Jess McDonald ’12
August 19, 2011
Paul de Montaigne was the first black student to attend classes at Elon College. Paul was a faculty member of Palmer Institute and, although he was not seeking a degree, he attended evening classes at Elon in the spring of 1963. Paul was from Martinique and, accordingly, his first language was French. Some argue that Paul was viewed predominantly as a foreigner rather than as black, and that (combined with his taking only evening classes) certainly eased his entry into Elon College.
Glenda Phillips was the first full-time black student at Elon College. She graduated from Jordan Sellars High School in Burlington as valedictorian and attended Elon on a day student scholarship. In fall 1963, Glenda enrolled and walked ten blocks to take the public bus to campus each day. Glenda was part of the marching band and studied Pre-Medicine while at Elon. Glenda left Elon during the fall of her sophomore year, partially as a result of getting married.
These students attended Elon at a time when the nation was in racial turmoil. In 1962, James Meredith became the first black student to attend the University of Mississippi, against the wishes of university and state officials. Federal marshals were sent to Mississippi to protect James as he registered for classes. The violence that erupted as a result left two people dead and many others injured. Fortunately, such violence did not occur at Elon. Nonetheless, the racial strains at the time resulted in Glenda being less welcomed and less supported than her white counterparts, which played a part in her decision to leave Elon in her second year. The first black student to graduate from Elon was Eugene Perry, who did so in 1969.
If you’re interested in learning more about integration at Elon, take a look at L’Tanya Richmond’s Master’s Thesis, “Elon’s Black History: A Story to be Told,” which includes interview transcripts with several people from the Multicultural Center’s Wall of Fame.