ETSU honors its first African American students
Fountain to be constructed to honor first five black students at ETSC
When East Tennessee State College was desegregated in the 1950s there was no violence, no protests, no blocking of doors, nothing that made the news like at other Southern colleges and universities where black students were beginning to seek higher education.
That lack of conflict is likely why there is little record of the enrollment of Eugene Caruthers in ETSC’s graduate school in January 1956, or the enrollments of undergraduates Elizabeth Watkins Crawford, Clarence McKinney, George L. Nichols and Mary Luellen Owens Wagner in August 1958.
“None of that type of action was exhibited when Dr. Caruthers came and when those other students followed behind him in 1958,” said Angela Radford Lewis, associate dean for ETSU’s College of Education. “It was perfect history but got hid because it was not sensational history. And that’s one of the things that ETSU prides itself on, that, you know, these students were able to enroll without any violence or hostility.”
There may not have been much of a record at the time, but soon there will be a permanent memorial to those five students. Preston Construction is building a water fountain at the plaza in front of the Charles C. Sherrod Library intended to commemorate the university’s desegregation. ETSC became a university in 1963.
The fountain is scheduled to be completed in October.