Fifty years ago, six women, wanting nothing more than to further their education in the town in which they lived, applied to our university. Like many others at that time, they were first-time W students. But they were also much more. In taking that step in 1966 to study in the town they called home, these six women also became pioneers, the first African-American students to enroll at then-MSCW.
During this anniversary year of their enrollment, we are honoring their actions--an historic opening of doors for many to follow--with events themed “Those Who Dared.” Three freshmen—Diane Hardy, Laverne Greene and Barbara Turner—all had attended R.E. Hunt High School. Th ree graduate students—Jaqueline E. Edwards, Mary L. Flowers and Eula M. Houser—were teachers at R.E. Hunt. In 1968, Edwards became the first African-American student to earn a master’s degree at the university, followed by Houser who completed her master’s in 1970. Their actions marked a turning point in the history of The W.
The events of this year have been a university-wide collaboration growing out of student-led research under the direction of Dr. Erin Kempker, chair of History, Political Science and Geography; Mr. Derek Webb, university archivist; and Dr. Beverly Joyce, professor of art and director of galleries. Students have explored the historical records, as well as conducted oral histories with many of the women, uncovering sometimes painful memories. They produced exhibits documenting their discoveries, as well as an anthology surrounding the events titled “The Price We Paid.” The experience has been a valuable and unique opportunity for our students to explore history directly affecting them today. To read the anthology, please visit www.muw.edu/archives/online-resources.
On Sept. 15, we came together as a university community to honor “Those Who Dared” in a convocation that featured a keynote address by Mississippi civil rights pioneer Dr. Leslie Burl McLemore, professor emeritus at Jackson State University. Dr. McLemore was among those who registered voters during “Freedom Summer” when he was a student at Rust College in the early 1960s. He provided a broad historical context for the 1960s, a time of great transition not only for our university but for the state and nation.
In that convocation, we presented four of the women with Medals of Excellence, the highest award the university bestows. Diane Hardy unfortunately did not live to see this recognition, and we have been unable to locate Mary Flowers. We hope to present that award in the future. Sept. 15 also marked the day Mayor Robert Smith issued a proclamation declaring “Those Who Dared” Day in Columbus. It was a moving and joyous celebration.
As a lasting memorial to these pioneers and others who have been instrumental in shaping The W, we plan to break ground in March on an outdoor feature named “Pioneers Plaza.” It will be a lasting reminder of the courage that has been the hallmark of our university since our establishment as the first public university for women in the nation. We celebrate the pioneers who have provided the foundation for a diverse, welcoming and nurturing institution that provides opportunities for all.
In this issue of Visions, we provide an overview of “Those Who Dared.” To learn more, also visit muw.edu/pioneers.