Multicultural Center

History of the Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center

During the spring of 1969, a task force of Western Illinois University students sought to establish a cultural center that would provide an ongoing academic and social experience for African American students. The University and the Board of Governors approved the recommendations of the task force and Burns Residence Hall on West Adams Street was chosen as the site for the new Black Cultural Center.

On March 21, 1970, the Center was renamed and dedicated in honor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet laureate of Illinois, Ms. Gwendolyn Brooks, in recognition of her support for the establishment of the facility.

The Gwendolyn Brooks Memorial Park will be used to host various GBCC programs throughout the year.

Gwendolyn Brooks

Brooks Legacy

Gwendolyn Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas in 1917 and lived in Chicago since she was an infant. Brooks graduated from Englewood High School and received her Associates Degree from Wilson Junior College. She taught at the University of Wisconsin (Madison), City College of New York, Columbia College of Chicago, Northeastern Illinois University, Elmhurst College, and Chicago State University. In the late 1930's, Brooks met poet and writer Henry Blakely and they were married in 1939. They were married 57 years until his death in 1996. The couple had a son, Henry Blakely III, and daughter, Nora Brooks Blakely.

On Sunday, December 3, 2000, internationally recognized poet Gwendolyn Brooks passed away at her home in Chicago, Illinois surrounded by family and friends. She was 83. Brooks was the first Black person to receive the distinguished Pulitzer Prize. This award was given in 1950 for Brooks' volume of poetry, Annie Allen. In 1968, Brooks was named Poet Laureate of Illinois, succeeding the late Carl Sandburg.

Ms. Brooks was the first recipient of Western Illinois University's Honorary Doctorate in June of 1971. In the previous year (1970), the Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center was dedicated to honor her for her commitment, encouragement, humanitarian service and her personal inspiration to African American students at Western Illinois University.

Brooks visited WIU numerous times since the dedication, the most recent September 29, 1999, to celebrate the Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center's 30th anniversary. The same day, Ms. Brooks was given a key to the City by the Mayor of Macomb.

Chicago State University is the official repository for Gwendolyn Brooks works.

Objectives of the Center

The objective of the Center is to promote the rich cultural experience of African Americans. To fulfill this objective, the various components of the Center serve to:

  • Develop and expand innovative and meaningful life experiences for all students at Western Illinois University in a centrally located facility.
  • Generate through the University community a quantity of valuable information about the African American experience through the performing arts, classes, lectures, seminars, and other appropriate media.
  • Be a learning center to help develop African American leaders who can later apply their skills in the community of their choice.
  • Establish and maintain a good rapport with African American alumni.
  • Establish and maintain a continuing dialogue with department chairs, faculty, staff, and administrators concerning policies, procedures, programs, and courses which may best serve the cultural needs of African American students.
  • Assist in the annual orientation of new African American students.
  • Provide ongoing support for all Western Illinois University student organizations, particularly African American student organizations.


The Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center is named after the first African-American Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and Poet Laureate of Illinois, Gwendolyn Brooks. Founded in 1970, the Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center supports all students and promotes student success through cultural awareness, academic achievement, and social advocacy.

The Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center also provides support services for Black-American, African-American and Native-African students through educational programs, communal and public dialog, collections, exhibitions, and other initiatives by striving to engage and serve participants of varying ages, interests and walks of life.


The Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center is committed to helping the campus community adjust to a multicultural and multiracial society without regard to race, age, creed, economic status, or position in life. This commitment is fulfilled primarily through the sponsorship of programs designed to broaden public awareness of African American culture and heritage.