Our look at black history would not be complete if we didn’t highlight members of the FVSU family who have joined the ranks of American’s most noted historians, in league with Dr. Carter G. Woodson and Dr. John Hope Franklin, in the elite club of scholars who have changed the way we look at history itself.
Dr. John Wesley Blassingame graduated from Fort Valley State College in 1960, and then went on to fundamentally recast the story of Africans in America. He is perhaps most well known for uncovering and amplifying the personal narratives of slaves, bringing attention to their perspectives like never before. Published in 1972, four years before Alex Haley’s Roots, Blassingame’s seminal work, The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South, used stories conveyed by fugitive slaves to disprove stereotypes of slaves as meek, complacent, and content with their plight in service of paternalistic masters, and instead showed their complexity, defiance, dignity, and courage. Prevailing American history at the time was based on the accounts of slave owners, and portrayed slaves as dithering, childlike ignoramuses. Blassingame instead proved that, despite the oppression of the owners, the slaves themselves retained African culture and traditions, developed music and art, maintained family ties and social structures, and found ways to exercise a semblance of control over their own lives even while on the plantation. In these ways, Blassingame showed, slaves were able to resist complete mental and spiritual subjugation and endure until escape or emancipation by refusing to relinquish their free will. His book forever changed the way the world views African-American history and heritage.
Other books by Blassingame include Black New Orleans, 1860-1880 and Slave Testimony: Two Centuries of Letters, Speeches, Interviews, and Autobiographies. He edited six volumes of the Papers of Frederick Douglas, and his books, New Perspectives on Black Studies and Long Memory: The Black Experience in America are standard textbooks in African-American studies classes.
Blassingame was chair of the African-American Studies Program at Yale University from 1981-89. Born in Covington, GA, he earned his bachelor’s degree from Fort Valley State College in 1960, a master’s degree from Howard University, and a master’s degree and a doctorate from Yale University. In 2004, the Southern Historical Association established an award in his name that recognizes African-American scholarship and the mentoring of minority students. His papers are housed at the The John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African-American History and Culture at Duke University.
Like Dr. Blassingame, FVSU professor emeritus Dr. Donnie Bellamy helped fundamentally change the way the world perceives African-American history, and also dramatically elevated knowledge of Fort Valley State University history. His book, Light in the Valley: A Pictorial History of Fort Valley State College Since 1895, is the go-to source for historical information about the university, tracing its evolution from an idea in the mind of John W. Davison, through the vulnerability of its first years, principals and presidents, the civil rights movement, and changes in status from high school to junior college to four-year college to university.
Bellamy‘s book Glory Road: The Visible Black Man in America, is part of a series of books by black historians and educators designed to be used in American history classes and black studies courses to show the achievements and frustrations of African-Americans using authentic, first-person accounts and case studies. He also wrote From Slavery to Freedom: A Pictorial History of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church Since 1863, and his 1979 article “Slavery in Microcosm: Onslow County, North Carolina” was selected by the editorial board and advisory reviewers of the Journal of Negro History as the “best article” published in the journal during the period 1976-1978. He has authored dozens of articles and book chapters on topics such as the education of blacks, slavery in Georgia and Missouri, segregation and desegregation, race, and politics.
In 1981, Bellamy was named Regents Professor by the University System of Georgia, its highest academic and research recognition recognizing achievement in teaching and scholarly research.
Fact #27: FVSU alumnus Lonnie Bartley won more games than any other HBCU women’s basketball coach.
When Lonnie Bartley, ’83, first retired from coaching in 2013, he was already a history maker and a national legend. On January 14, 2013, his 632nd career victory as coach of the Lady Wildcats basketball team marked the most wins of any women’s basketball coach at an HBCU in history, and placed him at an elite level among all women’s basketball coaches in the nation. After taking the reins as coach in 1984, Bartley led his teams to 27 consecutive winning seasons during his first 29 years as coach, qualifying for the SIAC Tournament each year and winning 11 titles. His 2005-06 team broke SIAC records for the most wins in a single season (28) consecutive wins (23) and the most SIAC wins (20) in a single year. Bartley was named “College Coach of the Year” by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA), the “Georgia Division II Coach of the Year” by the Atlanta Tip-Off Club, “College Coach of the Year,” by BCSIDA, and SIAC Coach of the Year ten times. He was inducted into the National Black College Hall of Fame in 2011.
After coming out of retirement to again coach the Wildcats on an interim basis from 2015 to 2017, Bartley’s win total increased to 652 games.
Bartley’s career with FVSU Athletics began while he was a student at FVSU, first working as a score keeper during Lady Wildcats games. He was promoted to student assistant by then-coach Jessie Brown and then to assistant coach after his graduation in 1983.
Bartley’s record placed him at #39 on the overall list of NCAA women’s basketball coaches with the most wins and #8 in Division II at the end of the 2016-2017 season.
Fact #26: FVSU alumni are making history right now as Georgia legislators.
FVSU alumnus Austin Thomas Walden’s work to drastically increase the number of African-Americans who voted in the state’s political primary elections came full circle as blacks were elected across the state to serve in the Georgia state legislature. Today, former FVSU students serve with distinction at the Georgia State Capitol in roles which make them integral to lawmaking in one of the South’s most pivotal states.
Georgia State Representative Calvin Smyre, ’1970:
Elected at age 26 as the youngest member of the Georgia House of Representatives, Smyre is now its longest-serving member. He was the first African-American chair of the Democratic state legislative caucus, chair of the Georgia Democratic Party, and president of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators. Voted as the national “legislator of the year” in 1985 and 2005, he authored the legislation to make Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday a state holiday and the bill to create the Georgia Dome. He serves on the Appropriations Committee, responsible for specifying allocations from the state’s $20 billion budget.
