The Tennessee State University National Alumni Association - Detroit Area Chapter is dedicated to supporting the interests of the University by promoting fellowship among its alumni and supporters, stimulating interest among prospective students and financially supporting area students who elect to attend the University.
A Brief History of the Tennessee State University National Alumni Association (TSUNAA) - Detroit Chapter
The Ones Who Have Led Us
Past presidents of the TSUAA-Detroit Chapter are:
1. Henry Heading (1956-1958)*
2. Oliver Johnson (1958-1960)*
3. Sidney Shorter (1960-1963)
4. Clarence Carter (1960-1965)*
5. Lovell Jones (1965-1966)*
6. Clarence Carter (1966–1977)*
7. Emmitt Reeves (1967-1968)
8. Anise Upshaw (1968–1969)
9. Lawrence Collins (1969-1970)
10. Andrew Jackson (1972-1974)*
11. Thomas Archie (1974-1975)
12. Helen Perkins (1975-1977)*
13. Doris Campbell (1977-1979)*
14. Sherman Barton (1979-1981)
15. Derrick Frazier (1981-1988)
16. Thomas Butler (1988-2000)
17. Joe Crowell (2000-2002)
18. Lawrence Collins (2002-2007)
19. Donna Burrell-Jones (2007 – 2009)
20. Rita Jordan (2009 - 2013)
21. George McKinney (2013 - 2017
22. Victoria Green Johnson (2017- 2018)
23 Terri L. Covington (2018 - 2021)
24. Charles Clement (2021 - Present)
The Early Years
“Some grow to greatness through their dreams!”
The idea of a Chapter, had it inception in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s when it flourished as a club comprised of TSU alumni who met, in each other homes, and occasionally socialized together.
Members during that period included; Sarah & Jay Thomas, Gwendolyn Greenwood- Murphy, Dorothy Hall, John Rucker, Walter House, Virginia Donaldson, Mattie & John Hotchkiss, Jessie Foster, Henry Conerway, Clarence & Eloise Carter, Emmitt Reeves, Loraine Patterson and Lettie Galloway.
In September, 1956, twelve persons (several graduates and former students of Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State College nee TSU) met to pursue their dream of organizing an alumni chapter in Metropolitan Detroit. By 1958, the chapter’s membership exceeded 200.
During the 1950’s, following the Korean Conflict, Detroiters clamored for social organizations, thus the Detroit Chapter exerted its energies in planning and promoting affairs which would give aid to the city’s social and cultural life as well as supply funding for the establishment of scholarships for deserving
students who attended TSU.
The Detroit Chapter held its meetings at a midtown location – the Northern Recreation Center until 1965. Attorney Henry Heading was its first president and Emmitt Reeves was the Corresponding Secretary. Oliver A. Johnson Became the second president.
Several cabarets were held at nightclubs which had not opened its doors to Blacks, before. Membership continued to grow which caused other alumni, sorority and fraternity organizations, within the city, to strive to compete.
On May 30, 1957, precedence was established by presenting the First Annual Invitation Formal Ball at the great Latin Quarter. The event featured the 16-piece Jimmy Wilkins Orchestra, a popular Detroit band. The guest list contained names of persons from throughout the Midwest, East, South and the West Indies. Two scholarships were awarded to; Dorothy Hendrix of Inkster HS and Hugh Shaw of Northwestern HS.
The Latin Quarter was turned into a scene of ‘gay spring’ with the pomp and splendor of a great Victorian Ball.
The ball was the most elaborate affair ever given by an alumni chapter in the Mid- West and received commendations to that affect by Associated Press coverage. On March 8, 1958, a Mardi Gras Cabaret Party was held at the exclusive BelAir Terrace located in Detroit on North Woodward Avenue. The BelAir, noted for its exclusive catering services and beautiful décor, was transformed into a galaxy of multi-colored balloons in Mardi Gras flavor. The cabaret featured a star-studded revue headlining the Jimmy Wilkins Orchestra, Giff Roberts, a well know mimic, singer and dancer Benny Carter, former vocalist from Illinois, Earl Bostic’s Band and the famous Tony Lewis Dance Troupe.
The Mardi Gras was a great success, however, the Belle Isle could only accommodate 500 people thus 100 people were turned away because of the overflow crowd.
On June 9, 1958, the Second Annual Scholarship Ball was held at the Latin Quarter. The Count Basie Band with vocalist Joe Williams was featured.
The scholarship recipients were Beverly Elaine Jones of the High School of Commerce, and Walter J. Tardy of Eastern High School.
The Chapter’s calendar of events included the Annual Fellowship Day at a metro area church. St. Mark Community Presbyterian Church, Central United Methodist Church, and Wyoming Avenue Church
of Christ were several of the many churches the Chapter visited.
Sunday, April 27, 1958 marked the Second Annual Fellowship Day for the Detroit Chapter. St. Mark Community United Presbyterian Church located in Northwest Detroit hosted the chapter at the 11:00 am service. Reverend James D. Wadsworth, its pastor and one of Detroit’s outstanding lecturers and civic leaders, commended the chapter for its outstanding service to the community and encouraged its members to continue to strive for its purpose – ‘Preparing Youth for a More Dynamic Detroit’.
The chapter experienced financial difficulties following the Second Annual Scholarship Ball which caused membership to decrease. It was then decided to scale back on its social affairs following one last Grand Ball, in 1959.
During the spring of 1959, the third Annual Scholarship Ball was held at the Latin Quarter and featured the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Two scholarships were awarded.
The era of large affairs ended in 1959.
