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About Integration at Winthrop

From The Torch Is Passed: A History of Winthrop University (2002) by the late Ross A. Webb, university historian. This excerpt from the book can be found on pages 184-186:

When the Civil Rights Commission declared in 1961 that South Carolina was one of “the hard core states of segregation of colleges and universities,” nineteen black students from Friendship College, who had been denied admission to Winthrop, “picketed” the college. When they attempted to enter the grounds on February 17, they were arrested for trespassing and thirteen of them were given thirty-day sentences at the York County Prison Farm. Immediately the President of the Rock Hill chapter of NAACP called for a mass rally on March 10 to “honor” these student martyrs. James Farmer, the National Director of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), addressing some 400 “predominantly” adult blacks, commended the students for their actions and urged the continuation of “non-violent protests.” In the course of his remarks he stated that “at least four Negro girls” would seek admission to Winthrop. In May 1961, two black women at Friendship College applied for admission to Winthrop, but no action was taken by the administration and in the spring of 1962, Winthrop received three applications from “Negro girls,” but since their applications were incomplete, they had not been admitted. On October 30, the chair of Winthrop’s Board informed the trustees that it was “not the function of this board to take steps to remove the clause in the charter establishing Winthrop for white girls.”

Many Winthrop students were more liberal than Winthrop’s Board of trustees. An article in The Johnsonian declared that Southerners were acting “like ostriches” by ignoring the United States Supreme Court’s decision on integration. 1963: Winthrop Girls Muzzled on Integration TopicWhen the Charleston News and Courier sent reporters to campus to interview students regarding the issue, they reported that the administration “threatened” students with disciplinary action if they discussed “the integration topic with reporters.” The media immediately charged that Winthrop was attempting “to muzzle students,” but the editor of The Johnsonian responded that the college was merely enforcing the “rule” that any reporter wishing to interview a student must first clear it with the Public Relations Office.

On April 6, 1964, the President wrote a “confidential” letter to the trustees reporting that the college had received applications from three black women. Two of the applications from Rock Hill students were “incomplete,” but the Columbia applicant not only met Winthrop’s entrance requirements but had test scores “well above” the Winthrop average. After consulting with chairman John Dinkins, Attorney General Daniel McLeod, and Governor Donald Russell, a special meeting of the Board was called in May. Davis told the trustees that it would be advantageous if the students were admitted without a formal court order. When the Board voted unanimously to admit the applicants, the President requested guidance on housing. The trustees agreed that the students should be housed “the same way” and by the “same criteria” as white students.

On July 20, without “fanfare,” a twenty-four year-old honor graduate from Johnson C. Smith, Cynthia Plair Roddey, was admitted to Winthrop as a graduate student in library science.On the day she was to register, extra security measures were taken. 1964: Rock Hill Teacher is First Negro at Winthrop (left)Arriving at 7:15 a.m., she met with her advisor and attended her first class. While the media had not been informed, Winthrop students had been notified of her arrival. Certainly it was a brave step for this young woman who was married with two small children. However, supported by her husband and “concerned neighbors,” who guarded her house at night, she was told “that she had nothing to worry about and ‘just to sleep and make good grades’.” She recalled that students were polite and did not make “racial slurs.” Roddey’s instructors reported that she was “a serious student: with “above average” ability.

President Davis reported to the trustees on September 19 that Mrs. Roddey had been successfully admitted “without incident.” While he had expected three blacks to register for the fall semester, only Delores Johnson of Columbia and Arnetta Gladden of Rock Hill had enrolled. The third applicant had not registered because of health problems. Both women were housed in Roddey dormitory and like Cynthia Roddey, they missed others of their race. Gladden recalled that when students gathered for the traditional blue line, instead of walking to church, they were driven! While the “first Sunday went fine,” succeeding Sundays became somewhat strained.

Since Winthrop received federal funds a HEW team visited the college in August 1968 to ensure that the school was in compliance with the guidelines of the office of civil rights. President Davis assured the team that the college had a non-discriminatory policy in so far as faculty and staff were concerned and that student housing was assigned without regard to “race, color, or national origin.” Furthermore, the college had applied for an Economic Opportunity Grant for the disadvantaged. A second HEW compliance team visited the campus in 1970 and were critical of the college for not recruiting enough black students and faculty. The President responded that the college had “no prejudices,” but black faculty were either “not available” or “too expensive” to hire. He pointed out that blacks had been hired in several federal programs as well as in the college bookstore. The Assistant to the President for Business and Finance told the visiting team that approximately three percent of the student body was black and received approximately ten percent of federal money provided by Economic Opportunity Grants.

In the spring of 1969 the Student Senate received applications from two organizations seeking recognition by the Student Government Association. The Senate approved the petition of an organization of black students known as the “Ebonites,” but rejected the application of a militant organization known as the Southern Student Organizing Committee (SSOC). The purpose of the Ebonites was to promote black culture and under their sponsorship, “Black Week” became a part of the Winthrop tradition. The Ebonites also were active in academic affairs, participating in the “Talk- ins” held by the administration. Here they questioned the lack of black faculty, the need for a black history course, the simplification of registration, and the possibility of coeducation.

In 1972 Dr. Annabell Boykin was hired as the first black faculty member. Holding degrees from South Carolina State, Cornell University, and the University of Wisconsin, she had served as Associate Dean of Home Economics at Florida A. & M. and as Dean of Home Economics at South Carolina State. Dr. Boykin immediately made herself available to black students and worked closely with the President of the Ebonites, Sheila McMillan.

As President Davis’ administration came to a close, marked changes had taken place at Winthrop. The college had been successfully integrated not only with blacks but with men as well.


Webb, Ross. The Torch Is Passed: A History of Winthrop University, 2002; pp. 184-186.

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