Georgia State Senator Freddie Powell Sims, ’1972:
Has represented the 12th Senatorial District in the Georgia State Senate since 2008, which includes Albany, Georgia and nearby areas. The former middle school principal serves as vice-chairman of the Interstate Cooperation Committee and serves on the Appropriations and Natural Resources and the Environment Committees. Among the legislation Sims has sponsored which have become law are: a bill (SB 14) making grants available to public and rural hospitals to provide for the health care needs of residents and to help ensure the long-term viability of those hospitals; a bill (SB 186) to ensure that students who earned a high school diploma through certain dual credit coursework are eligible for a HOPE grant toward an associate degree; and a bill (SB 149) to designate training requirements for school resource officers.
Senator Sims earned her bachelor’s degree in social studies education from Fort Valley State University in 1972. She earned her master’s degree in education in elementary education from Georgia State University, a specialist degree in educational leadership from the University of Georgia, and a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Sarasota.
Georgia State Representative Brian Prince, ’1987:
Has represented the 127th House District in the Georgia Legislature since 2013, which includes Augusta, Georgia and nearby areas. He serves on the Appropriations, Defense and Veterans Affairs, Motor Vehicles, Special Rules, and Transportation Committees. Among the legislation he has sponsored which have become law is a bill (HB 470, 2017) to create a program for making grants to organizations supporting military communities.
Representative Prince received a bachelor’s degree in zoology from Fort Valley State University and a master’s degree in administration from Central Michigan University. He also earned an advanced degree in Military Strategy Operations and Planning from the United States Army Command and General Staff College. He is a former United States Army Signal Officer, retiring after 21 years of honorable service at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Georgia State Representative Valencia Stovall:
Has represented the 74th House District in the Georgia Legislature since 2013, which includes Riverdale, Forest Park, and College Park, Georgia and nearby areas. She serves on the Economic Development and Tourism, Education, Interstate Cooperation, and Small Business Development Committees. Among the legislation she has sponsored which have become law is HB 614, the Landon Dunson Act, which provided for video cameras in self-contained special needs classrooms). Each year, she is a host of the Educate Georgia Summit, a collaboration of educators, parents, students, policymakers, and business and community leaders.
Representative Stovall attended FVSU for two years before transferring to Georgia State University to study business administration.
Fact #25: FVSU’s CDEP program has become a national model in STEM career preparation for minorities
FVSU’s Cooperative Developmental Energy Program has provided millions of dollars in scholarships to help minorities prepare to enter the STEM workforce. The program, unique in the nation, systematically identifies students with high potential as early as the eighth grade, provides them with life-changing internships, mentoring, and academic support, and then challenges them through a rigorous academic program which results in two degrees- a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, chemistry, or biology from FVSU and a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degree in engineering, geology, geophysics, and health physics from a partner institution, including Georgia Tech, Penn State, the University of Texas, the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, and the University of Arkansas. The list of corporate partners reads like a “who’s who” of corporate, nonprofit, and government titans: Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP, the Southern Company, Marathon Oil, AGL Resources, USGA, AERA, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, and U.S. Departments of Defense, the Interior, and Energy.
CDEP was founded in 1983 through visionary director Dr. Isaac J. Crumbly.
Learn more about CDEP here.
Fact #24: FVSU CDEP alumnus helped make movie history as part of Black Panther Cast
If you saw the Marvel/Disney movie Black Panther on opening weekend, along with millions of people around the world, you watched an FVSU alumnus help make movie history. The movie, the first big-budget superhero film with an almost all-black cast, shattered box office records by grossing more than $440 million worldwide, achieving the fifth largest domestic opening weekend ever and eviscerating the record for February openings. It’s President’s Day Monday domestic earning are the highest for a Monday ever, topping Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the previous Monday champ. In only four days, it topped the global box office receipts for the entire runs of other blockbusters like Justice League and Logan and the North American receipts for Doctor Strange, Thor, Ant-man, Captain America: The First Avenger, and every X-Men movie except Deadpool.
Movie fans are now familiar with King T’Challa, Nakia the spy, special forces general Okoye, and Shuri the inventor, but there is another citizen of Wakanda worthy of note: Jachin Myers, a key stuntman in the film. A former FVSU CDEP scholar, the 24-year old performed along with Chadwick Boseman and Luptia Nyong’o. It was like “getting paid for an acting class,” he told WMAZ. The native of Columbus, GA is a testament to the power of persistence. He’s always wanted to act in a superhero movie, according to his family, and began acting as far back as his church’s Vacation Bible School.
Myers graduated in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from FVSU and a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Kennesaw State University. He has also been a stuntman or extra in the television series MacGyver and the Walking Dead and will soon appear as a stunt performer in the upcoming movie Avengers: Infinity War.
Fact #23: FVSU Alumnus Major General Jerome Johnson helped win wars as a military innovator
FVSU alumnus Major General Jerome Johnson, ’73, is as important to military history as he is to African-American history. Over the course of a storied and distinguished career, Johnson helped revolutionize the way the U.S. Army deployed equipment and ordnance to fighting troops, ensuring fighting readiness and effectiveness. Ordnance include weapons like cannons, artillery, guns, and other arms. In August 2007, he assumed the duties of Deputy Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army Forces Command. In this role, he helped structure the logistics operations the Army needed to sustain troops fighting in the field and provided support for 840,000 active duty and reserve soldiers and Army civilians. During a prior tenure as head of the U.S. Army Sustainment Command, he led the implementation of a major initiative that evolved the way the Army deployed, recovered, and maintained equipment to relieve units of property accountability responsibilities and allow more troops to be placed into combat.
