Throughout Black History Month, IAC examines the relationship between power, race, and visual representation from various perspectives. IAC celebrates the awarding of Edmonia Lewis’ posthumous diploma alongside the Oberlin College community. Thank you to Oberlin College’s President Ambar for conferring on this great artist the degree she rightfully deserved.
A sculptor of international renown, Edmonia Lewis was born in 1844 to parents of African–American and Mississauga-Ojibwe ancestry.
Although Lewis was among a handful of Black students to enroll in Oberlin College in 1859— one of the first institutions to admit Black students and women—a series of wrongful allegations were made. After being unjustly accused of poisoning two white classmates, she was beaten by a violent mob; while recuperating, she was acquitted of these false charges. Nonetheless, in 1863 she withdrew from Oberlin without a degree.
Over 150 years later, at the 2022 Commencement, Oberlin College posthumously awarded Edmonia Lewis her diploma in the Ladies’ Course.
“Sometimes the times were dark and the outlook was lonesome, but where there is a will, there is a way. I pitched in and dug at my work until now I am what I am. It was hard work though. But with color and sex against me, I have achieved success. That is what I tell my people whenever I meet them, that they must not be discouraged, but work ahead until the world is found to respect them for what they have accomplished.”—Edmonia Lewis