“Because of them, we can…”

Photo courtesy of Louise Pettus Archives | Cynthia Plair Roddey was one of the first African-American women to apply to Winthrop.Photo courtesy of Louise Pettus Archives | Cynthia Plair Roddey was one of the first African-American women to apply to Winthrop.
Photo courtesy of Louise Pettus Archives | Delores Johnson with classmate Ruth Reed in 1968.

Photo courtesy of Louise Pettus Archives | Delores Johnson with classmate Ruth Reed in 1968.

Under its current leadership, Winthrop is making specific strides to keep the reputation it has as an institution that values diversity. Nonetheless, like many predominately white institutions, Winthrop’s journey to inclusiveness was challenging. In 1961, 19 students from Friendship College challenged Winthrop by picketing after the college denied their admission. Subsequently, they were arrested for trespassing and among them, 13 received 30 day sentences. Their act of protest made these women some of the first black activists on Winthrop’s campus.

In 1964, Cynthia Plair Roddey was integrated onto Winthrop’s campus as a graduate student, and in 1967, Sue Frances Meriweather became the first African-American to receive a degree from Winthrop. Following these milestones, the college slowly granted admission to more African-American students, which led to the formation of The Ebonites, the first African American student organization on campus, in 1969.

In 1972, only eight years after integration, a black female student was asked about the state of blackness at Winthrop. The student—who was not named—replied that “blackness is a state of mind. And my mind is definitely Black.” Another black student answered the same question this way, stating that “almost everyone will agree that despite Winthrop’s reputation for tradition, there has been one very noticeable change: ‘Blackness.’ Not so very long ago it was stated that there has been a trend of pride and togetherness among the black sisters of Winthrop. The pride and togetherness unite to form a subculture of its own…look around you. The ‘blackness’ is here at Winthrop and it is growing with the times.”

That same year, Dr. Annabelle Boykin was hired as Winthrop’s first African-American faculty member. These women were the pioneers for inclusion on campus. Not all of these students and faculty members may not seem like the traditional activists, but they all were because they brought political and social change to Winthrop University.

Today Winthrop has multiple black organizations, including an active National Panhellenic Council, National Associations for Black Journalists, Black Teachers and Black Social Workers. Winthrop’s chapter of the NAACP has fought and is continually fighting for the name change of Tillman.

In 2010, because of the inclusiveness that the first black students fought for, Winthrop was noticed in the Education Trust report as a national leader showing consistent high graduation rates among African-American students. Additionally, at the master’s level, the black graduation level was higher than that of white students.

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