Community commemorates 50th anniversary of integration
A mere 50 years ago, Guilford became an integrated institution after existing only for white students for 125 years.
At the 50th Anniversary of Integration kick-off event on Sept. 25, community members celebrated trailblazing students like James McCorkle ’66 and Minnette Coleman ’73.
“The celebration will honor those students who were among the first to integrate Guilford College, and the community members — faculty, staff and administrators — who were involved in desegregating the college,” said African Community Coordinator Jada Drew.
McCorkle enrolled in 1962, making him the first African-American student to attend Guilford, along with two Kenyan students who arrived later that year.
However, taking this monumental step was not an easy decision.
“It took some convincing from my counselors,” said McCorkle. “I guess it came down to a couple of things. One, I felt like I sort of had to do it. I had to take advantage of the opportunity to be the first one.”
Coleman, the first African-American resident advisor at Guilford, also spoke about her difficulties as one of only 36 black students at a college of over 1,200.
“I was given a D in American history for the semester. When I approached the professor (to ask) why, she told me because I went to an all-black high school, I couldn’t be as smart as a white girl. … Nothing was done. People asked me after that, why did you stay? I said I’m used to doing things like being the first. And I’ll fight.”
Students like CCE senior Yvette Bailey honored and related to the struggles of pioneer students like McCorkle and Coleman.
“I would like to take time to honor all the black alumni who have paved the way for students of color here at Guilford College,” said Bailey. “Like my experience, I know it has not been easy. There were moments I thought I was not going to make it. But yet here I stand.”
For Adrienne Israel, vice president for academic affairs and academic dean, the commemoration reinforced her decision to join the Guilford community.
“The celebration has affirmed for me that I made the right choice in coming here to teach and to pursue the life of the mind, even though I was the only Africanist on the faculty at the time,” said Israel in an email interview.
Today, people of color make up 26 percent of the traditional student body, and 35 percent of the entire student body including CCE students.
President and Professor of Political Science Kent Chabotar observed that integration is a complex and continuing process that is not all about numbers.
“Integration is not just about percentages of X or Y or Z group,” said Chabotar. “It’s how those groups are treated. It’s how those groups have access to power. It’s how those groups have respect.”
Though the event focused on celebrating members of the community who helped desegregate Guilford, many also reinforced the importance of constantly redoubling efforts to support diversity.
“(The Office of Student Engagement) and (the Multicultural Educational Department) have made a commitment to continually increase and enhance our intentional collaboration on programming and events to provide a more holistic, educational experience for our campus community,” said Erin Fox, director of student engagement and leadership in an email interview.
Assistant Dean of Career and Community Learning Alan Mueller emphasized how crucial students are to this process.
“It is a real honor to hear living voices that speak to our progress as a community, but it also reminds us how young and fragile the civil rights movement really is,” said Mueller. “For the movement to continue, students must engage.
“I both hope and expect all Guilford students to actively participate in this year-long celebration, and to continue to choose diversity not just this year, but throughout their lives.”
David Pferdekamper ’12 contributed to the background research, interviews and writing of this article.