ATHENS, Ga. - The first black graduate of the University of Georgia makes history again.
Mary Frances Early says the university did not welcome her to the campus when she first came for a master’s degree almost 60 years ago.
She faced rocks, isolation and even had the “N-word” spray-painted on her car. The Clark College valedictorian had transferred from the University of Michigan graduate program to help UGA undergrad students Hamilton Holmes and Charlyne Hunter Gault after watching their very public struggle on television.
The journey was difficult, but Early persevered despite the adversity and graduate with a Master's Degree in Music in 1962. The 83-year-old said no one acknowledged her accomplishment and her graduation virtually went unnoticed for decades. In 1997, then UGA professor Dr. Maurice Daniels says Atlanta Civic leader Jesse Hill and businessman Herman Russell told him about Early. Dr. Daniels called the APS educator and confirmed her unknown contributions. He explains why Early 's place in history was ignored for so many years.
"To the university, the issues surrounding its desegregation were embarrassing. They did not want to embrace it, but they should because it happened. They felt like it made them look bad," Dr. Daniels explained. The UGA professor included Early's contributions in a 2000 documentary and the tide slowly started changing. Dr. Daniels said some students named a lecture series after Early. Then in 2018, President Jere Morehead graced Early with a presidential medal and her picture now hangs in the Administrative Building.
Tuesday's honor, however, is the most public and significant tribute yet. UGA named the School of Education after Early before a packed house at the Hugh Hodgson Concert Hall.
Albany State University President Marion Ross Fedrick was the guest speaker for the 20th annual Mary Frances Early Lecture Series.
"I admire her for willingness to disrupt the status quo and do the unthinkable. Her willingness to place herself in the eye of the storm,” the ASU president told the crowd.
Early finally addressed the audience and talked about her decision to desegregate the university.
"My choice was not the easy road or the well-known road. I chose to take the road less traveled by because I saw the need to do something," the music educator recalled.
Many who gathered view Ms. Early as a true role model of inspiration and courage in the face of adversity. She humbly thanked the University and the crowd which included her Turner High Alumni Association and friends from Clark Atlanta and the Atlanta Public School System for coming out.