1920 to the 1950s: The Quiet/Unknown Years

From the point of Berthol’s death in 1919 to approximately the early 1950s, it seems that either there was not a substantial Black student population on campus, or Black students during this period were not as widely active as later student populations; there is little recorded documentation of their involvement. These years were also quite a turbulent time for the state of Idaho, with many issues arising that stressed the state.

One of the first issues was that of the Depression of 1920, where the newly expanded mining, lumber, and agriculture industries (due to the need for material goods in World War I) saw prices for goods drop noticeably low. After the Depression of 1920, Idaho’s economy never recovered, but instead remained stagnant at lower levels until the Great Depression of the 1930s, which caused significant economic downturns for the state. This can be seen in the economic prices of raw materials between 1929 and 1933, with Idaho’s famous white pine dropping 269 million board feet (unit of volume for timber equal to 144 cubic inches), the selling price of wheat bushels from a $1.30 to $0.26, and the production of mined goods dropping from over $32 million to under $10 million.1 Furthermore, the average income of Idaho residents dropped by around 55%. During this time, Idaho remained one of the most underdeveloped states in the Pacific Northwest.2

Though the state of Idaho would finally start to see the light at the end of the tunnel in terms of the Great Depression, it would again be thrust into a chaotic climate with the outbreak of World War II. The outbreak of World War II in Idaho was met in two distinctive ways. The first was with patriotic fervor, and the second was a deep racial mistrust of Japanese-Americans living in the area.

Looking first at the patriotic fervor of Idaho, many went off to fight in the war, with the University of Idaho serving as a collection post. As part of the Morrill Act Obligation, the act that gave land to academic institutions,3 the University of Idaho had conducted military training since its founding.4 The University had also maintained such programs as the Naval ROTC and radio training, and as such, the University of Idaho served much like a military installation during World War II. The main focus of most individuals at the time was undoubtedly aiding in the war effort, which is further seen in the scrap drives organized and the honorary parades held in Moscow at the time. With such effort put into military initiatives, it is unlikely that the University was pursuant in student recruitment, though as can be seen with some (like Reginald Reeves, who we will discuss shortly), it is possible that there were Black students at the University who came to be there through wartime participation.

Race shaped the experience of the home front in Idaho, which was home to Japanese internment camps. With the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese Empire, President Franklin D. Roosevelt implemented one of the most infamous species of legislation in American history, Executive Order 9066, which saw to the removal of Japanese Americans from their homes to internment camps in the West.5 There were two internment camps located in Idaho during the war, with the first called the “Kooskia Internment Camp” and located 30 miles from Kooskia, Idaho, around two and a half hours from Moscow. A total of around 265 Japanese men were incarcerated at this camp between 1943 and 1945.6 The second camp was called the “Minidoka War Relocation Center,” which was located just outside Jerome, Idaho, around seven and a half hours from Moscow. This camp saw around 13,000 people of Japanese ancestry behind its barbed fences between August of 1942 and October of 1945.7

During this time period, from 1920 to the 1950s, heightened and fueled racial tensions within a predominantly White Idaho would have certainly played a role in the University of Idaho’s ability to diversify. As such, a small Black student population would make sense. Even after the end of the war and the closing of the internment camps, the overall Black population of North Idaho remained quite small. In the 1960 US Census, Latah county reported having a total population of 21,170 but only reported having 130 Black/African-American inhabitants.8 This number, in comparison to other western towns during the migration up to the 1960s, was in line with similar numbers being reported during the time, with California noting the biggest growth of a Black population during the time, and Idaho, with Montana and Wyoming, reporting one of the smallest growths in the area.9


  1. Leonard Arrington, “Idaho and the Great Depression,” _Idaho Yesterdays, _XIII, (1969): 2, https://digitalatlas.cose.isu.edu/geog/demgrphc/depressn.pdf

  2. “Lesson Nineteen: Economic and Political Change between the Wars, 1919-1939,” Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest, https://www.washington.edu/uwired/outreach/cspn/Website/Classroom%20Materials/Pacific%20Northwest%20History/Lessons/Lesson%2019/19.html

  3. “Morrill Act (1862),” May 10, 2022, National Archives, https://www.archives.gov/milestone-documents/morrill-act#:~:text=It%20required%20states%20to%20establish,was%20not%20restricted%20by%20race.

  4. Erin Passehl-Stoddart and Katherine G. Aiken, University of Idaho: The Campus History Series (Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2016), 118-119. 

  5. “Executive Order 9066: Resulting in the Relocation of the Japanese,” National Archives, https://www.archives.gov/historical-docs/todays-doc/?dod-date=219#:~:text=Executive%20Order%209066%2C%20February%2019%2C%201942&text=Issued%20by%20President%20Franklin%20Roosevelt,to%20relocation%20centers%20further%20inland

  6. “Kooskia, Idaho, World War II Japanese Internment Camp,” University of Idaho Asian American Comparative Collection, https://www.uidaho.edu/class/anthrolab/collections/aacc/research/kooskia

  7. “Minidoka National Historic Site,” The Conservation Fund, https://www.conservationfund.org/projects/minidoka-national-historic-site#:~:text=One%20of%20those%20camps%20was,homes%20and%20incarcerated%20at%20Minidoka

  8. “Number of Inhabitants: Idaho,” US Government Printing Office, 1960, https://www2.census.gov/library/publications/decennial/1960/population-volume-1/vol-01-14-c.pdf

  9. Richard Morrill, “A Century of Change in the US Black Population, 1910 to 2010,” Newgeography, 2011, https://www.newgeography.com/content/002490-a-century-change-us-black-population-1910-2010


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The Seminal History and Prospective Future of Blacks at the University of Idaho Copyright © 2023 by Brody Gasper and Sydney Freeman Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.