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History, documents, and photos

Some “firsts”

Written By: information_management - Feb• 22•08

We’ve spent the past few weeks exploring some of the history behind the college’€™s desegregation, and have talked about the college’€™s first African-American student and graduate.  Several other “firsts” are also worth noting.

At first, the college did not make any special effort to recruit black students, though the administration and faculty welcomed those who enrolled.  In the late 1960s, however, under President Paul Hardin III, the college made a greater effort to recruit African-American students.  Ned Sydnor ‘€™55, who was director of special educational activities in the late 1960s, worked to recruit minority students.

Deanleach
In 1970, the college appointed its first African-American administrator when President Hardin named Bobby E. Leach, a teacher and assistant principal at Carver High School, to be assistant dean of students and director of the Residence Hall Education Program.  RHEP was designed to create new learning opportunities in the residence halls, but Leach’s presence on campus was another signal that the college was trying to make greater strides toward integration.  Leach left Wofford in 1973 and later became Vice President for Student Affairs at Florida State University.  He died in 1989.

The college granted its first honorary degree to an African-American in 1972.  Bishopthomas
Bishop James S. Thomas was a South Carolina native who graduated from Claflin University and Gammon Theological Seminary before earning a Ph.D. at Cornell University.  Elected a bishop in 1964 to serve the predominantly white Iowa Annual Conference, Thomas was one of the earliest African-American bishops to serve a predominantly white area.   He had served churches in South Carolina before teaching at Gammon Seminary, and later served as an officer of the Methodist Church’€™s board of education and other leading United Methodist Church positions.

One of the early tests of the college’€™s speaker™s policy came when comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory accepted an invitation to speak on campus in 1969.

Dickgregory
The announcement that Gregory, who had led protests in other parts of the country and who had spoken on many college campuses in the late 1960s, alarmed some alumni and friends of the college in Spartanburg.
One letter-writer wrote that he had “€œgrave doubts that I am doing right by supporting Wofford at this time.  Spartanburg has been relatively free of serious civil disorders, but this is not likely to continue if ‘civil rights’€™ leaders are given a forum on your campus, since violence, mayhem, and property destruction are their aims.  It seems to follow them everywhere.”€
A Wofford student investigated the “€œalarmed and disturbed”€ reaction in the area, finding that Gregory’€™s civil rights activism was the reason for much of the criticism.

However, just before Gregory was scheduled to speak, his appeal of a resisting-arrest conviction was denied and he had to report for a five-month jail sentence.
Gregory did eventually make it to Wofford.

Nine years later, in 1978, he spoke at Wofford at the invitation of the campus cultural and religious affairs committee.

Photos, from top: Dean Bobby E. Leach; Bishop James S. Thomas with President Paul Hardin III; Comedian Dick Gregory.

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