North Central College - Naperville, IL

Jim Harper 1957

Jim Harper spoke about growing up in Culver, IN, at the Culver-Union Township Public Library in honor of Black History Month. Culver was once home to a thriving African-American community, which included members of the first integrated high school basketball team in Indiana (in 1922) and an African Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1950, Harper left Culver to attend North Central College where, he said, “My first year at college I was the only person of color in Naperville and at the school, but it didn’t seem to make a big difference. I was elected president of my freshman class.” More recently, Harper said an article in the Chicago Tribune, which suggested Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. likely wouldn’t have been allowed to stay overnight in Naperville during the 1950s and ’60s, piqued his interest. “I had to respond. I told (the author) I had been in Naperville and gone to school there and had been free to move about without a problem.” Harper’s college career was broken up by two years in the U.S. Army. Following his service, he returned to North Central and attended seminary for a year, then found himself serving a racially mixed church congregation in Chicago in 1963. His wife and several others in the church urged him to attend the civil rights march on Washington that summer. He was a firsthand witness to the historic event where Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.