Blazing a Trail

Horace Hampton served as a Marine prior to attending UC Davis.
Horace Hampton served as a Marine prior to attending UC Davis.
Horace Hampton: ASUCD’s first African American president
By Laura Pizzo

Five years before the U.S. Supreme Court would rule in Brown vs. the Board of Education that separate was not equal when it came to educating African Americans, Horace Hampton ’50 was elected president of the Associated Students at UC Davis. In 1949, Hampton became one of the first African Americans to be elected to such a post at a major U.S. university and the first in the UC system.

“He saw himself as a kind of pioneer, blazing the way,” the late Mark Clevenger ’51 told UC Davis Magazine. “He told me a few years ago that being student body president was one of the high points of his life.”

At the time, Hampton was one of only a couple dozen African American students who had ever attended UC Davis. Known as a clever man with a humble demeanor, Hampton was always seen with a cigar—whether he was smoking in the shower or sitting in class with it dangling unlit from his mouth. He was also much older than the average student, having served in the Marines before attending university.

“His mannerisms were much like a professor or something of that nature,” said Earl Brown of Fresno, Hampton’s close friend and protégé. “He was able to convince people of things that they may not have otherwise considered.”

From the start of his time at UC Davis, Hampton served the university community. He was editor of the Aggie and a member of the student body’s Executive Committee and Publications Council. He also volunteered for the California Club and the Activities Award Society, a group that honored fellow Aggies involved in student activities.

So when it came time for student body elections in 1949, a group of students convinced Hampton to run. In the end, Hampton was elected by a large margin.

Although Hampton only served six-months, choosing to step down to focus on his studies, he set in motion a lasting reorganization of the student body government. He transferred responsibility for ASUCD’s financial affairs from the university comptroller’s office to a business manager hired and supervised by the student body.

“He talked about serving as student leader an awful lot,” Brown said. “It was a matter of pride for him—the things that he did as an African American that improved the campus and student body by encouraging a greater understanding of minority issues.”

Hampton graduated in 1950 with his bachelor’s degree in agricultural education. He worked as a farmer and labor contractor and then joined the staff of the Model Cities Program in Fresno. He later headed the Fresno West Development Corporation and the Yosemite Capital Investment Company. Hampton also served on the loan board for the Fresno County Farmers Home Administration. He died in 1991.