering, 1930), also of Kingston, also prepared at the Kingston Industrial School and Urban High School, before enrolling at Illinois. In fact, during his first year at Urbana High School, he was recognized as both head of his class and head of the school with his incredibly high grade point average in 1923. At that time the high school organized annual honors banquets for high performing students, including Mr. Lloyd in both 1923 and 1924. Just four years later, Mr. Lloyd was again recognized with other first year Illinois students whose high grade point average initiated them into the national honorary scholastic fraternity Phi Eta Sigma in 1927. In 1930, he was among twelve undergraduates to receive a scholarship from the Graduate College, and he appears on the 1930 Bronze Tablet too.

Mr. Arthur Lloyd was active in campus life too. Some of his campus activities included: a committee co-organizer of a series of three winter parties for students who don’t leave town during winter break; he was part of a 1930 Y.M.C.A. student conference hosted in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin; he was a 1930 Y.M.C.A. committee member for student and faculty talks on current international issues; he was a panel member on “What Education Means to Me”, organized by the fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha (Record Series 41/71/9) in 1939; and he gave at least one public talk on race relations in the U.S., at an off-campus Wesley Foundation event in 1942.

While Mr. Hugh Kenneth Lloyd, (1927-28), of Kingston, might have left few records behind besides an acknowledgement of his excellence in jump roping at a campus intramural event in 1928.

Mr. Cyprian Reginald Augustus Cunningham, (B.S. Agriculture, 1929; M.S. Dairy Husbandry, 1930), of Kingston, also prepared at Urbana High School, before enrolling at Illinois. While at Urbana High School, Mr. Cunningham was recognized for his achievement for the highest grades in his class. While at Illinois, Mr. Cunningham was also eligible for the first year student scholastic fraternity Phi Eta Sigma, in 1926, and he was later awarded a John M. Gregory and Louisa C. Gregory scholarship too. As a student leader, Mr. Cunningham frequently volunteered as a committee member for student events, including the 1928 College of Agriculture Little International stock show and the McKinley Foundation’s World Friendship Department 1929 program committee.

While Mr. Cuthbert Altamont Pitter, (Architecture, 1938), of Maggotty, may not have left many records behind.

Mr. Leslie Alexander Henriques, (1944-46), of Half-Way-Tree, was also a Phi Eta Sigma inductee in 1944. Mr. Henrique’s student life is well documented in student newspapers too. Mr. Henriques pledged to the men’s fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi (Record Series 41/71/40), he represented Jamaica at the 1945 Y.M.C.A. World Prayer Day event off-campus, he ran for a student position on the Y.M.C.A. Board of Directors in 1945, he was Red Cross Water Safety certified, and he led the 1945 Y.M.C.A. Reception Committee too. Additional images of Mr. Henriques can be found in the Illios of 1945 and 1946.

Mr. LeRoy Brown, (PreMedicine, 1946), of Kingston, faced a few early setbacks in his running career during March and April (13 and 21) of 1946.

Ms. Lucy Maria Chin, (B.A. Liberal Arts and Science, 1949), of St. Andren, gave at least one campus talk about her life in Jamaica for the Y.W.C.A. in 1946. Ms. Chin was also a resident of McKinley Hall (Record Series 41/70/78), and there are at least two photographs of her and other students in the Illios of 1946 and 1948.

Mr. Wilson Wellington Chong, (B.S. Architecture, 1947), of Kingston, earned an honorable mention for his submission to a nation-wide architectural design competition in 1946, marking the first of many achievements as a distinguished architect of Jamaica. After graduation, Mr. Chong became one of the first licensed Jamaican architects and he spent his entire career as an architect in Jamaica. [] In fact, as the architect of many modern Jamaican buildings, Mr. Chong might be best known as the architect for the Jamaican National Stadium!

Mr. Herbert Henry “Herb” McKenley, (1946-1949), sometimes “the magnificent“, “the Jamaican Flash“, “the Jamaican bullet“, of Clarendon, had a stellar athletic career at Illinois, documented in over 300 Daily Illini articles which either mention his name or focus exclusively on his sprint runner feats. After graduation, Mr. McKenley competed in many prominent international athletic competitions, including the 1948 Olympics, the 1951 Pan-American Games, and the 1952 Olympics, before becoming the Jamaican national team coach from 1954 to 1973. While at Illinois, some of Mr. McKenley’s select early achievements included running 440-yards around Memorial Stadium in 46.2 seconds on June 1, 1946, running 300-yards in 29.8 seconds on July 2, 1946, running 440-yards in 48.0 seconds on March 7, 1947, and running 220-yards in 20.4 seconds on April 7, 1947. “[F]rankly, we get a tremendous thrill out of every time we see this magnificent, hardworking sincere athlete perform” wrote DI assistant sports editor Don Peasley about Mr. McKenley, “It almost makes one believe in heroes.” Additional photos of Mr. McKenley can be found in the Illios of 1946, 1947, 1948, and 1949.

Following the successes of the early twentieth century, Jamaican Illini enrollment would continue robustly through the 1970s and it continues to the present day.

Are you a Jamaican Illini? Do you know someone who is? We’d like to hear from you! Please send us a message or leave a comment below. We want to include you and your story, as we celebrate the first 150 years of the University of Illinois.

Happy First 150 everyone!

References

[] As always, a special thank you to all students whose tireless work for student life and publications (many of which are available at the University Archives) help preserve the memories of Illini everywhere.

[1] For more information on Mr. Campbell’s life, please see: “E.E.A. Campbell dies at 81”, The Daily Gleaner, Saturday, March 15, 1969, page 1 and 8.

[2] For more information on Mr. Chong’s impact on Jamaican architecture, please see: Pigou-Dennis, E. (2017). “Island Modernity: Jamaican Urbanism and Architecture, Kingston, 1960-1980”. Urban Island Studies, 3.

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