EUSAN, LYNN CECELIA
EUSAN, LYNN CECELIA (1948–1971). Lynn Cecelia Eusan, community activist, journalist, and University of Houston’s first black homecoming queen, was born in Galveston County, Texas, on October 11, 1948, to Ida Mae (Boudreaux) Eusan and Wilbur Thirkield Eusan, Sr. The Eusans, a solid working class couple later moved to San Antonio and had four additional children. After graduating from Phillis Wheatley High School, Eusan enrolled at the University of Houston in 1966 to pursue a degree in journalism and education.
During this period, the United States was in turmoil as the black liberation movement was fighting for full democracy in America. The university had desegregated four years earlier, and Eusan was among its scarce population of 400 black students.
Campus life at the University of Houston was often desolate and hostile because blacks and other students of color had not been integrated into the mainstream of campus life. In 1967 Lynn Eusan led the fight to further desegregate the university when she helped Dwight Allen and Eugene Locke organize the COBRR (Committee on Better Race Relations). The aim of this multiracial organization was to promote racial harmony among the students on the university’s campus. A year later she organized African Americans for Black Liberation (AABL), which replaced the COBRR, with the goal of coalescing with other races and surrounding communities, including Houston’s Third Ward and the Texas Southern University campus. The organization also raised money for scholarships and established summer recreation and entertainment programs for black youths residing in the area from 1968 to 1969. While at UH, Eusan also co-founded the SHAPE (Self Help for African People through Education) Community Center; was a charter member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the university’s first black sorority; and was a member of the UH marching band.
In a significant moment during the struggle to transform the University of Houston, Lynn Eusan was elected homecoming queen on November 22, 1968. Her campaign was run by the AABL, and her candidacy was endorsed by the student-run newspaper, the Daily Cougar, over five other white candidates. Many claimed that she was the first black woman to be elected homecoming queen at a predominantly white university in the South, and the story received considerable attention in newspapers across the nation. She was also featured in an article in Ebony magazine. During her reign she promoted “blackness as beautiful” with her natural afro, became a symbol of black progress in Houston, and remained an outspoken activist. In February 1969 Eusan and other members of the AABL presented the UH administration with a list of ten demands that offered a series of reforms in the academic and social arenas of campus life. Some of those demands included the creation of an African American studies program; hiring of black faculty, counselors, and administrators; recruitment and retention of black students; pay equity and improved working conditions for menial employees; and university support for inner-city youth programs. University president Phillip G. Hoffman responded promptly and agreed to advocate an increase in minority faculty, improved housing opportunities for minority students, and the creation of a dedicated task force to review student grievances. The university also agreed to fund an African American studies program, which began in 1969 and continues today.
On March 17, 1969, Eusan was arrested and charged with destruction of public property after participating in a riot that erupted on the UH campus after AABL member Eugene Locke alleged he was assaulted by two white students. Charges against her and others involved were subsequently dropped. The homecoming queen’s arrest was somewhat controversial, but it was not Eusan’s only brush with the police. She was also arrested in May 1967 during a demonstration against unsafe conditions for children in Houston’s impoverished Sunnyside neighborhood. Eusan graduated from the University of Houston in 1970 and was employed at the Voice of Hope, a media arm of HOPE Development, Inc., in the historic Fifth Ward, where she honed her journalistic skills and talent. She was also a contributing editor for Black Enterprise magazine and worked as a secretary and public relations representative for the Progressive Amateur Boxing Association, organized by Rev. Ray Martin. She hoped to continue her education and was preparing to attend graduate school in North Carolina.
Eusan was killed in Houston on September 10, 1971, after being abducted and stabbed several times while waiting for a bus to take her to work. Her body was found in the back seat of a car driven by Leo Jackson, Jr., a twenty-six-year-old black male who collided with a police car. Jackson, who was arrested on fourteen previous occasions for rape, assault, and armed robbery, claimed that a hysterical Eusan had assaulted him and stabbed herself and that he was trying to drive her to a hospital. He was later charged with murder but was acquitted in March 1972, much to the shock of many, including Eusan’s family. Due in part to the media attention Eusan received after the 1968 homecoming election, the story of her murder was picked up by the Associated Press and reported in newspapers nationwide.
Lynn Cecelia Eusan’s funeral was held at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in San Antonio, and a public memorial service took place on the UH campus. She was buried in the African-American cemetery on San Antonio's east side where she grew up. In 1976 a section of land on the University of Houston’s campus was designated as a park and named in her honor. Additionally, a number of awards were created in her memory. They include a journalism scholarship, an African-American studies alumni award, and the Progressive Amateur Boxing Association’s Lynn Eusan Award for Community Involvement.
Houston attorney Eugene (Gene) Locke, UH alumnus, co-founder of the AABL, and friend of Eusan’s, commented, “One of Lynn’s greatest assets was her personality and her ability to get people to move toward her position by the bigness of her personality.” UH alumna and friend Michelle Barnes remembered Eusan’s ability to not only promote and bring about improvements on the UH campus but also her talent to “generally connect the time, energy, commitment, knowledge, skills, vision, passion, and other resources of the college students to fulfill the needs of the people elsewhere in the community.” Described as a “sister, teacher, crusader, worker and organizer,” Eusan once remarked that she wanted to be remembered "for the cause of justice and equality for all people in this society."
Daily Cougar, February 12, 1969; March 18, 1969; April 8, 1969; November 5, 1998; October 11, 1999. Houston Forward Times, September 18, 1971. Houston Informer and Texas Freeman, September 18, 1971. Jet, September 30, 1971. Lubbock Avalanche Journal, March 22, 1972. President’s Office Collection, University Archives, Special Collections, University of Houston Library. San Antonio Express, December 5, 1968; September 11, 1971.
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