UGA will celebrate a milestone in desegregation when it commemorates the 50th anniversary of the graduation of Mary Frances Early, the first African American to earn a degree from the university, in a ceremony Aug. 15 at 3 p.m. in the Fine Arts Building. Highlights will include remarks from Early and several UGA dignitaries, musical performances from UGA students and a keynote address from civil rights pioneer Lonnie C. King Jr.
A native of Atlanta, Early earned a bachelor’s degree in music education from Clark Atlanta University in 1957 and had started postgraduate work at the University of Michigan when she transferred to UGA to complete her studies in the summer of 1961. Earlier that year, Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Hamilton Holmes became the first African-American students to enroll at UGA. On Aug. 16, 1962, Early received her master’s degree in music education, and in 1967, she earned a specialist in education degree from UGA, also in music education.
Her experiences at UGA contributed to her extensive career in music and education. Most recently, Early served as music department head at Clark Atlanta University.
“I feel richly blessed to have had the opportunity to play a role in UGA’s desegregation,” said Early. “I am even more blessed to still be here to celebrate the 50th anniversary of my graduation. It was, however, not just a victory for me—but also for all African Americans who followed me and received degrees. We have all benefited from this milestone; UGA also benefited in opening its doors to all qualified students who desire to study. Today’s diversity of students, faculty, administrators and staff has served to enrich our university, state and nation.”
Highlighting the 50th anniversary celebration will be a keynote address by King, who is considered one of the icons in the Atlanta civil rights movement. At age 24, King co-authored “An Appeal for Human Rights,” which was published on March 9, 1960, as an advertisement in various Atlanta-area newspapers.
The subsequent Committee on the Appeal for Human Rights, which King chaired, took the lead in initiating the Atlanta Student Civil Rights Movement, beginning with sit-ins in Atlanta-area racially segregated establishments.
At age 73, King currently is working toward a doctoral degree in history at Georgia State University. He says he hopes to inspire young people with this academic success.
At the event, UGA President Michael F. Adams will present a proclamation in recognition of Early and the 50th anniversary.
“As one of the pioneers of UGA’s desegregation, Mary Frances Early pursued equality in higher education with grace, dignity and determination,” said Adams. “She is a quiet heroine of the civil rights movement in this state and nation, and I am glad we are celebrating this milestone with her.”