Florida State University Celebrates 50 Years of IntegrationApril 20, 2012 |
by William J. Ford
Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker made history in 1963 when she was one of two Black women to enroll at Florida State University, marking the school’s first enrollment of African-American women.
Two years later in 1965, Fred Flowers became the school’s first Black athlete as a member of FSU’s baseball team. He was also one of the first members of a Black fraternity on campus. Flowers’ sister, Doby, was one of the school’s first Black students to participate in a homecoming parade, the first member of a Black sorority and became in 1970 the first Black woman to be voted homecoming queen.
These and other firsts were celebrated Thursday and will continue today and tomorrow during Florida State’s 50th anniversary of racial integration. The school is partnering with the Tallahassee community on events to commemorate the anniversary.
On Thursday, celebrants were scheduled to form a 1,500-person human chain labeled “Hand in Hand Across Time” on the campus to honor the Flowers siblings and Maxwell Courtney, the school’s first Black student in 1962. Courtney was killed in a boating crash in 1975.
Today, Fred Flowers will be honored when the Florida State baseball team hosts the University of Miami. A graduation reception will also be held to honor minority students. And on Saturday, renowned poet and author Maya Angelou will speak at the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center to commemorate FSU’s integration anniversary. This event is free and open to the public with 5,000 seats available.
Dupont-Walker’s experience at Florida State was academically fulfilling, but was also isolated, with only four Black students on the all-White campus she said was known as “crackers paradise.”
“[White] people would spit in places we would sit. The [Black] custodial staff would clean it up before we sat down. It was not the college experience most of us look forward to,” Dupont-Walker, 66, said during an interview with Diverse, who graduated in less than three years from FSU in 1966 with a bachelor’s degree in social welfare, becoming the school’s first Black female graduate.
Dupont-Walker, a Tallahassee native who now lives in Los Angeles, received a master’s degree from Atlanta University in 1970. “I did not go back on that [FSU] campus for 30 years after I graduated. I went back to the campus to talk about my experiences regarding racial discrimination. As a result of that experience, I became a lifetime alumni. I feel connected now. Things have definitely changed, but there’s still work to be done,” she said.
Members of FSU’s Black Student Union helped organize the three-day event.
“I think it is something that we can all celebrate no matter what our background and affiliations are. To not recognize and celebrate [integration] would be crazy,” said Kiaira McCoy, a 22-year-old senior from Miami Gardens, Fla., and president of the school’s Black Student Union.
“While we have a very diverse campus, there is still a lot more we can do. We can be a lot more inclusive and do more together. This celebration can help make that happen,” McCoy said.
The school was previously an all-women’s school in 1905 called the Florida Female College, and the men were at the University of Florida in Gainesville. In 1947, coeducational status was granted and the Tallahassee school was renamed Florida State University. That same year, the student body chose a new alma mater and selected the Seminole as the school’s mascot.
Fifteen years later in 1962, Courtney’s enrollment as the first Black student at Florida State caused racial tensions that would ensue for several years.
When Fred Flowers was a freshman at Florida State in 1965 and playing on the freshmen baseball team as a pitcher, there were 11 Black students at the school. Four
years later, the number ballooned to 350. According to fall 2011 statistics, there were nearly 3,800 Black students enrolled at FSU, which represented 9 percent of the total student population.
“I am not aware of anything that celebrates the integration process that is being done anywhere else in America,” said Flowers, 64, who received a bachelor’s degree in pre-med studies in 1969 and a master’s degree in urban and regional planning in 1973 at FSU. “This is a credit to the administration. It is absolutely awe-inspiring and I am truly humbled.”
Flowers, who was born and raised in Tallahassee, now manages his own law firm in the city.
His sister, Doby, who works with her brother, said being close to her Black classmates and working to achieve civil rights on campus decreased the feeling of discrimination while among her White counterparts.
“When I ran [for homecoming queen], we ran it like a campaign. It was a campaign of change,” said Flowers, 62, who graduated from FSU with a bachelor’s degree in social welfare in 1971 and a master’s degree in urban and regional planning in 1973.
“I just stood up like I was supposed to. I felt like, ‘we had won!’ When I ran onto the field, I could hear the Black students calling my name. I knew we made history,” she said. “Today, I believe what makes Florida State great is Florida State has been able to embrace change with exuberance and understand the value of diversity.”
The integration anniversary events are also personal for Florida State President Dr. Eric Barron, who graduated from his alma mater in 1973 and voted for Doby Flowers as homecoming queen.
“I remember the population of Black students was extremely small. There was one [Black] gentleman on my dorm floor. There was a notion of acceptance, but he stood out as a notion of rarity,” he said. “Certainly, not everybody felt comfortable and that was kind of sad. Fifty years later, we are a diverse university. This is worthy of celebration for alumni and people in the community.”