Earlier, as the Pentagon’s Director of Plans, Readiness, and Operations for the U.S. Army, he helped win the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq by managing the logistics aspect of the response to the September 11, 2001 attacks.
General Johnson received his commission in July 1973 through the ROTC program at Fort Valley State University, graduating that year as salutatorian with a bachelor’s degree in business administration before later earning an MBA from Syracuse University. A member of the Phi Beta Kappa scholastic honor society, he retired from the U.S. Army in 2009 after 36 years of service and was inducted into the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps Hall of Fame in 2012. His decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Meritorious Service Medal , the Army Commendation Medal, and the Army Staff Identification Badge.
General Johnson and his wife Doris met while both were students at FVSU.
Read: Army AL&T Magazine– Interview with Major General Jerome Johnson, Commanding General, U.S. Army Field Support Command
Fact #22: FVSU Alumna Mayor Barbara Williams crushed gender stereotypes in music, education, and politics
Mayor Barbara B. Williams is the first African-American female mayor of Fort Valley, Georgia, serving her 2nd term after being first elected in 2013 by upsetting the long-serving incumbent. She is a graduate of the class of 1971 at Fort Valley State College with a bachelor’s degree in music education. She also earned a master’s degree from Georgia Southern College.
Mayor Williams was also Georgia”s first female band director, serving as the band director in Dooly County for 18 years, growing the marching band from 60 members to 105. As a young educator, she taught herself how to play multiple instruments including woodwinds (flute and clarinet), brass (trumpet and trombone), strings and percussion, so that she could help each of her students master their musical talents, whatever their instrumental proclivity. She worked at Fort Valley Middle School as a band director and eventually earned an education specialist degree in music.
After retiring, she entered the political arena to serve the community. She served on Fort Valley’s City Council for 16 years, as mayor pro-tempore, chair of the Fire Committee, and member of the Personnel and Public Works Committees and the Board of Directors for the Fort Valley’s Downtown Development Authority/Main Street. In 1994, Williams’ husband Jimmy, who she met while both were students at FVSU, was elected mayor. Sadly, he died two years into his term. To honor her husband’s memory, she vowed to take on goals he had for the City of Fort Valley, running and winning the 2103 mayoral election.
Mayor Williams family history is truly one that mirrors the African proverb,”It takes a village to raise a child.” A native of Roberta, Georgia, Williams is the youngest child of the late Charlie and Willie Etta Braswell. Williams was raised by Ellen and Isaac Reeves, her older sister and brother-in-law, after her mother died two days after giving birth to her. The couple raised her in the Olive Grove Church community.
Williams is ever present on campus and a proud supporter of her alma mater. She also helps mentor students whose goal is to became band directors themselves.
Watch: Barbara Williams talks about vision for Fort Valley
Watch NBC 41 WMGT: Fort Valley enjoys small time living.
Fact #21: FVSU Classmates Therman McKenzie, ’70, and Cornell McBride Revolutionized the Hair Care Industry
Therman McKenzie, Sr., and Cornell McBride, Sr. met at Fort Valley State University as students and then went on to change the hair care industry forever. When the classmates launched M&M Products in 1973, they sparked a revolution in the black grooming business not seen since Madam C.J. Walker’s empire.
McKenzie created a formula to moisturize his hair and help it hold its shape, particularly important to blacks sporting afros in the 1970’s. The two experimented with the formula in a bathtub, developing the Sta Sof Fro hair product, the first product specifically made to soften natural black hair. They launched M&M Products, which earned $4 million in its first three years.* Later, they would develop and market the Sof-N-Free, Moxie, and Curly Perm brands. At its peak in the 1980s, the company made about $40 million annually.
Mckenzie earned his bachelor’s degree in science (agronomy) from Fort Valley State College in 1970, and then another bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from Mercer University before serving as chairman of the board of M&M Products, based in Atlanta. After M&M Products was sold to competitor BML Associates for $25 million, McKenzie took a post as honorary consul-general of the West African Republic of Sierra Leone.
Born in Savannah, McBride attended Fort Valley State College for three years before transferring to Mercer University to earn his bachelor’s degree in pharmacy. After the sale to BML, McBride established McBride Research Laboratories in Decatur, developing the Design Essentials product lines, including Wave By Design which use a “natural balance of vitamins and protein that promote movement and manageability.” He is also the author of A Cut Above: How Cornell McBride Made Millions in the Hair Care Biz.
Read more about McKenzie and McBride in Jet magazine here.
Read more about Cornell McBride, Sr. through the History Makers here.
Fact #20: Alumna Edith Ingram Grant, ’63 was Georgia’s first black female judge
Six years after graduating from Fort Valley State College, FVSU Alumna Edith Jacqueline Ingram Grant, ’63, became the first African-American woman judge in Georgia in 1969 when she was elected to serve on the Hancock County Court of the Ordinary. She moved to the county’s probate court in 1973. Prior to her tenure on the bench, she taught public school in Griffin and Sparta, GA.
Born in Sparta, GA, Ingram Grant first enrolled in college at the New York City College for Nurses, but returned to Georgia to study education at Fort Valley State College, graduating in 1963. She ran for office at her father’s urging during a time of heightened racial tension in the state, and then served as a judge for 36 years. Then-Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter appointed her to the State Democratic Committee, and Governor Joe Frank Harris named her to his staff in 1983. She also served as president of the Georgia Coalition of Black Women and as a member of the National College of Probate Judges, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and on the board of the Ebony International Learning Academy and Preparatory School. She is profiled in the book Black Firsts: 4,000 Ground-Breaking and Pioneering Historical Events.
Fact #19: Alumnus Willie Lee Talton was GA’s first black Republican legislator since Reconstruction.
