African American undergraduate students Diane Hardy, Barbara Turner and Laverne Greene, and graduate students Jacqueline Edwards, Mary Flowers and Eula Houser, stepped foot on the campus of Mississippi University for Women in 1966, facing all manner of ridicule to open the door for future generations of African American students. The W will honor these women who integrated the school with the unveiling of a historical marker dedicated to their efforts.

Pioneers' Plaza
Pioneers Plaza

The marker will be unveiled Thursday, Oct. 19 at 3 p.m. It will be placed in Pioneers Plaza, beside Carrier Chapel.

The program also will feature the winner of a poetry contest for W and Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science student, Ava Grace Noe, reciting her winning poem. The six women and their families have also been invited and will be recognized during the proceedings.

The marker is the result of a collaborative effort between The W and the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science.

In 2016, Dr. Erin Kempker, professor in the Department of History, Political Science and Geography at The W, had her students research the six students who desegregated the school. The research was turned into the “In Their Footsteps” exhibit for the 50th anniversary. The original exhibit will be on display in Cochran Hall the day of the unveiling.

Chuck Yarborough, history teacher at MSMS, had his students take that research and add to it, ultimately proposing the wording for a new state historic marker on The W’s campus.

“My students didn’t do entirely new research. They dug around some and added a little of their understanding of the topic. The groundbreaking work by Dr. Kempker and her students laid the foundation for the wording that my students proposed,” Yarborough said.

The wording for the marker was approved by President Nora Miller and then sent to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History for consideration. The wording was approved and a marker was ordered.

The effort is part of Yarborough’s MoreStory project. In addition to this marker, a second one will be unveiled in the spring. It honors the founding mothers of the university.

“The idea behind MoreStory is to develop means of exploring a more complete history in classrooms and communities across the State of Mississippi, the South and the nation as a whole,” Yarborough said.

He used money from the Emmerson Collective Fellowship to purchase the markers.

“We are pleased that the State of Mississippi is honoring the women who integrated The W with this plaque. The research that was done by our W students several years ago provided the foundation for the work that the MSMS students did to support the application for this marker. I look forward to more ways that The W and MSMS can work together and support each other,” President Miller said.

About The W

Located in historic Columbus, Mississippi, The W was founded in 1884 as the first state-supported college for women in the United States. Today, the university is home to 2,227 students in more than 70 majors and concentrations and has educated men for 40 years. The university is nationally recognized for low student debt, diversity and social mobility which empowers students to BE BOLD.

Be Bold. Tower with Blue.