55 Years of Black Alumni

A timeline

As Sewanee continues its celebration of 55 Years of Black Alumni, we're remembering some of the important contributions made and milestones reached by generations of Black students who have called the Mountain home. Klarke Stricklen, C'22, a student research assistant for the University's Roberson Project on Slavery, Race, and Reconciliation, put together this timeline to celebrate those students of the College of Arts and Sciences who broke new ground in Sewanee's progress toward racial equality.

June 1961: Eight years after officially desegregating the School of Theology, University Trustees voted to allow admission of African Americans to the College of Arts and Sciences.

Fall 1963: Calvin Kendall Williams of Birmingham, Alabama, was the first African American student to attend the College. He transferred to Sewanee from Fisk University and left Sewanee after one year to return to Fisk, from which he graduated in 1965. He received a medical degree from Meharry Medical College in 1971.

Fall 1964: Rickey Rowe, from nearby Cowan, enrolled in the College; he left after two years.

Spring 1965: Joseph Green Jr. and William Fletcher O'Neal graduated from the School of Theology with master's degrees in sacred theology, becoming the first two African Americans to earn degrees from the University of the South.

Fall 1966: Nathaniel Davis Owens from Hartsville, Tennessee, enrolled and in 1970 was the first African American to graduate from the College.

Fall 1971: Warrena Stywaskee Broadnax (left) of Ridge Spring, South Carolina, and Theresa Ann Weston (right) of Greenville, Mississippi, enrolled in the College of Arts & Sciences, becoming the first African American women to attend the College. Broadnax left after her freshman year, and Weston after her sophomore year. (White women had enrolled in the College for the first time in 1969.) 

Fall 1972: Eric Benjamin, C’73, became the first African American student in the College to be elected chair of the Honor Council. His election made him the first African American to head one of the College’s three main student government organizations. He returned to the College in 1981 to serve as director of Multicultural Affairs, a position he held for 39 years.

1975: Billy Joe Shelton, C’76, became the first Black student to be elected speaker of the Student Delegate Assembly, which would later become the Student Government Association.

Fall 1977: Black students, including Reginald Rucker, C'77, and Lendell Massengale, C’77, formally organized a Black Student Union for Sewanee. Professor James Clayton in the Department of Religion and Professor Dale Richardson in the Department of English served as the group’s faculty advisors.

Spring 1986: William Marichal Gentry, C’86, became the first African American student to receive the Algernon S. Sullivan Medallion, an annual award presented to the senior who best exhibits excellence of character and humanitarian service. In 2015, he was appointed the College’s vice president for student life and dean of students. He served in this capacity for five years.

Fall 1999: Nine African American men, Esau McCaulley, C’02; Towaski Hunt, C’02; Brian Tyler; Devin Delaughter, C’02; Antonio Crook, C’00; LaRuan Cole, C’02; Trumaine Polk, C’02; Prince Bell, C’01; and Mike Stanley, C’01, founded Gamma Sigma Phi fraternity to make a cultural impact within the College’s Greek life community.

Fall 1999: Eight Black women, Elisha Hodge, C’01; Melinda Jones, C’01; Nona Lee, C’02; Devin Andrea Miller, C’02; Rhonda Mims, C’01; Tonya Willet, C’02; Nakia Booker, C’02; and Tomeka Johnson, C’01, founded Phi Sigma Theta sorority to promote sisterhood among all women. 

Spring 2007: Charita Roque, C’07, became the first Black Sewanee student to be awarded a Fulbright scholarship, which she used to conduct research on maternal mortality in Benin after graduation.

Spring 2013: DeAndré Espree-Conaway became the first Black Sewanee student to be awarded a Watson Foundation Fellowship, which he used to study how institutions of language documentation affect the cultures and societies those languages are built around.

Spring 2016: Lonnie Scott, C’16; Kirk Murphy, C’17; Brody Stone, C’17; and Brandon Iracks-Edelin, C’18, became initiates of the Kappa Iota chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. The four students were the first Black students from the University to join an organization in the National Pan-Hellenic Council of historically African American Greek-lettered fraternities and sororities.

Spring 2017: Black women from the College, including Eunice Muchemi, C’19; Malicat Chouyouti, C’20; and Elon Epps, C’20, created Black Girl Magic. Now known as BlacQueen, it is an affinity support group for self-identifying Black women at the University. Dr. Courtney Thompson in the American studies and women’s and gender studies programs served as the group’s faculty advisor.

Spring 2019: Students from the College, including David Johnson, C’19; Tija Odoms, C’21; and Klarke Stricklen, C’22, chartered a unit of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on campus. Dr. Matthew Irvin in the Department of English served as the group’s faculty advisor.