Requiem for a Howard University Student

Art display that draws attention to victims of femicide in Turin, Italy (MikeDotta/Shutterstock)

On February 4, 1958, eighteen-year-old Gloria Adelaide Jordan began her Freshman year of college at Howard University to pursue a degree in Business Administration. Jordan was a promising pupil with dreams of becoming a teacher. In June 1957, she graduated as an honor student from Pennsylvania’s Carlisle Senior High School with two awards: the Haines-Stackfield American Legion Post 826 scholarship and the George’s Flowers Commercial and English Award. Within two weeks of her arrival at Howard, she had already made friends among the student body, started dating, and was eager to participate in on-campus activities. Unfortunately, Jordan’s life tragically came to an end on February 19, 1958.

After 3 PM that day, Jordan went into the corridor of the Liberal Arts College classroom building, Douglass Hall to meet 21-year-old Henry V. Mobley, who wanted to have a conversation with Jordan about his romantic feelings for her. Jordan had briefly dated Mobley, a former Theology student at Washington Baptist Seminary who quit school in January due to his poor grades, but she was no longer interested and chose to date twenty-year-old Howard Sophomore Henry L. Polk instead. In the span of two weeks, Mobley had become so angry and resentful that “she went out with others” that he constantly harassed her and tried to keep her away from other “suitors,” including Polk. According to the Carlisle, Pennsylvania newspaper, The Sentinel, Mobley “declared he was in love with Miss Jordan,” and once Polk approached “the pair” Mobley pulled out a gun and began shooting as a “change of classes” occurred. Jordan fled to the basement and Mobley followed her into the men’s locker room where he shot her twice in the chest, killing her. Then Mobley found Polk and shot him in the chest and head, critically wounding him. According to Homicide Captain Lawrence A. Hartnett, Mobley used his roommate’s 7.56 mm or 7.65 mm automatic weapon to commit the murder of Jordan. Polk was soon taken to Freedman’s Hospital and later survived his injuries.

Within hours of Jordan’s murder, Mobley was arrested and held on first degree murder charges without bond. On February 25, 1958, Jordan’s funeral was held at Bethel A.M.E. Church at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, and she was later buried at Union Cemetery in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. In a February 1958 editorial published in Howard University’s school newspaper, The Hilltop, the editors not only offered their “profoundest regrets and sincerest condolences” to Jordan’s family and friends, but also reflected on the violence and selfishness of Henry Mobley to commit a crime over unrequited love that not only killed Jordan but terminated her bright future.1 The editors argued that the university could not be held “directly accountable for the actions of each of five thousand students,” and preemptive police protection at all the buildings on campus would be expensive, awkward, and inappropriate for a “university in a free nation.” However, they explained that everyone in the Howard community was “responsible” for being content with an “amoral society” filled with literature, theatre, and screenplay that “condones violence” and has become dismissive and “callous about violence” to the point where some students even mocked the tragedy with “playful reproduction of the dastardly act” in the Douglass Hall and the dormitory. Nevertheless, the editors expressed that the Howard community needed to improve the “inherent and fundamental weakness in our social thinking” that would cause anyone to dismiss the violent behavior of an assailant who would betray the moral values he claimed to have for his own self-interest.2  Additionally, classmate William Edwards wrote an encomium in same edition of The Hilltop, lamenting that Jordan’s death was a great loss for the Howard community, but her memory would “never be forgotten” by her friends: “She never griped about the few remaining old buildings on campus, the long lines at registration, the high price of books or tomorrow’s homework—she truly loved Howard seeing only the beauty in things around her.”3

