Romeo B. Garrett was the first African-American to receive a master's degree from and to serve as a professor at Bradley University, where he studied and taught sociology. As a young man, he was aware of the lack of information about blacks in both history books and the public eye. He thus began an extensive documentation of the accomplishments of blacks in all fields.
The first item to enter his collection was a photograph of Frederick Douglass, about whom his grandfather had often spoken. Garrett's grandfather was a former slave and had met the famous orator and abolitionist in 1863. Over the span of six decades, his collection of letters, photographs, signatures, stamps, articles, books, documents, and memorabilia eventually grew to fill six file cabinets in his Bradley University office. A sampling of this collection, entitled "The Black Experience in America," has been exhibited annually at the Peoria Public Library for the past 20 years.
Garrett began teaching at Bradley in 1947 and remained there for 29 years before retiring. As a teacher, Garrett worked hard to increase student awareness of other cultures and motivated them to study black history. He also encouraged the administrators to hire more black teachers and staff. Throughout his time on the Bradley campus, Garrett worked to bring prominent blacks to lecture or perform on campus and did his own speaking to numerous classes and groups about black achievements. Garrett authored two books: 'Famous First Facts about Negroes' and 'The President and the Negro.'
Off-campus, Garrett was a member of the local NAACP and Urban League and served as the associate minister of the Zion Baptist Church in Peoria for almost 40 years.
Romeo B. Garrett died in March of 2000. However, Garrett's legacy is more than secure in the Bradley community. Over the years, more than 400 students have been able to attend Bradley with the help of numerous scholarships created in his honor.
-Submitted by Jennifer S. Everett