Our School Colors: Green & Gold, Purple & Gold, or Black & Gold?

When you think of a school and its associated colors, certain institutions with their iconic looks, come to mind without too much thought.  The University of Wyoming has brown and gold, University of Oklahoma is crimson and cream, Michigan State has green and white, and UCLA is known for its blue and gold colors. For Black Hills State, however, several colors come to mind: green and gold, purple and gold, and for a select few pushing for it in the early 1980s, black and gold.  How did Black Hills State wind up with so many color combinations?

To uncover the history, or perhaps the mystery, of our school colors, one may need to view the Alumni Association and the school itself, as distinct entities. Is it possible that the Alumni Association had one set of colors while the school had a separate set? If so, when did they merge into one unified set of colors?

The creation of an Alumni Association was spearheaded by three graduates, with the first meeting held on June 14, 1894 (seven years after the first graduating class). The school's 1917 yearbook recounted that historic meeting: "In addition to adopting the preamble and constitution, of which a rough draft had been prepared for discussion, the colors green and gold were chosen, symbolizing the two greatest resources of the Black Hills, the green of the valleys and the gold of the hills." 

A year later, the green and gold colors remained in the forefront as the Deadwood Weekly Pioneer reported on June 20, 1895, “The Alumni Association of the Spearfish State Normal School held its first annual banquet Wednesday night at the Hotel Kenmonth, Spearfish.  About sixty graduates of the school, including the class of '95, were present, with the faculty and a few invited guests.  The dining room was beautifully decorated in the school colors, green and gold, chosen as symbolical of the leading industries of the Hills, the green of the agricultural interests of the valleys and the gold of the Hills mines.  On the wall in green and gold letters was the alumni motto, 'From Possibility to Reality.'”

On June 20, 1896, the Black Hills Weekly Times reported that graduation activities included the presentation to the school by the class of "a beautiful satin banner of the alumni colors, green and gold.” Years later, the June 1905 edition of the school's monthly paper, the Normal, contained a report from the Class of 1896 recalling their graduation exercises, perhaps referencing the presentation of that banner, “A part of our program was the presenting of the first School colors, the green and gold, which were afterward changed to the purple and gold, as the former were already the Alumni colors." This is the only documentation we found indicating that the school colors should be different from the alumni colors.

We found no primary sources regarding the thinking behind the selection of purple and gold—the school had neither a paper nor a yearbook in the 1890s. Evidence of their early adoption as the school colors can be found in the early 20th century editions of the Normal. In November 1903 a wrap-up to the football season noted, “Not to be forgotten are our loyal Normal girls, who are not afraid to 'root' for the Purple and the Gold.  Their presence at a football game has a most inspiring effect.”  In October 1904, in an editorial addressing proper school spirit said of the athletic teams: “They fight not for personal praise and honor, but for their alma mater, and because it is thus, they come out victorious in the end.  But they do not fight alone.  Always they are surrounded by the faithful 'rooters' of whom the Normal is so proud and are cheered on to their best efforts.  The cheers and the flying purple and gold tell them more plainly than words, what is expected of them and they do not disappoint us.”

Despite the Alumni Association and Spearfish Normal School having selected their own distinct signature colors, this did not prevent other entities on campus from choosing different colors.  The Normal reported in its April 1904 edition that "The Baseball Team have ordered uniforms for the coming season. They are to be maroon with white belts, stockings, and white caps with red stripes.  The letters S.N.S., in white, will appear across the shirt."

The April 24, 1931, issue of the Anemone (the school's weekly newspaper) was dedicated to long-time mathematics teacher Mrs. Kate G. Scott, who was first hired in 1894. A headline in the issue pronounced: “Purple and Gold Always School Colors.”  The article recalled, “There came a time in the beginning of S.N.S. when there was a need for colors.  That sort of thing was new to the students, but Mrs. Scott and others told of big colleges that had colors; so it was decided that there were to be committees appointed to propose colors.  Mrs. Scott was on the faculty committee which was to meet with the student committee.  When purple and gold were chosen.  Mrs. Scott said that these colors were the very ones which the students in years to come would honor. They do.” 

Over time stories emerged that BH had changed its colors from green and gold to purple and gold during World War I (1914-1918) because green dye was needed to assist the U.S. in the war effort, but this was simply not the case.  While it is true that dye shortages existed in the U.S., caused by the fact that Germany was the main manufacturer of modern dyes at that time, the timing does not fit with the adoption of purple and gold (which happened well before the war) and the shortages were not limited to green dyes.

With the better part of nine decades having passed with the colors purple and gold, the arrival of the early 1980s once again brought the topic of school colors to the forefront. On March 3, 1981, the school's newspaper BHSC Today carried the headline: "Black can’t be blue," perhaps in reference to the fact that some athletic teams had worn navy blue uniforms. They reported, "The BH Student Senate has appointed a committee to change the school colors from purple and gold to black and gold, but so far they haven’t had much luck." They further explained, "The Senate decided to try and change the colors because they feel that purple and gold aren’t very good colors since purple tends to come out looking blue or lavender.” A subsequent article on April 7, 1981, asked the question, “What are BH’s school colors?  Are they navy and white, as some of our sports uniforms suggest… or green and gold, our original colors the Alumni Association chose in 1894… or are they purple and gold as our cheerleaders wear?" There were some who liked the idea of black and gold, representing the colors of a yellow jacket. Others thought a switch from a purple to black would not be enough of a change.

The Student Senate ultimately decided to present green and gold as the proposed new school colors. The colors were approved by votes of the student body and of the Board of Directors of the Alumni Association, with the change made official by President J. Gilbert Hause, to be effective the fall semester of 1981. The switch to was heartily endorsed by Don Young, the Director of Alumni Affairs, who noted the selection of green and gold in the early days of the school and the uniqueness of the color combination within the South Dakota Intercollegiate Conference. Even with green and gold as our official colors, black has been used for sports uniforms, Sporadically, up to the present day.

So, there you have it: Our colors have been green and gold, purple and gold, and then back to green and gold, but with a few outliers—maroon, navy blue, and black—used on athletics uniforms. In our research there are two questions that remain a mystery:  1) Why purple?  When the faculty and student committees met back in 1896, what was their reason for choosing purple?  2) When did the Alumni Association change their colors from green and gold to purple and gold to align with the school colors?