Nearly two years ago, I unexpectedly discovered Gloria A. Jordan’s story in newspapers like The Sentinel, Jackson Advocate, Memphis World, and the New York Age while researching juvenile delinquency and gun violence in 1950s America. To stumble across a story like this calls for some sort of a requiem for the dead. There should be a moment of reflection on how the issue of femicide and other forms of gender-based revenge crimes rooted in patriarchy along with male entitlement and dominance, like acid attacks and gang rape still remain with us even 70 years later in not just the United States, but also across the world. Mourning the loss of lives like Jordan, 24-year-old Yale University Pharmacology doctoral student Annie Le, and most recently 22-year-old University of Padua Engineering student Giulia Cecchettin, should also entail direct action against real and potential gender violence in public, private, collegiate, and professional spaces. On November 20, 2023, the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera published an open letter written by Giula Cecchettin’s sister, Elena, on the issue of femicide and a communal culture that tolerates the dehumanization of women through social, emotional, and physical control and intimate partner “possessiveness” in interpersonal relationships between men and women. Interestingly, Elena Cecchettin made an argument similar to the 1958 statement the student editors of The Hilltop made as they reflected on the murder of Jordan:

Femicide is state murder because the state does not protect us. We need to implement sexual and emotional education to prevent these things. We must fund anti-violence centers so that people can seek help when needed…All men have to be careful. They must call out the friend who catcalls passersby, they must call out the colleague who checks their girlfriend’s phone. You must be hostile to these behaviors that may seem like trivialities but are the prelude to femicide.

Moreover, Elena Cecchettin claimed that men like Filippo Turetta, who murdered her sister over his inability to accept romantic rejection, were not “monsters” or “exceptional” evil members of society, but a “healthy child,” or product, of a “patriarchal society that is full of rape culture.

May 12, 2024, will mark the 85th birthday of Gloria A. Jordan. One can only imagine the social and intellectual contributions she would have made to our society that are now lost forever. Today, more than ten million women and men in the United States each year experience physical abuse from an intimate partner with women between the ages of 18-24 being the demographic most commonly affected. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, approximately 19% of domestic violence incidents involve a weapon, which increases the risk of homicide by 500%. Nevertheless, to remember Jordan and many others who have lost their lives to intimate partner violence is to not only spread awareness about the issues of femicide and domestic violence, but also make an effort to shift our society away from the inclination to patriarchy and violence by: implementing appropriate education on gender and sexuality in schools; universally closing the pay gap between men and women; promoting balanced representations of women in media; establishing community centers focused on therapy and rehabilitation for domestic violence survivors and perpetrators; and encouraging respectful, interpersonal relationships among people regardless of gender.

  1. Howard University’s student newspaper, The Hilltop was co-founded by novelist and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston and anthropologist Louis Eugene King in 1924. It is the first student newspaper created at a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) and remains in publication today.
  2. “Editorials…University or Society?” The Hilltop 40.8 (February 28, 1958), 2.
  3. William Edwards, “Jordan–Encomium,” The Hilltop 40.8 (February 28, 1958), 6.
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Menika Dirkson

Menika Dirkson, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of African American History at Morgan State University.

Comments on “Requiem for a Howard University Student

  • Avatar

    Hello you’ll!
    I am student at the Goethe University Frankfurt. I study anthropology. My great interest is in African Americans history and especially the slavery trade, racism and little bit gender. I think that the most scientists has forgotten or left down the history of slavery trade of Black Folks and only occupy in gender. If we first success to banish racism, I think we could also success to banish gender-discrimination or better say femicide. No body denounces today racism, especially against Black people. I am African and living in Europe now more than 40 years and since everyday, really every day I am a victim of racism even her at the university.
    Thank you for your attention.

  • Avatar

    Thank you for promoting awareness of this important issue and lens on the over culture. We all deserve better, and as you point out, we will only get it by making serious changes. Societal changes at the spiritual and epistemological level are needed too. We have not been helped u the Abrahamic faiths, steeped in patriarchy and ascendant based on the violent colonization & demonization of ancestral, animist, matriarchal cultures which centered women and children and uphold a pantheon of divinity reflecting the entire spectrum of gender. Thank you again for your article, and for the healing to which it contributes.


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