The University of Pittsburgh awarded Joshua Rose his bachelor’s degree — 80 years after he earned it.
Rose, who attended Pitt in the 1930s, led a storied civic life that included breaking ground with the YMCA organization and serving as the first Black city council member in Oakland, California. He died in 1987.
During research for a book about her family, his daughter Mary Ellen Butler, a retired journalist from Oakland, California, worked with Pitt to confirm whether her father ever received his degree. Pitt administrators checked records and couldn’t find anything showing he had, but determined he completed the required credits for a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree.
“This means a great deal. My father would be very surprised and proud that Pitt took this step for him,” said Butler, who accepted the posthumous degree during the April 29 undergraduate commencement ceremony.
“It is with great admiration for the accomplishments of her father and entire family that we present his Pitt diploma,” said Arjang Assad, dean of Pitt’s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business and College of Business Administration. “This moment is long overdue.”
From segregation to civic leader
Rose was born in September 1906, in Lexington, Virginia, to Mary Charles, who later married George Rose. The family later moved to Pittsburgh where Rose graduated from Schenley High School. During his time at Pitt, he worked at the Hill District’s Centre Avenue YMCA, a landmark of Black history in Pittsburgh. The Y served as a residence for Black students at Pitt who were not allowed to reside at the University residence halls during a period when segregation laws were in effect.
At Pitt, Rose balanced his schedule to complete classes while working full time at the Y to support his mother. After the YMCA recruited him to Montclair, New Jersey, Rose completed requirements at New York University and Newark University, which later became part of Rutgers University.
His early work at the YMCA laid the groundwork for a career with the international organization and other civic endeavors, according to the African American Museum and Library at Oakland in California, which maintains some of Rose’s papers. Butler’s own extensive research magnified Rose’s lifetime of accomplishments.
“Through his distinguished career at the YMCA and his groundbreaking tenure on the Oakland City Council, Joshua Rose lived a life of principled leadership and service to the community,” said Audrey J. Murrell, Pitt’s associate dean of the College of Business Administration and director of the David Berg Center for Ethics and Leadership. “He had a significant impact on the world and is a model for this year’s graduating class.”
While attending Pitt, Rose met his future wife Virginia Craft. Their early courtship is the subject of Butler’s new book, “Heart and Soul: The Remarkable Courtship and Marriage of Josh and Virginia Craft Rose,” published by the Heinz History Center. The book delves into the family history of Virginia Craft, including her great-grandparents, William and Ellen Craft, an enslaved couple from Macon, Georgia, who in 1848 made a daring escape to Pennsylvania. Their journey is detailed in their autobiography, “Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom.”
Oakland to Oakland
The Roses moved from Pittsburgh to New Jersey and eventually to Oakland, California, where Rose raised funds to establish a branch of the Oakland YMCA that served the city’s Black community.
According to the African American Museum and Library of Oakland, Rose was responsible for many new youth programs, including summer day camps that combined arts and crafts and sports with outdoor activities and camping in Yosemite National Park. He also worked to provide youth with leadership training and summertime employment.
In 1947, he was named the first Black director of the city’s Playground Board, later called the Oakland Recreation Commission, on which he served from 1947 to 1964. In 1964, Mayor John Houlihan tapped Rose to fill a vacancy on the Oakland City Council, becoming the first Black council member in Oakland.
In “The Black Professional Middle Class,” researcher Eric S. Brown noted that Rose was a member of The Men of Tomorrow, a nonpartisan civic organization that served as an important yet unofficial base for rising Black politicians.
“Arguably, the organization … illustrated [W.E.B] DuBois’s progressively elitist concept of Black community leadership by the ‘better class,’” Brown wrote. The organization and the social and political networks that it provided “were helpful in generating the notable accomplishments of these local Black ‘firsts.’”
Rose also belonged to Alpha Phi Alpha, which he pledged at Pitt, and the Boule, two fraternities that mentor the Black community.
Rose is credited with helping to deter rioting in Oakland during the late 1960s by seeking practical solutions to racial unrest, according to the museum and library. In 1973, Rose also overcame an electoral challenge from members of the Black Panther Party, which was mounting a challenge to the political establishment in Oakland.
Standing about 5 feet, 8 inches tall, Rose earned the nickname “the little giant” from his golf buddies due to his proclivity for winning the round.
His daughter remarked that Rose “was not a tall man, but he moved with great economy and purpose.” She said he had high expectations for his three children and emphasized the need to work hard at school and at work, and to “avoid self-aggrandizement.”
“‘Don’t brag about yourself,’” Butler recalled her father’s words. “‘Let others talk about what you have done.’”