SUNY Cortland honors family of first Black graduate Abraham Lincoln DeMond this Black History Month

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Friday, March 1, 2024
Eyewitness News photographer's link to SUNY Cortland's 1st Black grad
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NEW YORK (WABC) -- Veteran photographer Calvin DeMond is usually behind the scenes at Channel 7 as an eyewitness to history, but now he's stepping in front of the lens to share a bit of his own.

"He was a champion of the people," Calvin said.

His great grand uncle Abraham Lincoln DeMond became the first Black person to graduate from SUNY Cortland in 1889.

Formerly known as the Cortland Normal School.

In honor of Black History Month, the university held its second annual Abraham Lincoln DeMond Day.

"It was a prideful moment to stand there and have one of my family members being honored for his academic abilities," Calvin said.

DeMond's achievements didn't stop in the classroom.

He was the principal of the Lincoln School in Fort Payne, Alabama.

In a letter published in the Cortland Semi-Weekly Standard in 1893, DeMond describes the school as the first built in the county for white or colored people.

In another published letter titled "Times Have Changed," DeMond describes the pride he felt addressing a group of Black professionals in the Confederate South.

"This was 1893. I thought that was a very bold move for him at the time," Calvin said.

DeMond received a theology degree from Howard University and became a politically active pastor.

He delivered an influential speech on African American rights at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. That's the same church Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. helped launch the civil rights movement from more than 50 years later.

"In the context of what's happening today, where the history books are being rewritten, where the significance of what Rosa Parks did is being minimized, this is long before that," Calvin said.

Named after former President Abraham Lincoln, DeMond's legacy is the reason students at SUNY Cortland wanted to commemorate him.

"He represents resiliency," said Calvin Barnett, student.

Calvin, who recently got his Master's degree at 66 years old, continues to be inspired by his ancestor.

"You're never too old. You're never too old to stop learning," Calvin said.

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