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University of Iowa Apologizes for Refusing to Recognize Its First Black ‘Miss SUI’ 60 Years Later

Dora Martin Berry (UI Universities Blogs)

Dora Martin Berry (UI Universities Blogs)

A college refused to acknowledge its first Black Miss State University of Iowa in 1955, but today it is apologizing.

According to the Press-Citizen, then-17-year-old Dora Martin Berry became the first Black woman to become queen at the University of Iowa. Berry’s peers voted for her to win the competition. And during that era, the school went by the name of SUI.

At an event held Oct. 21 to honor Black alumni from the 1930s to the 1960s, UI President Bruce Harreld apologized to Berry, now 78.

“I would first like to apologize for 60 years plus of official neglect of your status,” Harreld said. Following Berry’s standing ovation, the president continued.

“We as an institution are very proud of your accomplishments,” he said. “And we’re grateful that you are such an important member of our Hawkeye family.”

Even tough UI did not recognize Berry’s historic election six decades ago, national and global news outlets did. Still, events normally held for the campus queen were canceled upon Berry’s crowning.

The new essay collection, “Invisible Hawkeyes: African-Americans at the University of Iowa during the Long Civil Rights Era,” –  also celebrated Friday – contains a chapter from Berry describing her feelings of the occurrence.

“In the 1950s, white universities weren’t electing Black campus queens every day,” she wrote. “Therefore, UI’s inability to accept that it had created an environment where that could happen made me think ‘shame on them.’ ”

At the ceremony, Berry remained thankful for the “heartfelt” apology given by Harreld.

“Unfortunately, the university administration never officially recognized or even acknowledged her victory or her status,” the UI president said. “The best they could do at that time was to offer an official ‘no comment,’ since they said the election was a student matter, not part officially of the university.”

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