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Thursday, November 5, 1998
Houston, Texas
Volume 64, Issue 53

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About the Cougar

After 27 years, first black Homecoming queen's death remains a puzzle

By Michelle Norton
Campus Editor 

Thirty years ago at UH, KUHF was a student-run radio station, Hofheinz Pavilion was under construction and students watched movies on campus for only 50 cents.

Also that year, UH crowned its first black Homecoming queen, 20-year-old junior education major Lynn Eusan.


Lynn Eusan shows her suprise at being named UH's first black Homecoming queen in 1968. Eusan died about three years later.

Houstonian file/1968

Continuing in that tradition, UH will crown its 52nd Homecoming queen Saturday. But perhaps no Homecoming queen is more well-known than Eusan, both for her activism on campus and tragic death after graduation.

More than just a pretty face

An active participant in campus politics beginning her freshman year, Eusan became a prominent UH figure in the late '60s. She organized the Committee on Better Race Relations in 1966 and was a founding member of the Afro-Americans for Black Liberation, both organizations dedicated to the improvement of race relationships and giving a voice to the African-American student population.

She was also primarily involved in founding the Self-Help for African People through Education Community Center and was a charter member of UH's first black sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. Eusan's other extracurricular activities included writing for the Voice of Hope, an African-American newspaper, and participating in the UH marching band.

"(Eusan) felt that there should have been more minority representation on campus, and that is what she fought for," Audrey Taylor, coordinator of reference services at the M.D. Anderson Memorial Library and Eusan's former roommate, told The Daily Cougar in 1995.

Referring to her activism, Frank Anderson, director of the Challenger Program, said Eusan "was more than just first Homecoming queen."

Anderson said Eusan put together a proposal to ask former UH President Philip G. Hoffman for at least one black coach to represent black athletes and a broader curriculum that led to the founding of the African-American Studies Program.

AAS Director Linda Reed called Eusan a "pacesetter and a pioneer in terms of what she wanted to see happen."

While trying to start the AAS program in 1969, Eusan was arrested and charged with rioting and destruction of public property during a disturbance on campus. She had also been in May 1967 arrested for her involvement in a demonstration at the Sunnyside community.

The road to royalty

Although Eusan was popular in the political arena, the campaign road to becoming Homecoming queen was rocky.

Various black organizations on campus, including the Afro-Americans for Black Liberation, vigorously campaigned on Eusan's behalf, and The Daily Cougar endorsed her over the other five candidates.

But Eusan said other organizations, including many Greek groups, opposed her, pointing to incidents like ripping down her campaign posters and holding a caucus excluding black Greek organizations.

Despite the opposition, Eusan was elected queen Nov. 22, 1968. Although she knew she was part of history in the making, Eusan was humble in her accomplishment.

"Somehow, many people think I should feel different because I'm black, but I feel just as anyone would feel, black or white, who had received such an honor -- happy!" she told the Cougar after winning the title.

"It's simply a reaffirmation of what the University has been saying all along -- 'We aren't prejudiced,'" she said.

The reign ends

Despite overcoming many obstacles as a UH student, Eusan died Sept. 10, 1971. Houston police found her in a vehicle that collided with an unmarked police car on Polk Street.

Police at first believed she had been fatally injured in the accident, but later determined that she died from the multiple stab wounds in the back and chest. Eusan died on her way to Ben Taub Hospital.

Also in the car was longshoreman Leo Jackson, 26, who was charged with murder in the incident. According to Jackson's accounts, he picked Eusan up that morning after she asked him for a ride to a lounge off Dowling. He said that when he picked her up, she was crying on the corner of Southmore and Almeda, complaining about marital problems. But according to a Sept. 18 article in the Voice of Hope, Eusan was unmarried at the time.

"On the way," Jackson said, "she began screaming and stabbing herself and me." Jackson said this caused him to hit three other cars and the police car. At the time, Jackson was out on a $20,000 bond for armed robbery and had also accumulated 14 previous arrests for rape and assault. Although police said they had a "good case" against Jackson, they later said they lacked enough evidence to make the charge stick.

Eusan's friends said they did not believe she would get in a car with someone she did not know, and they believed she was forced into the car and then tried to escape when Jackson began to stab her. They pointed to wounds found on her hands as a sign of a possible struggle.

Long live the queen

In October 1971, a scholarship fund targeting black students entering the field of journalism was created in Eusan's name by the Rev. Earl Allen of the Voice of Hope. Also that year, the Black Experience, UH's black annual, was dedicated to her.

In 1976, the Board of Regents named the park next to the University Hilton after Eusan. Even three decades after she made history at UH, Eusan's contributions to the University -- and the mystery surrounding her death -- live on.
 

Reach Norton at
mnort@bayou.uh.edu.
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