Distinguished Achievement Award

Rufus Perry 1861

2023 Recipient

Rufus Perry 1861 is the 2023 recipient of the Distinguished Achievement Award

Read about Rufus Perry

Rufus Perry, the first Black student known to attend Kalamazoo College, enrolled in 1859. At the time, he was a fugitive from slavery having escaped the Overton plantation in Tennessee. In June 1861, 18 months before the Emancipation Proclamation, Perry graduated from the Kalamazoo Theological Seminary. He went on to become a nationally known clergyman and passionate advocate for Black equality.

Perry’s father, a talented cabinetmaker, was able to hire himself out in Nashville where young Rufus attended school. It was the beginning of Perry’s formal education and likely an early realization of the power of knowledge. In 1841, however, his father escaped, and seven-year-old Rufus was forced back to the Overton plantation. By the time he was eighteen, Perry was considered “dangerous” due to his education and was sold to a trader, but he managed to flee to Canada.

He settled in Chatham where he may have met Martin Delaney, the father of Black nationalism. Delany was planning to emigrate to Africa, and Perry became interested in emigrating as well. One of Perry’s motivations was to help end slavery by establishing a cotton competition in West Africa that “shall deprive Southern gentlemen of their boasted monopoly.” 

Perry’s Africa ambitions drew the attention of the Reverend John Booth, an agent for Kalamazoo College who sponsored Perry’s education.  Soon after graduation, the African Civilization Society selected Perry to lead an expedition to Western Africa. As a member of the Society, Perry had joined some of the most progressive members of America’s Black elite. 

Perry’s plans changed after the Emancipation Proclamation. The African Civilization Society began working with freed people in the South and appointed Perry superintendent of its freedmen’s school in Washington, D.C.

In the late 1860s, Perry moved to the Weeksville neighborhood in Brooklyn. As Judith Wellman writes in Brooklyn’s Promised Land, “national leaders such as Henry Highland Garnet, Rufus L. Perry, and Martin Delany consciously attempted to make Weeksville part of … the ‘golden age’ of black nationalism.”

Perry later served as corresponding secretary for the Consolidated American Baptist Missionary Convention, a national Black Baptist organization. During those years, he locked horns with the White-run American Baptist Home Mission Society, bristling at the “proscription” against Black people within the Baptist power structure.

Perry also served as pastor for several churches including the Messiah Baptist Church, which he founded in Weeksville in 1887.

In 1870, Perry began publishing the National Monitor, which became his primary platform for advocacy. The paper was described as “a wide-awake journal, edited by Rufus L. Perry, a live man, in every sense of the term … The columns … show well the versatile character of the gentleman whose brain furnishes the mental food for its readers, and the cause of its widespread popularity.”

Rufus Perry died in 1895 at the age of 61. The Brooklyn Eagle eulogized him as “one of the best known colored clergymen in the country,” who “enjoyed a considerable reputation outside of Brooklyn…. He was clear, concise and earnest in his speech, and wrote with ease and force.”

About the Distinguished Achievement Award

The Distinguished Achievement Award honors those graduated from Kalamazoo College who have achieved distinction in their professional fields and have brought honor to our alma mater. Candidates shall have received awards or other recognition from their peers as evidence of distinguished achievement in their profession. National or international recognition indicating a continuing or enduring level of achievement is desirable.

If you know someone like this, please nominate them today!


Past Recipients

The name of the honoree is listed alphabetically, followed by class year and the year the award was bestowed.

A

Glenn S. Allen, Jr. ’36 (1986)
Harold B. Allen ’24 (1980) ^
Renee Askins ’81 (1999)

B

George C. Baldwin ’39 (1987)
H. Lewis Batts, Jr. ’43 (1978) ^
Larry Bell ’80 (2010)
Bruce Benton ’64 (1988)
Louis F. Brakeman ’54 (1992)
Roger E. Brinner ’69 (1987)
Harold W. Brown ’24 (1982) ^
Garry Brown ’51 (1994)

C

Susana Cabeza de Vaca ’67 (2011)
Arnold Campbell ’72 (2012)
David Campbell ’71 (1995)
Martha Campbell ’72 (2012)
I. Carl Candoli ’50 (1986) ^
Frances Clark ’28 (1987) ^
Scott Cleland ’82 (2000)
Teju Cole ’96 (2021)
Alma Smith Crawford ’27 (1983) ^

D

Harold Decker ’67 (2008)
William DeGrado ′77 (2017)
Mildred Doster ’30 (1976) ^

E

Paul Eads ’73 (1997)
Eva M. Eicher ’61 (1992)
Kenneth G. Elzinga ’63 (1983)

F

Elsie Herbold Froeschner ’35 (1988) ^

G

Harry T. Garland ’68 (1983)
Walter A. Good ’37 (1977) ^
William E. Good ’37 (1977) ^
Sandra Greene ’74 (2018)

H

Richard D. Haas ’65 (1993)
Donald L. Hafner ’66 (1987)
E. James Harkema ’64 (1992)
John N. Howell ′61 (2015)
Richard C. Hudson ’69 (1991)
Holly Hughes ’77 (1995)

J

Calvert Johnson ’71 (2016)

K

Cynthia Earl Kerman ’44 (1979)
Lisa Kron ’83 (2003)

L

Vincent Liff ’73 (1995)

M

Jacqueline Buck Mallinson ’48 (1989) ^
Mark McDonald ’73 (1996)
Ralph W. McKee ’34 (1981) #
Genna Rae McNeil ’69 (1986)
Julie Mehretu ’92 (2007)
David Mesenbring ’73 (2003)
Helen Pratt Mickens ’76 (2006)
John D. Montgomery ’41 (1988) ^

N

Daniel Nepstad ’79 (2013)

O

Gilbert F. Otto ’26 (1989)

P

Guy L. Perry ’27 (1988)
Harley R. Pierce ’51 (1993)
Fred O. Pinkham ’42 (1989)

R

Jack P. Ragotzy ’48 (1993)
William R. Rogers ’54 (1985)
Gerald E. Rosen ′73 (2014)
Daniel M. Ryan ’42 (1975)

S

John Sarno ’44 (2004)
Myra Selby ’77 (1998)
Diane Seuss ’78 (2022)
Jeanne Sigler ’69 (2019)
P. Ronald Spann ’65 (1999)
Laurence E. Strong ’36 (1984)

T

Gene Tidrick ’64 (2004)
Peter S. Tippett ’75 (2005)
Frank S. Tomkins ’37 (1990)

W

Margaret E. Waid ’40 (1987)
John W. Warner ’66 (1990)
Craig S. Wells ’75 (1989)
Kathleen West ’77 (2001)
Owen W. Williams ’48 (1986)
David Wilson ’69 (2009)
Marcia J. Wood ’55 (1986)


# Received Distinguished Service Award
^ Received Citation of Merit Award