University Of Georgia To Honor First Black Graduate

Mary Frances Early arrived at the university in the summer of 1961 as a graduate student during the height of desegregation in the South. Riots caused the first black students at the university to be temporarily suspended, and that's when Early was quietly getting her degree. Critics suggest Early's accomplishments have been largely overlooked.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's turn now to a different story about race. Just over 50 years ago was the height of desegregation in the South, and an African-American woman named Mary Frances Early entered the University of Georgia. This week, the school is honoring Early as its first African-American graduate. NPR's Kathy Lohr has the story.

KATHY LOHR, BYLINE: Early entered the university in the summer of 1961, when tension was high.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Two, four, six, eight, we don't want to integrate.

MARY FRANCES EARLY: I was glad I had made the decision, and I was determined to come.

LOHR: Early was a graduate student studying music. In a University of Georgia interview, she said it was important for her to live on campus.

EARLY: We need to begin to mix, so people can stop being afraid. We're afraid of each other, and there's no need to be, because there are more commonalities than there are differences.

LOHR: Early transferred to Georgia from the University of Michigan, and says it was in her home state where she faced bigotry and loneliness.

EARLY: I was just a non-person. I could have been a ghost, I guess. And that bothered me more than anything else.

MICHELLE COOK: She showed incredible courage and a real sense of self-sacrifice.

LOHR: Michelle Cook is chief diversity officer at the University of Georgia.

COOK: Ms. Early really opened the doors of graduate education for generations of students.

LOHR: She became a lifelong music teacher and led the music department at Clark Atlanta University. Half a century after Early's graduation, less than 8 percent of the student body at the University of Georgia is black. Early says the school still needs more diversity. Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Atlanta.

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