Leaving His Own Legacy

Student Jordan Terrell has not only made a documentary about the history of African Americans at Campbell University, he’s created the school’s first club dedicated to the study of African-American history

By Billy Liggett | Photo by Bennett Scarborough

Jordan Terrell, a broadcasting communication studies major at Campbell University, was working the African American Studies Club booth at the Street Fair last August when a young alumnus asked him: “Who was the first African-American student at Campbell?”

Terrell didn’t know. As the founder of Campbell’s African American Studies Club, “I was a little embarrassed I didn’t already know the answer,” he said. But Terrell assured the former student: “I will do everything in my power to find out the answer.”

His pursuit to find out the answer led him to ultimately document his findings — and more — in the 40-minute documentary “Black History at Campbell.” The African American Studies Club premiered the film on campus in February as part of Black History Month. The film not only traces the history of African Americans at Campbell, it incorporates interviews with some of the first African Americans who attended or worked at the university.

“My main focus was to give those who haven’t always had a voice or platform to share their stories,” said Terrell, who will graduate in May and plans to move to California to pursue a career in entertainment. “The oral history is truly important for this documentary to present the experiences of African Americans at Campbell.”

Terrell started digging into the research in October. He began by going directly to Campbell’s registrar’s and alumni offices and asking who were the first male and female African Americans to attend Campbell. Kendra Erickson, an adjunct in Campbell’s history department, also provided tips and guidance on researching information and photos in University Archives.

Their help led Terrell to discover Cordell Wise was the first African American man to attend Campbell, while Patricia Oates Conway and Marquriette Lawrence share the title as the first African American women to attend Campbell.

For his documentary, Terrell interviewed Conway, who left Campbell after only a year but returned recently to pursue a communication studies degree. He also shadowed her as she visited the room in Day Hall she once shared with Lawrence when they were students in 1968. He captured the moment Conway took her first step into her old dorm room after nearly 40 years. She stood inside it for about a minute, Terrell said, before exiting, “her face completely changed.”

It’s such footage and stories Conway and others share in “Black History at Campbell” that Terrell said are important in capturing the experiences of those who came before him. “I know I can’t feel the whole impact of their experiences,” he said, “but just to have a little piece and to share their stories is important and helps make something known what was previously unknown.”

In 2013, during Black History Month, Terrell noticed there was no African American presence at the university in terms of student clubs or organizations. So he started the African American Studies Club. It became official in March 2013 and grew to about two-dozen members by February 2014, when it held its first series of campus-wide events during Black History Month.

One of the events was a showing of a short documentary Terrell made: “What Does Black History Mean to Me.” Other events the club has sponsored include a Culture Dinner, where different groups from across campus shared meals that reflected their culture.

The purpose of the club’s activities is similar to what Terrell hopes today’s students, faculty, staff and alumni get out of his documentary “Black History at Campbell”: “I hope others will go beyond their own normal social circles and speak to others and get to know them. That’s one of the things making this documentary reminded me of: We’re all people, and we all have a story to share.”