Elected in 2005 to represent Warner Robins in the Georgia House of Representatives, Alumnus Willie Lee Talton was the first African-American Republican elected to the Georgia legislature since Reconstruction. He served as chairman of the Special Rules Committee, vice-chairman of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, secretary of the Juvenile Justice Committee, and as a member of the Banking, Education, Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment, and Ways and Means Committees. He also served as Deputy Majority Whip.
Talton was first African-American police officer in the city of Warner Robins in 1965 and became the first African-American police chief in the city of Centerville. He also served in the Houston County’s Sheriff Department for 33 years, including 28 years as the first black Chief Deputy Sheriff.
He graduated from Fort Valley State University with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
Watch: Oral history interview with Willie Talton here.
Fact #18: Fort Valley State University is Georgia’s only 1890 land-grant institution.
You may have heard that Fort Valley State University is a land-grant institution, but do you know what it means?
The Morrill Act of 1890 granted funding from the federal government to the State of Georgia to establish schools which would prepare professionals to utilize cutting-edge knowledge and technology to make America a leader in the industrial revolution by enhancing capabilities in science, engineering, agriculture, and military science, bringing them up to par with traditional academic exploration in the liberal arts. Only 106 of the thousands of colleges in the United States hold the distinction of being a land-grant institution, which were established in law by the Morrill Acts of 1860 and 1994, along with the 1890 legislation. Among them are Cornell University, MIT, Florida A&M University, North Carolina A&T State University, and the University of Georgia, designated in 1860 as the only other Georgia land grant college. Land grant colleges have been invaluable in helping the United States move to the forefront of leadership in the world’s most consequential professions.
Originally, Savannah State University was Georgia’s chosen 1890 land-grant institution, but the legislature transferred that role to Fort Valley State College in 1947. Our role as a land-grant college includes an imperative to develop world-class research and share our collective knowledge with communities in the state (our “extension” programs).
Learn more about 1890 land-grant institutions here.
Fact #17: Shirley Sherrod attended FVSU before becoming a symbol of interracial cooperation.
Albany State University and Fort Valley State University may be rivals, but we are happy to share Shirley Sherrod, a national symbol of racial tolerance and inclusion. Sherrod began college at Fort Valley State College, and later enrolled at Albany State University. She worked for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during Civil Rights Movement and went on to be the Georgia State Director of Rural Development for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). She was the first African American to serve in this role.
While speaking to the NAACP in March 2010, Sherrod recalled her own personal revelation that love and tolerance were the correct path. She recalled that white farmers needed her help, and at first she was reluctant to assist. When she realized her own potential for racism, she got to know the farmers, helped save their farm, and became friends with that family. The Breitbart website selectively edited her comments to make it appear that she had acknowledged denying service to the farmers, when in fact, her speech made the exact opposite point. After initially overreacting to the sensationalism of the Breitbart story and demanding that she resign, the Obama administration realized the compassion and righteousness in her remarks and apologized to Sherrod, heralding her remarks as symbol of racial inclusion.
She and her husband Charles Sherrod founded the Southwest Georgia Project in 1961 to educate, engage, and empower through advocacy and community organizing. They have worked for decades with minority farmers to help them keep their land. The Sherrods are partners in the New Communities collective farm in Southwest Georgia, in which a dozen black farmers have banded together to purchase and operate 5,700 acres of farm land, one of the largest African-American owned plots of land in the United States. The Sherrod’s were part of a successful class-action lawsuit suing the federal government for discrimination against black farmers, resulting in $1 billion paid to 13,300 black farmers.
Losing her father to violent racial crime at a young age made her want to work for change in the South. She is the author of, “The Courage to Hope: How I Stood Up to the Politics of Fear,” and is a renowned speaker often called upon to discuss race relations.
Currently, Sherrod serves as the Executive Director for the Southwest Georgia Project and as Vice President of Development for New Communities at Cypress Pond. She also serves on the boards of Rural Advancement Foundation International, Rural Development Leadership Network, and the Albany Chamber of Commerce.
Fact #16: Founder John W. Davison brought multi-disciplinary education to African Americans in Middle Georgia
You may already know that John W. Davison was the principal founder of Fort Valley High and Industrial School, but what you may not know is that he fought to provide blacks in the South with a multi-disciplinary education even as the school’s financiers insisted that they should only be taught industrial education focused on trade skills.
Davison’s efforts to make the first years of the school’s existence possible were nothing short of heroic. Before the school even opened, he donated his earnings from teaching night school to a fund to erect the school’s first building. He served as principal even while he and his wife were the only teachers for 100 students. He galvanized the local community members to contribute from their modest personal funds to support the effort, and of course, he led the 17 other founders, including former slaves, free-born blacks, and white men, in officially founding the school.
Yet, it takes more than a dream to operate a school, which had almost 600 students enrolled just a few years after opening. He needed help–and reached out to prominent philanthropists in the North. They provided crucial financial support, but not without conditions. At the turn of the twentieth century, training blacks to only work with their hands was more palatable to the many of the powers that be than was the additional focus on liberal arts study, which included literature and language studies, mathematics, history, and science. Though Davison conceded to revise the curriculum to put more emphasis on vocational education, which is important in its own right, he never abandoned his efforts to instruct his students in advanced intellectual pursuits.
Davison’s efforts introduced many blacks for the first time to reading, math, and science, and helped set the stage for students like Austin Thomas Walden to go forward and become a powerful lawyers and Georgia’s first black judge since Reconstruction.
Learn more here.
Fact #15: Jo Ann Robinson, ’47, was the pivotal originator of the Montgomery Bus Boycott
Jo Ann Robinson was born to farmers near Colloden, GA. Her high school’s valedictorian, she graduated from Fort Valley State College in 1947 and earned a master’s degree from Atlanta University. After teaching in Macon and Texas, she became a faculty member at Alabama State College in Montgomery, AL. She was an active member of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and Women’s Political Council (WPC), of which she became president.
