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Exhibit honors Storer graduate

February 03, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - Nnamdi Azikiwe had many distinguishing qualities, not the least of which was being Nigeria's first democratically-elected president.

Azikiwe was also a writer and newspaper editor, a career he used to promote pride and nationalism in Nigerians.

A talented athlete with impressive physical features, Azikiwe excelled in soccer and high jumping, and his strong voice made him an effective public speaker, friends said Sunday at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

And to think that part of Azikiwe's educational background was established in Harpers Ferry.

Hungry for knowledge after watching his father struggle with discrimination in Africa, Azikiwe decided he wanted to go to Harpers Ferry to attend Storer College, a school set up after the Civil War where blacks could attain a college education.

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Azikiwe's initial plan was to stow away in a vessel to come to the United States, but that was unsuccessful, said Richard I. McKinney, former president of Storer College.

His father later saved up enough money for Azikiwe to come to the college in 1925, McKinney said during a remembrance ceremony Sunday afternoon at the park.

Azikiwe graduated from Storer College in 1927 and later obtained a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania.

McKinney described Azikiwe as "easily the most distinguished alumnus" of Storer College.

After returning home to Nigeria, Azikiwe fought to free Nigerians from Britain's rule. At the time in Nigeria, people were unable to make their own decisions or their own laws, McKinney said.

Azikiwe carried out his freedom campaign in print, and in 1960 the country achieved independence.

Three years later, Azikiwe became Nigeria's first elected president.

Officials at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park have put together an exhibit honoring Azikiwe, and the collection of writings, books and other memorabilia reflecting his life was formally opened Sunday afternoon.

McKinney, another distinguished figure in Storer College's history, said he was honored to return to Harpers Ferry to remember Azikiwe.

"It's been a delight to think of coming back to Harpers Ferry on this occasion," said McKinney, who lives in Baltimore.

After returning to Nigeria after receiving his college education, Azikiwe was able to bring Nigerian tribes together after long-standing rivalry between the groups, McKinney said.

Azikiwe served as Nigeria's president from 1963 to 1966, when he was forced to step down because of a military coup, McKinney said.

The exhibit honoring Azikiwe is on the second floor of the park's John Brown Museum. After McKinney and Jefferson County NAACP president George Rutherford cut a ribbon outside the entrance to the room, the doors were pushed open and a crowd of people flowed in to see the exhibit.

The exhibit contained artifacts related to Azikiwe's newspaper career, his college teaching career and a copy of his autobiography, "My Odyssey."

There was also a copy of The Storer Tornado, the college's student newspaper, which recounted a visit Azikiwe made to the college in 1947 to give the school's commencement address. McKinney, who was president at the time, recalled how Azikiwe challenged students to stand up for what is right in the world.

"He was indeed a person who was eager for knowledge and it showed," McKinney said.

The exhibit will be open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. this month, which is Black History Month. It then will be available as a traveling exhibit, said Todd Bolton, branch chief of visitor services at the park.

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