Potential Douglas Hall name replacements: Zella Powell

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“Grandma in her cousin’s car”

Corryn Brock, Editor-in-Chief

Eastern’s Naming Committee is tasked with reviewing a list of individuals who Douglas Hall could be potentially renamed after.

The individuals being considered are former Illinois Governor Edward Coles, former student athlete and Tuskegee Airman Captain Charles B. Hall, former University President Louis V. Hencken, community members who assisted students with housing Ona and Kenneth Norton, Eastern’s first Black student Zella Powell and former life sciences professor and Director of Afro-American Studies William Ridgeway.

Zella Powell was Eastern’s first Black graduate in 1910.

Powell was a member of the prominent Powell family of Mattoon, being born to John Powell and Victoria Barr Powell.

Powell’s family is considered to be a pioneer family of Mattoon and her father was the first child to be born in Mattoon.

Though the family was well-known, Powell’s granddaughter, Stephanie Wright Griggs, said they were a typical middle-class family.

Wright Griggs created a traveling exhibit, Picture Perfect: Zella’s Traveling Scrapbook, to showcase her family’s life.

Wright Griggs said she does not know the specifics of her grandmother’s life in college, but she has thought about what it must have been like for her grandmother being Eastern’s first Black student.

“You know, I wish I’d asked her. I was too young to know that at the time. You know, we all have desires to go back in time and talk about it. I mean, she was ill and I was 13. When we were younger she talked about it, but she talked about it in passing because, I mean, Black people did not discuss those stories, the struggle, because they weren’t really sure how they’d be perceived by the framework. And a lot of times, they did not want to share that burden. And I’ll turn around and say I don’t know that was a burden for my grandmother’s to the extent of some, but I know it had to be,” Wright Griggs said. “Because on one hand, I looked at the fact she basically grew up in a pretty predominantly white community. So she had a different sense of expectations, just having lived in that environment versus people who weren’t in that environment.”

After graduating, Powell taught in Mattoon before moving to Chicago to teach, where she spent much of her life and met her husband Albert Lovett.

The couple had one daughter, Louise, who later married Charles H. Wright, a Detroit doctor, founder of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and civil rights activist. Powell’s granddaughters, Wright Griggs and Dr. Carla Wright went on to be the CEO of Provident Hospital in Chicago and a medical doctor respectively.

A complete list of individuals being reviewed can be found here.

 

Corryn Brock can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected]