February 25: Congratulating Hampton Alumna Ruth E. Carter on Her Historic Oscar Win

Ruth E. Carter became the first Black woman to win an Oscar for best costume design last night, taking home the award for her Wakandan designs for “Black Panther.”

A graduate of Hampton University, Carter has been nominated for the award twice before — the first nomination coming in 1993 for her work on fellow HBCU alumnus Spike Lee’s (Morehouse College) “Malcolm X,” and the second in 1998 for her work on “Amistad.”

It was Hampton where her career as a costume designer began. After not being cast in an HU production of “The Would Be Gentleman,” Carter took on the role of costume designer for the play. There were no costume design professors on staff, so she spent her junior year teaching herself, taking a fashion course and sucking up any and every costume design opportunity she could get her hands on, including designing the costumes for the university’s traveling dance troupe.

By the time the university hired a costume design professor in her senior year, Carter had already taken over. “I was so busy, I could hardly get to the class,” she said in a 2017 interview. “The instructor of costume design wasn’t actually designing for the plays because I was doing them all.” Soon after graduation, a friend from Hampton introduced her to Spike Lee, and she quickly found herself as the head designer for “School Daze.”

“I kept thinking, ‘Why does this guy keep talking to me about film? I’m not a film designer,” she said. “Little did I know this person, Spike Lee, was going to be my employer for the next 25 years.”

Autumn A. Arnett is an education reporter and editor and an avid sports fan based in Austin, Texas. www.a2arnett.com