Robinson led the WPC in advocating for a boycott of the buses in Montgomery after being verbally attacked by a white bus driver. After Rosa Parks’s arrest on December 1, 1955 , she and her students created and distributed more than 50,000 flyers appealing for blacks to boycott the buses the following Monday. The empty buses that day convinced the city’s African-American leaders to continue the boycott, and the rest is history. The leaders formed the Montgomery Improvement Association to organize an extended boycott, appointing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as president. Robinson served on its executive board and edited its newsletter. The boycott lasted 381 days and set the stage for the Civil Rights Movement, the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, and an end to segregation and legal discrimination.
Robinson would go on to become a faculty member at Grambling State University and a Los Angeles teacher.
Listen: NPR’s Michel Martin discuss Jo Ann Robinson’s role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott here.
Read: More about Jo Ann Robinson through Stanford University here.
Read: Letter from Women’s Political Council to mayor of Montgomery, AL threatening a boycott here.
Read: Excerpt from “The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It,” by Jo Ann Robinson here.
Watch: Jo Ann Robinson discuss the boycott and her place in history here.
Interact: Comment on the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture’s Facebook post recognizing Jo Ann Robinson here.
Fact #14: William Alexander, ’54, forced desegregation of restaurants in Georgia
William H. Alexander was a Fulton County, GA Superior Court judge, state legislator, and civil rights attorney who successfully challenged segregation and discrimination. Born in Macon, Georgia, he graduated from Fort Valley State College in 1954. After serving in the Korean War, he earned a juris doctorate (J.D.) law degree from the University of Michigan and and a master of laws (L.L.M.) degree from Georgetown University.
He became a civil rights icon as the lead attorney in a case forcing the desegregation of the Pickrick restaurant owned by segregationist Georgia governor Lester Maddox. Other lawyers on his team included legal legends such as Constance Baker Motley and Burke Marshall. That victory set the precedent for the desegregation of all restaurants in the state. Alexander was among the first African-Americans elected to the Georgia Legislature after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, representing Atlanta from 1966-1975. He was known to tackle complex issues. After serving in the legislature, he served as a judge for 20 years, first as a Fulton County State Court judge and then as a Fulton County Superior Court judge until his retirement in 1996.
Read: U.S. District Court ruling in the Willis vs. Pickrick Restaurant case here.
Fact #13: Otis S. O’Neal brought international attention to FVSU
Otis Samuel O’Neal graduated from Fort Valley High and Industrial School in 1908. As the Negro County Agent for Houston and Peach County, Otis S. O’ Neal brought international recognition to Fort Valley State University and the state of Georgia through the creation of the “Ham and Egg Show” in 1916. The Ham and Egg Show drew thousands, initially to participate in displays of agricultural excellence in the production and cultivation of meat, and eventually to participate in agriculture education, youth development activities, oratorical contests, plays, and musical performances. It was the first time many African-Americans could proudly showcase their achievements in farm production.
The addition of the Folk Music Festival, believed by the Library of Congress to possibly be the first African-American folk festival in the country, attracted notables such as W.C. Handy and other nationally renowned folk artists. The Ham and Egg Show was featured in Life magazine and on CBS radio and spanned duplicative efforts in Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Lowndes County, GA, where it is still produced each February.
O’Neal also taught local farmers how to diversify their crops beyond cotton, and helped farmers acquire land. He became a professor at Fort Valley State College and received the Superior Service Award for Distinguished Service in Agriculture from the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture in 1949. He is a member of the National 4H Hall of Fame.
Fact #12: Alumnus Dr. Horace Tate transformed education and politics in Georgia
It’s easy to forget that there was a time in Georgia when teaching blacks to read was prohibited by law and punishable with the most violent treatment. Education, the slave master’s knew, was a ticket to freedom. In the decades after slavery ended, segregation was used to provide blacks with inferior resources. Enter Horace E. Tate.
After graduating from Fort Valley State University in 1943, Tate became principal of a Union Point, Georgia school at the age of 20. He was the only person who worked at the school to have a college degree. He then became principal of a school in Greensboro, GA. The learning conditions at the school overwhelmed him. Five hundred students were crammed into 4 classrooms. Many of the books were unusable. Black students from Greene County did not have bus transportation to school like the white students did. Tate was determined to change these inequities.
He organized the local black citizens to demand taxpayer funds to provide equal educational opportunities. After death threats and employment risks, Tate and the citizens succeeded in receiving the additional resources the students needed. Later in his life, when Georgia refused to allow blacks into state doctoral programs, he became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Kentucky.
Tate would go on to achieve plenty of other firsts, including becoming the first African American to run for mayor of Atlanta, GA. He was also the first executive director of the Georgia Association of Educators, Georgia’s teacher’s union, and before that, executive secretary (chief executive) of the newly integrated Georgia Teachers and Education Association. There, he established a legacy of joining black teachers with white teachers to ensure that every Georgia student had access to quality education and resources, no matter the color of the student or the teacher.
Tate was elected to serve in the Georgia State Senate in 1974, where he served for 16 years as a key legislator in advancing educational opportunity and protecting voting rights. His daughter, Dr. Horacena Tate, now holds that senate seat.
In 2000, the Georgia State Legislature designated U.S. Interstate 75 north of Atlanta, between Interstates 85 and 285, as the Horace E. Tate Freeway.
Learn more about Dr. Horace E. Tate from the University of Kentucky.