The Detroit Chapter was unanimously elected ‘Alumni Chapter of the Year’ by the National Alumni Association on April 11, 1958. On that date,
Attorney Charles Farmer, prominent lawyer and Assistant Attorney General of Michigan was elected ‘Alumnus of the Year’. He also received the W. S. Davis
‘Alumni Award’ at the University’s Annual Commencement on June 2, 1958.
The Chapter elected John A. Hotchkiss, one of Detroit’s top real estate representatives as ‘Alumnus of the Year’ because of his untiring efforts in strengthening the chapter through promotion of various alumni events.
Four other members of the chapter were cited for scholastic achievement during the current year; they were Mary Lloyd, who received a Master of Science Degree in Political Science from TSU in August, 1957, and holds the distinction of being the first woman to be awarded a degree in that field from a Tennessee institution; Melba Whitlow-Coles received a Master of Arts Degree from TSU in August, 1957; Sidney Shorter received a Masters of Science Degree from
Wayne University in January, 1958, and Emmitt Reeves received a Master of Business Administration Degree from the University of Detroit on June 12, 1958. Reeves was only the second Black person to ever receive that degree from the famed School of Business.
Lorraine Patterson, former Assistant Principal of Lincoln Intermediate School in Inkster, Michigan was appointed Principal of
the school in 1958 and received recognition for being the first female alumnus to become a principal in the state of Michigan.
In 1960 the Detroit Chapter, at the request of the Governor of Tennessee, was host to the five Olympic Champions and their coach, Ed Temple, upon their return from the Rome Olympics.
A press conference and a festive luncheon were held at the Gotham Hotel.
The team remained in Detroit for one day, while the governor prepared the biggest welcome celebration ever held in Tennessee, until that time.
During the fiftieth Anniversary of TSU, in 1962, several members of the Detroit Chapter were awarded citations as Distinguished Alumni.
They were selected by their peers for their employment related accomplishments and/or their community service. The members recognized were; Charles Farmer, Judge of Common Please Court; Dr, Nathaniel Holloway, Dentist; Dr. John McLean, Jr., Professor of Chemistry – University of Detroit; Emmitt Reeves, Mathematics Teacher and Department Chairman – Foch School; and Dr. Joseph W. Rucker, Physician.
The Chapter changed its meeting place to the Shriners Convention Center on Grand River at West Grand Boulevard. Meetings continue there until 1967.
The Later Years
During the 1970’s – 1980’s, the chapter experienced cyclical periods of membership and participation. The members generally met at various buildings throughout Detroit, including the Northwest Activities Center. The membership varied, rarely exceeding 100 financial members, although there were probably more TSU alumni in the Detroit area than any other HBCU.
The chapter hosted a number of successful events including dances and boat rides.
The Annual Sweetheart Brunch began in February, 1970.
The Recent Years
During the 2000’s the chapter has met on the 3rd Saturday of each month at the Henry Ford Medical Center located in Detroit, Michigan.
The Chapter has engaged in several annual activities that are, basically, ongoing: The Annual Sweetheart Brunch, The Annual Alumni Picnic, The Annual New Student Reception, The Annual Alumni Fall Roundup and the Annual Alumni Christmas Party.
The Chapter has hosted a number of Mid-Western Regional Conferences, the most recent being the one held April 11-13, 2003 at the Marriott Renaissance Hotel located in Detroit, Michigan.
On June 8, 2004, several members of the Chapter developed the Detroit TSUAA Foundation as a 501(c)(3) organization responsible for raising revenue. The monies raised are used to fund chapter scholarships to Detroit Area students who elect to attend TSU. The scholarships grants are awarded on a competitive basis. The stated mission of the Foundation is:
“The Detroit TSUAA (Tennessee State University Alumni Association) Foundation was developed in March, 2004, as an adjunct to the TSUAA-Detroit Chapter. Its sole purpose is to raise revenue to allow the chapter to award scholarship grants to Detroit Area students who elect to attend Tennessee State University, located in Nashville, Tennessee.”
The first fundraising event took place at the Skyline Club, located in Southfield, Michigan. The keynote speaker was TSU President, Dr. James A. Hefner and the event raised $13,125 exclusively from alumni. The Foundation’s Charter Members were developed within four (4) giving levels; Platinum, Gold, Silver, and Bronze. A total of 21 giving units comprise the Foundation’s Charter Members. The Charter Members are:
Pat & Merlton Brandenberg
Regina & Lawrence Collins
Adrena & Lamar Crowder
Marian & Harry Franklin
Joyce & George Jones
Bobbie & Robert Walls
Victoria & Duane Johnson
Patricia & Jonathan Smith
The succeeding year’s events were the Annual Scholarship Luncheon which culminated an annual capital campaign to raise revenue by selling advertisements in a souvenir book. Support is garnered from alumni, businesses, corporations, and the community.
The keynote speakers for the succeeding events have been Dr. Melvin N. Johnson (2006), General (Ret) Lloyd ‘Fig’ Newton (2007) and Theodore L. Spencer (2008), respectively.
The Chapter continues in its effort to grow the membership. Although the advent of electronic media has greatly improved our ability to communicate with our area alumni; the improved method of communication has not resulted in the needed increase in membership.
The Chapter maintains its focus to stay on point with regard to its stated mission: “The Tennessee State University Alumni Association – Detroit Area Chapter is dedicated to supporting the interests of the University by promoting fellowship among its alumni and supporters,
stimulating interest among prospective students and financially supporting area
students who elect to attend the University”. Our history serves as a reminder
of just how far we have come, yet, how far we still have to go.
March 10, 2008