By Trevor Horby - Collegian Staff Writer as printed in the Daily Collegian on April 23, 2012
When Wally Triplett — credited as the first African-American varsity football player at Penn State and part of the inspiration for the "We Are… Penn State" chant — arrived on campus, he had no place to sleep at night.
But then-football coach Bob Higgins directed him to Lincoln Hall, a small house off campus that housed black male students during a time that they were unable to stay in dorms.
Triplett's story is typical of those early black students who found shelter at the residence.
Tucked a block past Atherton Street , 119 N. Barnard St. — better known as Lincoln Hall — received a historical dedication marker Friday to recognize the building's contributions to the Penn State African-American community.
The residence, named for Abraham Lincoln, operated as a boarding house under the Gifford family, a local State College family, for about eight black male students from the 1930s until the 1950s.
Black male students were barred from residence dorms from 1930-1946 due to an unofficial campus housing policy, said Penn State alum Darryl Daisey .
Several speakers addressed a small crowd before the historical marker was unveiled, the first being State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham . The ceremony will add Lincoln Hall and its marker to the sacred places to visit in State College, she said, because of the colossal contributions of the modest house to the community.
"The people who lived here and provided housing to the students deserve our recognition," she said. "They led the way when Penn State was a different place to live."
Daisey, Class of 1983, spoke next, extolling the Gifford family for their assistance in employing and housing black students and creating a network for the early generations of black students.
Lincoln Hall provided a safe harbor for these students to grow in a segregated world, which was crucial to break down racial barriers, he said. The house produced many esteemed alumni who paved the way for future generations of black students, he said.
"The building was a catalyst to the diverse population at Penn State today," he said.
Two of the three surviving Lincoln Hall residents, Triplett and Clayton Wilson III , also spoke at the ceremony.
Triplett, Class of 1949, spoke about how Lincoln Hall and black Penn State students set the stage for future generations.
And on a weekend that Penn State turns its attention back to football, he credited football for helping to desegregate Penn State and said the desegregation of the campus and football team for creating the modern National Football League.
"Whenever you look at the NFL, which is the largest thing going today, trickle that down to the fact that the seed that was planted that started this negro into the NFL started right here at Penn State," he said. "And it started here in Lincoln Hall."
Wilson III, Class of 1949, said Lincoln Hall filled a very vital role in supplying housing and serving as a social center for African American students. The house launched many students, Wilson included, on "a successful and productive life," he said.
Celiena Bady , the president of the Penn State Chapter of the NAACP, said that preserving the history of African-Americans at Penn State was critical and that hopefully the marker would bring more recognition to the importance of Lincoln Hall.
"It is known a people without a history aren't a people at all. Let our history shine on this campus," Bady (junior-international politics) said. "More importantly, I hope the students reflect on this marker and continue to support one another, assist one another, and foster our talents as we achieve unity."