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Academic Center

Manchester sets dedication of building in honor of first Black students

NORTH MANCHESTER, Ind. – Manchester University is inviting descendants of its first Black students to the formal naming ceremony of its Academic Center in honor of siblings Martha and Joseph Cunningham.

It is Monday, May 2 on the North Manchester, Indiana, campus.

Mattie-Cunningham-DolbyThe observance begins with a celebration paying tribute to the Cunninghams and their descendants.

The program at 11 a.m. in Cordier Auditorium includes family representatives David Cunningham and Germar Reed, and a historian who has written about the Cunninghams, Nicholas Patler. The presentation, part of the Values, Ideas and the Arts series at Manchester, is free and open to the public.
It will also be livestreamed on the Manchester Facebook page.

It will be followed immediately by a public ribbon-cutting ceremony on East Street at what is now called the Academic Center. Signage on the building will be changed to the Martha Cunningham and Joseph Cunningham Academic Center, and a new timeline inside will reflect the siblings’ life and times.

Siblings who grew up near Kokomo, Ind., the Cunninghams started at Manchester in 1900, Joseph in the preparatory school and Mattie in the Bible School.

Martha “Mattie” Cunningham Dolby spent the early part of her career working to improve the lives of impoverished Black families in the segregated South. Having spent much of her childhood in the Church of the Brethren, she worked to establish a congregation in Arkansas and reviving one in the Midwest. In 1911, she became the first woman to be installed as a minister in the denomination. 

1903-Joseph-Cunningham_Lincoln-Oratorical-ContestantsJoseph Cunningham completed the Manchester normal English program – a course designed as professional training for teachers that offered a solid base in mathematics, science, language, history and pedagogy – in 1903 and continued the following year with a program in elocution. He went on to become a physician and lived in Chicago.  

The early 1900s were a time of intense racial violence and bigotry in the United States. The Cunninghams leave a legacy of tenacity, courage and achievement in the face of systematic oppression.
“I can think of no better way for Manchester to honor the Cunninghams than to name a hall of learning for them,” said Manchester President Dave McFadden.

A luncheon for invited guests will follow the public festivities. Manchester is expecting at least 20 descendants of the Cunninghams to attend the dedication.

For the media

If you need information, please contact Communications Director Anne Gregory, who will connect you to resources.

• March 1903 photo of the Lincoln Society with Joseph Cunningham is from the Manchester University Archives.
• Academic Center
• A photo of Mattie Cunningham Dolby is used on the online press release with permission by the North Manchester Historical Society. Manchester University does not own that photo. To use it, please request permission from the historical society,

Diversity at Manchester

For more information about Mattie Cunningham Dolby, see historian Nicholas Patler’s “Recovering African American Voice and Experience in Brethren History: A Biographical Essay on Mattie Cunningham Dolby, 1878-1956.”

About Manchester: With campuses in North Manchester and Fort Wayne, Ind., Manchester University provides vibrant and transformative student experiences at an affordable price. Learn more at

Our mission and values
Manchester University respects the infinite worth of every individual and graduates persons of ability and conviction who draw upon their education and faith to lead principled, productive, and compassionate lives that improve the human condition.

April 2022