A new commemorative marker on Georgia Southern University’s campus pays tribute to a special part of Georgia Southern’s history and the University’s first African-American students who courageously paved the way and provided hope for a better way of life for students who followed. The Integration of Georgia Southern marker, prominently placed on Sweetheart Circle in front of the University’s Marvin Pittman Administration Building, recognizes the efforts of the African-American students who, in their pursuit of higher education entered an inhospitable environment, counted the costs and found education worth it.
“The marker will serve as a constant reminder of the bravery and perseverance of our first African-American students, and the community they built,” said Georgia Southern University President Jaimie Hebert, Ph.D. “Their work was the foundation upon which this University built its mission — integrity, civility, kindness, collaboration, and a commitment to lifelong learning, wellness, and social responsibility.”
Former Georgia Southern President Guy Wells (1926-1934) set out to address racial injustices and the duty to honor and respect all people without respect to race. In 1933, Wells and the president of what is now Savannah State University brought esteemed African-American scientist Dr. George Washington Carver to speak to the student body and Bulloch County community. Following Wells’ presidency, former University President Marvin Pittman (1934-41 and 1943-47) continued the work through his commitment to progressive educational and political ideas in a climate that rejected them.
In January 1965, John Bradley became the first African-American student at Georgia Southern University. In the fall of 1965, Bradley was followed by six undergraduate African-American students: Clavelia Love Brinson, Arlene Marie Daughtry, Ulysee Mosley, Shirley Anne Woodall, Jesse Zeigler Carter and Catherine Davis, a sophomore transfer student who later earned the first bachelor’s degree awarded to an African-American graduate in the University’s history.
“The unveiling of the historical marker is an awesome honor – a marker honoring the first seven African-Americans to walk the grounds as students at GSU,” said Carter (‘69, ‘79). “I’m glad to have been a part of the brave warriors who paved the way for the many students who followed.”
African-American student enrollment gradually increased through the 1970s and 80s and dramatically grew in the 1990s to above 25 percent. In 1972, Dr. Charles Bonds became the first African-American faculty member. Today at Georgia Southern, more than 35 percent of our students, 32 percent of our full-time staff and 23 percent of full-time faculty include African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and Asians.