Fact #11: Alumnus and Former Pittsburgh Steeler Greg Lloyd is Now a Black College Hall of Famer
Alumnus Greg Lloyd, 1987, Pittsburgh Steeler #95, revolutionized the way the Pittsburgh Steelers utilized the position of outside linebacker, striking fear in the hearts of quarterbacks and offensive lines. With 54 sacks, he was named to five Pro-Bowls and was named Defensive Player of the Year in 1994. He is a two-time MVP for the Steelers, and was named to their “All-time Team,” featuring the top 33 players in the franchise’s history.
Lloyd grew up in Fort Valley, GA, growing up as the youngest of nine children. At FVSU, he was a three time SIAC defensive MVP and SIAC player of the year as a senior. As a player, winning was everything, and that meant excellence on the field and a toughness no one could match. When he ran out on the field as a Steeler, he often wore a shirt under his uniform that read, “I wasn’t hired for my disposition.”
Lloyd will be induced into the Black College Hall of Fame at a ceremony on February 10, 2018 in Atlanta.
Learn more about Greg Lloyd at NFL.com.
Fact #10: Alumnus Josiah Phelps, 1949, blazed trails to the Georgia Agricultural Education Hall of Fame
Josiah Phelps, 1949, was the first minority to be president of the Future Farmers of America National Alumni Association. His work had a profound impact on young African-Americans who were aspiring to make careers in agriculture as he helped them find a career path in the industry. He was instrumental in the effective merger of Future Farmers of America with the New Farmers of America, an organization of African-American farmers, so that each could have an equal voice in advocating for the critically important role famers play in the world.
Phelps is a Georgia Agricultural Education Hall of Fame charter member and first African-American inductee. He was the first African-American executive secretary of the Georgia chapter of Future Farmers of America after serving as executive secretary of the New Farmers of America. He was inducted into the Fort Valley Alumni Association Hall of Fame in 2001.
Learn more about Josiah Phelps through the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Fact #9: Former Wildcat Marquette King is the NFL’s Only Black Punter
“I do some extreme things, but I know that no other punter in the league is doing. And that’s my goal because I just want to stand out. I want to be the best at what I do. Fort Valley State taught me to work really hard. If you decided to keep moving from every situation that was hard, you would never learn, you would never grow. I don’t like taking the easy way out.” – Marquette King, Fort Valley State
Marquette King, who attended FVSU as part of the Wildcat Football Team, is the NFL’s only African-American punter, setting records as part of the Oakland Raiders. King will be featured in a documentary tonight called Breaking Ground- A Story of HBCU Football and the NFL, premiering tonight on the NFL Network. According to the filmmakers, King’s “willingness to be unique has forever changed the way we see his position.” Marquette joins Jerry Rice (Mississippi Valley State University), Doug Williams (Grambling State University), and Mel Blount (Southern University) in discussing “the impact HBCUs had in not only shaping their football careers, but laying the crucial foundation for what the National Football League has become.”
King came to FVSU from Rutland High School in Macon to play wide receiver, but his coach encouraged him to focus on his talents as a punter. In his senior year at FVSU, he was an SIAC All-first Team member, led the conference in average punting yards, and was named the team’s most valuable player.
In 2013, King led the league in yards per punt, and in 2014, King led the league in punting yards and total punts. He has been AFC Special Teams Player of the Week twice. He set Raiders single-season franchise records for punts (109) and punting yards (4,930) in 2014.
“You know a guy like that, that has the talent he has, it comes down to consistency,” Raiders Special Team Coach Brad Seely said. “Being consistent every day, being consistent every game, being consistent for all four quarters, making the plays that are going to affect us positively in the game.
Learn more about Marquette King through the Oakland Raiders here.
Fact #8: Olympian and FVSU Alumna Catherine Hardy Lavender, ‘1952 earned a gold medal and helped set a world record
FVSU alumna Catherine Hardy Lavender, 1952, set an American record for the women’s 50-yard dash and then went on to win a gold medal in 400-meter women’s relay racing at the 1952 Summer Olympic Games in Finland. She was the only representative of the state of Georgia that year in the Olympics. A retired educator, she died at the age of 87 in September 2017.
Catherine Hardy grew up in Carollton, GA at a time when schools were still segregated. She was a basketball stand-out in college, but FVSU track coach Raymond Pitts convinced her to try track. She quickly became a national powerhouse, setting an American record for the 50-yard dash at the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) indoor meet in 1951. She was named an All-American athlete, and won the 50-yard dash, 100-meter, and 200-meter races at the AAU meet the following year. She set another American record, this time in the 200-meter run at the Olympic tryouts as she was named to the American team. She was chosen to anchor the 4×100 meter relay, leading her team to a gold medal as they set a world record and beat the German and Great Britain teams.
After retiring from racing, Hardy married the late Edward Wright Lavender, Sr., and began teaching in Atlanta, GA. She was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1999.
Learn more through the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.
Fact #7: Alumnus Thomas Dortch ’72 is national chairman of 100 Black Men and founder of the Black College Alumni Hall of Fame
FVSU alumnus Thomas W. Dortch, Jr., 1972, is living history. Now in his second tenure as chairman of 100 Black Men of America, Inc. he leads an organization that touches over 100,000 lives each year through its 10,000 members spread across 97 domestic and international chapters. It is one of the most effective mentoring networks in the country, mobilizing African-American male mentors to transform the lives of underrepresented and disenfranchised youth. The organization provide services in education, health and wellness, economic empowerment, and leadership to positively impact not just the young people they work with, but the communities they live in as well. In addition, it engages in advocacy to decrease barriers in accessing high performing public schools, raises awareness of health disparities and healthy lifestyles, and provides programs in financial literacy, career development, financial planning, investment management, and fiscal responsibility.
