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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

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Retired SDSU librarian Robert Fikes, Jr.'s new book "The Black in Crimson and Black: History and Profiles of African Americans at SDSU" Retired SDSU librarian Robert Fikes, Jr.'s new book "The Black in Crimson and Black: History and Profiles of African Americans at SDSU"

The Black in Crimson and Black

Retired SDSU librarian Robert Fikes, Jr.'s new book profiles and highlights the history of African Americans at SDSU.
By Tobin Vaughn

A new book documenting fascinating details of African American students, alumni, faculty and staff throughout San Diego State University’s history is now available. 

“The Black in Crimson and Black: History and Profiles of African Americans at SDSU” is authored by retired SDSU librarian Robert Fikes, Jr., who has worked on the project for almost 25 years.

In the book, Fikes uncovered information from an astounding variety of sources which he compiled into highlights of some of the most accomplished and compelling figures to have passed through SDSU in its history. If not for a simple inquiry, “The Black in Crimson and Black” may never have been launched.

It began with a request from a caller during the 1996-97 academic year who asked Fikes for the name of the school’s first black student (discovered to be Lela Goodwin in 1907).

“I had no idea and hadn’t even thought about it,” Fikes said. “So of course, being a reference librarian, it was my duty to respond.”

Roaming and digging

Fikes, using the library’s archives, roamed through the stacks and dug into file drawers until he came up with an answer. “From there I was even more inspired and thought, ‘Well, let’s see what else I can find,’” he recalled.

He began to develop a catalog and with each new discovery, his commitment to the project grew.

In addition to former students, Fikes began to research faculty and staff. He said he encountered many surprises along the way, including a few individuals he would never have imagined attending SDSU.

“One of them had to be (the late) Tuskegee Airman Wendell Lipscomb (’47),” Fikes said in reference to the first black military aviators in the U.S. Army Air Corps. “I had no idea that we had produced a Tuskegee Airman all the way from California.”


And that is exactly the point of his research: to create awareness. 

“That African-Americans — black people, whether they come from Africa or this country — have contributed mightily to the region, to the state and the nation,” Fikes said.

But his book is just one way Fikes is raising awareness. He is also heavily involved in a second project with a high-profile campus presence.

“There are two projects related to San Diego State that I have just found intoxicating,” he said. “This one and the one with our military alumni — in particular those who died during our nation’s various wars.

“I seem to be somewhat obsessed with both projects. I can’t put them down.”

Many of the names on the SDSU War Memorial are engraved in its granite because of Robert Fikes’ research, which uncovered their connection to SDSU and justified their inclusion on the memorial.

Outstanding and essential

Even though he is retired, Fikes continues to turn up the names of fallen Aztecs and submit them to the SDSU Alumni office for consideration. 

“Robert’s work on both of these projects is outstanding and essential to our alumni engagement efforts,” said Assistant Vice President of SDSU Alumni Dan Montoya (’04). “I don’t know where we would be without his research in these areas.”

Montoya might not have to find out – at least not for a while. Fikes suspects he will continue to turn up names to include on the War Memorial and accomplished individuals to update future editions of “The Black in Crimson and Black.”

“I am constantly researching and writing,” said Fikes. “I just can’t help doing it. As long as I am able to hold a pen I will be researching and writing.”