Cunningham Academic Center will be dedicated May 2

March 1903 photo of the Lincoln Society with Joseph Cunningham is from the Manchester University Archives.

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.

The observance begins with a celebration paying tribute to the Cunninghams and their descendants.

The program at 11 a.m. in Cordier Auditorium includes family representative Germar Reed and a historian who has written about the Cunninghams, Nicholas Patler. The presentation is part of the Values, Ideas and the Arts series, what used to be known as convocations.

Alumni are welcome to join us for the celebration and following ribbon-cutting ceremony on East Street at what is now called the Academic Center. Signage on the building is being changed to the Martha Cunningham and Joseph Cunningham Academic Center, and a new timeline inside will reflect the siblings’ life and times.

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

Photo of Martha Cunningham Dolby is used with permission by the North Manchester Historical Society.
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.


Joseph 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.

Manchester is expecting at least 20 descendants of the Cunninghams to attend the dedication.

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,”