Dortch is also the founder of the National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame Foundation, Inc.. The non-profit works to sustain and grow historically black colleges and universities (HBCU’s) through alumni recognition, scholarships, training and technical assistance, and programs to promote humanitarian involvement. The organization has awarded more than $1,160,000 in scholarships and grants to students at HBCUs. Among other programs, the foundation operates the Legacy Lecture Series, designed to equip and empower students to overcome the economic, social cultural and political challenges of today, and to re-shape the fabric of America as they step into tomorrow. The series is presented on various HBCU campuses throughout the academic year. In partnership with the Andrew J. Young Foundation, it also operates the Andrew Young Emerging Leaders Institute (AYEL). The AYEL is designed to assist students at HBCUs, as well as high school students, in developing and/or honing their leadership skills with emphasis on understanding some of the entrepreneurial, social, technological, economic, and political trends and the impact that these likely to occur over the next 20 years and the impact that these trends and events may have on their lives.
Dortch was born in tiny Toccoa, Georgia, 50 miles from Athens. He earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Fort Valley State College in 1972 and then proceeded to blaze trails across the state. Just two years after leaving FVSC, he was associate director of the Georgia Democratic Party, and eventually became the first African-American state director for a U.S. Senator (Sam Nunn). Dortch is also CEO of TWD, Inc., a transit company based in Atlanta. He received a U. S. Presidential Citation for Volunteerism, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Distinguished Service Award, the Turner Broadcasting Trumpet Leadership Award, 100 Black Men of America Man of The Decade Award, and The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 2004 Distinguished Phoenix Award. He is a past FVSU National Alumni Association president and has sat on a host of boards of directors, including current roles on the boards of Clark Atlanta University and Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University.
In addition to FVSU, Dortch earned a master of arts degree in criminal justice administration from Atlanta University. He also attended Georgia State University as a Ford Fellow in the urban administration policy program. FVSU, Fayetteville State University, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Livingstone College, and Jarvis Christian College have each awarded him honorary doctorate degrees.
Learn more about Thomas W. Dortch, Jr. through HistoryMakers.
Fact #6: FVSU Alumnus Howard Nathaniel Lee, ’59, was the first African-American ever generally elected to lead a majority white city in the South.
When FVSU alumnus Howard Nathaniel Lee, 1959, became mayor of Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 1969, he made American history. No African-American had ever been generally elected to lead a majority white city in the South before. Chapel Hill is the home of the University of North Carolina’s main campus.
Lee was inspired to enter politics after encountering racism in the predominantly white Chapel Hill neighborhood where he lived, and he decided to make a difference, winning the mayoral election by a narrow margin. He revolutionized the town by helping to usher in transit services, affordable housing, and public parks in the city. He went on to be reelected twice in landslides, and then hold other major political offices in North Carolina. In 1977, the governor appointed him Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources and Community Development, making him the first African American to serve in a governor’s cabinet in the south. He later was elected to the North Carolina State Senate, focusing on improving public education in the state. In 2003, the North Carolina State Board of Education named him its first African-American chairman, and then in 2009, Governor Beverly Perdue appointed him executive director of the North Carolina Education Cabinet. He was awarded the North Carolina Award, the state’s highest honor, in 2014.
Lee’s autobiography is called The Courage to Lead, One Man’s Journey in Public Service. It tells the story of his rise from a Georgia sharecropper’s farm to make American political history, succeeding in the face of blatant racism. He first enrolled at Clark College, but flunked out. He then came to Fort Valley State College asking for a second chance, which President C.V. Troup personally granted. Three years later, Lee became the first in his family to earn a college degree by graduating from FVSC. He was drafted into the U.S. Army, then went on to earn a master’s degree in social work from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He taught on the faculties of Duke University, and North Carolina A&T University.
After his retirement from government, Lee founded the Howard N. Lee Institute to provide tools and resources to ensure that high-risk middle and high school students have equitable access to high quality education and are prepared to succeed in college, career, and life. Key initiatives of the institute of include community engagement and the STEM Scholars Prep Academy.
From Lee’s book:
“I symbolize the black man
Who is not in the place he expected to be,
But who really does want the world to see
That he has overcome, that he has survived,
And in the new age coming, continues to rise.”
The Black Man’s Journey by Howard N. Lee
Learn more about Howard Nathaniel Lee from the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Public Health.
Watch: Lee discusses his life at the Durham County Library.
Read: Howard the First in Chapel Hill Magazine.
Fact #5: Alumna Dr. Genevieve M. Knight, ’61, helped transform mathematics education.
FVSU Alumna Dr. Genevieve M. Knight, 1961 received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in 1999 for her extraordinary effectiveness in helping people from underrepresented groups excel in mathematics. She helped found the Benjamin Banneker Association, a national non-profit organization and partner affiliate with the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), dedicated to mathematics education advocacy, establishing a presence for leadership, and professional development to support teachers in leveling the playing field for mathematics learning of the highest quality for African-American students.
Her impact is evident by the accolades she garnered seemingly everywhere she served as an educator. While working at Hampton Institute in 1980, the Virginia Council of Teachers of Mathematics awarded her the College Teacher of the Year Award. Coppin State University presented her with the Louise Kerr Hines Distinguished Faculty Award in 1990. Maryland State College (University of Maryland-College Park) named her Mathematics Teacher of the Year in 1993. The faculty members of the Mathematical Association of American gave her their Distinguished Teaching Award for faculty from Maryland, Virginia, or Washington, DC and she was named the Wilson H. Elkins Distinguished Professor for the entire University System of Maryland. Fittingly, the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities presented her with the Outstanding Faculty Award for Mathematics and Mentoring of Minority Youth.
