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WTVM Editorial 2-26-21: Auburn history remembered

Published: Feb. 26, 2021 at 12:29 PM EST
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(WTVM) - When we recently covered the story of Auburn University renaming two campus buildings after African American graduates, it got me wondering about integration on the Auburn campus.

It’s an important story and not just because February is Black History Month, but because Black History is American History and what happened in the mid-1960′s at Auburn is worth remembering.

The first Black student was Harold Franklin in 1964. It was courageous of Franklin to register for classes, tearing down the barriers set up by the blatant racism of Governor George Wallace.

The racism then was so pervasive that Franklin could not get professors to read his master’s thesis so he could graduate, forcing him get his degree elsewhere. He finally returned to Auburn in 2019 for long overdue accolades and an Honorary Doctorate.

The first Black person to actually graduate from Auburn was Dr. Josetta Brittain Matthews, Class of 1966.

Dr. Matthews also went on to become the first Black Auburn faculty member.

The Auburn University Board of Trustees voted to rename two buildings on campus, Eagle Hall and Tiger Hall in honor of Dr. Matthews and another special graduate, the first Black person to serve on the board of trustees, Dr. Bessie May Holloway.

But these two very accomplished women were not the first African-Americans to receive naming honors on campus.

That distinction goes to Harold Melton, Auburn’s first Black Student Government president, and now Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court and namesake of Auburn’s Melton Student Center.

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All of these honors are long overdue and are thanks to the work of a special task force of the board of trustees to finally recognize and showcase important Black figures in Auburn’s history.

It’s ironic that the infamous segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace - who once tried to stop Harold Franklin from registering in 1964 - was the same George Wallace who 20 years later, appointed Dr. Bessie May Holloway to the Auburn Board of Trustees in 1985.

Now that’s an amazing turn of events…it might even be called poetic justice.

It’s another reason why the accomplishments and progress made by such determined Auburn students need to be told and remembered.

General Manager Holly Steuart brings an editorial a week to WTVM. If you would like to respond to an editorial, e-mail your response to hsteuart@wtvm.com or write to:

WTVM Editorial Committee

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Columbus, GA 31906

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