Dr. Knight was born in Brunswick, Georgia and earned her B.S. in mathematics from Fort Valley State College in 1961. She went on to earn an M.S. in mathematics from Atlanta University and a Ph.D. in mathematics education from the University of Maryland. She overcame communication problems due in large part to throat issues, and then went on to be a star student. She earned straight As as a freshman FVSC student after faculty encouraged her to change her major from home economics to mathematics. During the civil rights movement, she was actively engaged in fighting social injustice in her own way, particularly in addressing the logistics involved in making the mass demonstrations successful. She was inspired to enter mathematics as the Russians launched the Sputnik satellite to orbit Earth, and answered President John F. Kennedy’s call for Americans to help put a man on the moon by becoming more proficient in the math and science fields.
Learn more about Dr. Knight from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
Fact #4: Four NFL players who attended FVSU have been part of Super Bowl winning teams.
Four NFL players who attended FVSU have been part of Super Bowl winning teams. Super Bowl Champions include Larry Rayfield Wright (with the Super Bowl VI and XII champion Dallas Cowboys), Tyrone Pool (New England Patriots, XXVIII and XXXIX), Ricardo Lockette (Seattle Seahawks, XLVIII), and Nick Harper (Indianapolis Colts, XLI ). Other NFL Super Bowl participants who attended FVSU include Greg Lloyd (Steelers, XXX).
Fact #3: Alumnus Calvin Smyre is the longest-serving GA state legislator and authored the bill creating the Georgia Dome, home of Super Bowl XXVIII in 1994 and Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000.
Fort Valley State University is proud to have alumni serving in the Georgia legislature, including Representative Calvin Smyre, ’70. Smyre was elected at age 26 as the youngest member of the Georgia House of Representatives and is now its the longest-serving member. He was also the first African-American chairman of the state Democratic Party. He authored the legislation to make Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday a state holiday and the bill to create the Georgia Dome. He serves on the Appropriations Committee, responsible for specifying allocations from the state’s $20 billion budget.
Representative Smyre is president of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, and was selected in 1985 and 2005 as the national “Legislator of the Year.” He serves on numerous foundation boards, including the Fort Valley State University Foundation Board of Trustees. He is also executive vice president for corporate affairs for Synovus and president of the Synovus Foundation. With 39 banks and over $32 billion in assets, Synovus is a diversified holding company for financial services including banking, financial management, insurance, mortgages, and leasing.
Learn more about Representative Smyre through the Georgia House of Representatives.
Fact #2: Alumnus and NFL Hall of Famer Rayfield Wright played in the third-most Super Bowls in history.
As you watch the Philadelphia Eagles take on the New England Patriots this Sunday, consider this: FVSU Alumnus Rayfield Wright played in five Super Bowls, tied for the third most in history.
Wright is an NFL Legend and inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006. During his 13-year career with the Dallas Cowboys, the FVSU alumnus went by the nickname, appropriately, of the “Big Cat.” A Cowboys captain, he was a defensive powerhouse, selected to play in the Pro Bowl for six seasons from 1971-76. His five Super Bowls, the second most in history, resulted in two championships. He was recognized as part of the 1970s “All Decade Team,” a fantasy team of the decade’s best players.
You may have driven down Rayfield Wright Drive in Fort Valley, which forms part of the perimeter around the main campus. Wright’s story is one of determination and a refusal to give up. He failed to make his high school football team in Griffin, GA though exceled in basketball. Legendary FVSU coach Stan Lomax discovered his athletic talent, and saw to it that Wright was given an athletic scholarship. Once at FVSU, he began to flourish as a player in both basketball and football. The NBA’s Cincinnati Royals tried to draft him during his junior year in college, but he declined in order to finish his degree. He was drafted by the Cowboys the next year and eventually was named by ESPN as one of the top 10 Cowboys of all time.
Since his career in football concluded, he has made giving back a priority, raising money for college scholarships through the Rayfield Wright Foundation, helping to start a home for at-risk boys in East Texas and supporting charities like the Make-A-Wish Foundation. In 2017, he was honored during Super Bowl LI as one of the 29 Pro Football Hall of Fame members who attended HBCUs.
Other FVSU alums who played in Superbowls are Tyrone Poole, Nick Harper and Greg Lloyd and Ricardo Lockette.
Find out more about Rayfield Wright through the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Fact #1: Alumnus Austin Walden, 1902, was Georgia’s first black judge and a civil and voting rights pioneer.
If you can vote, eat a meal, ride a bus, or attend school in Georgia today, it had a lot to do with FVSU Alumnus Austin Thomas Walden. Walden was the first black Georgian appointed to be a judge after Reconstruction. Before serving as judge, he had a trailblazing legal career which had an incalculable impact in elevating the rights of African-Americans in the state. He led a six-year battle to win pay equity for Georgia’s black teachers in the 1940s, and another to allow African-Americans to vote in party primaries. He was the lead attorney in litigation to force the desegregation of Atlanta’s city buses and public schools, and negotiated the peaceful desegregation of the city’s lunch counters.
Fort Valley, GA native Austin Thomas Walden graduated alone in Fort Valley High and Industrial School’s class of 1902, before earning a bachelor’s degree from what is now Clark Atlanta University and a law degree from the University of Michigan. He began practicing law in Macon at a time when there were very few African-Americans lawyers in the country. He joined the Army during World War I and served as a captain and assistant judge advocate. After serving in the Army, he began practicing law in Atlanta, where he founded the Gate City Bar Association to provide African-American lawyers with resources and promote legal education for African-Americans. At the time, African-Americans were not allowed to be members of most other bar associations. He later co-founded the Atlanta Negro Voters League, helping to increase voter participation. He was one of the first two black Georgians to serve as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention.