Milestones and Achievements
- 1953 — Vanderbilt became the first privately endowed university in the Southeast to breach the racial barrier in its admission policy by admitting a Negro to the school of Religion as a result of an action taken by Vanderbilt’s Board on May 1, 1953 and admitting Rev. Joseph A. Johnson.
- 1954 — Bishop Joseph A. Johnson became the first African-American student to earn a Vanderbilt degree, Bachelor of Divinity.
- 1955 — On May 6, 1955 Vanderbilt’s Board, in accordance with the policy adopted two years before,approved a similar action in regards to the School of Law stating that no student should be denied admittance to the law school who is qualified solely because of race, creed, or color.
- 1955 — Tommie Morton-Young became the first African-American graduate from Peabody College (not part of Vanderbilt University at the time), where she received a Master’s degree.
- 1956 — Frederick Taylor Work and Edward Melvin Porter became the first two African-American students to enter Vanderbilt University Law School, making it the first law school at a private higher education institution in the South to integrate.
- 1958 — Bishop Joseph A. Johnson became the first African-American student to earn a Vanderbilt doctoral degree, doctor of philosophy.
- 1960 — The Lawson Affair – James M. Lawson, Jr. is expelled from Vanderbilt’s School of Divinity for his involvement in the organization of Nashville’s Sit-ins
- 1965 — First Black Faculty Members hired at Vanderbilt University James P. Carter and Malinda H. Gregory
- 1966 — Perry Wallace and Godfrey Joseph Dillard became Vanderbilt’s first black student athletes and first black players in the SEC.
- Walter Murray founded the Afro-American Association, which later became known as the BSA – Black Student Alliance.
- Chancellor Alexander Heard’s involvement with Impact Speaker Series landed him in the middle of one of the biggest controversies in Vanderbilt history – the invitation in 1967 to African-American activist Stokely Carmichael as one of four speakers during the lecture series.
- Godfrey Joseph Dillard became the first African-American Greek organization member on Vanderbilt’s campus. He pledged Kappa Alpha Psi at Fisk University’s Alpha Delta Chapter.
- Beverly “Bev” Asbury became the first chaplain of Vanderbilt University in 1967-1997. Throughout his career as chaplain, he was instrumental in urging Vanderbilt to improve race relations on campus through programs such as Racial Environment Project.
- Dr. Dorothy Phillips became the first black woman to receive an undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt
- A Humans relations council consisting of five faculty members and seven administrative officers was organized in an effort to seek the concerns of the students and let them know that they are not being ignored at Vanderbilt.
- The faculty of the College of Arts and Science has formed a Race Relations Committee of five members to receive requests and advice from Negro undergraduates in the College concerning College academic matters
- At the time of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Vanderbilt followed the lead of Metropolitan Nashville and lowered the American Flag to half-mast for a period of time. Also, in response to student and faculty requests classes were dismissed for two hours the day of the funeral.
- Moses Taylor graduated with a bachelor’s of Engineering Degree from Vanderbilt. He enrolled in the second year that Vanderbilt was desegregated and was one of the original members of the Afro-American Association, an organization whose goals included giving African-Americans students on campus a greater voice.
- First Black Faculty Member to gain tenure, Flournoy A. Coles Jr., was hired to teach at Vanderbilt’s business school.
- Black student applications up 200%. 142 applications were received,90 were complete enough to be considered, and 56 were offered admission. For the first time there are more blacks qualified for admissions then there are funds available to assists them.
- Dr. Levi Watkins Jr., became the first African American to receive his M.D. from Vanderbilt Medical School.
- Walter R. Murray became the University’s first African-American trustee.
- Bobbi Perdue became the first African-American female to graduate from the Vanderbilt School of Nursing.
- Joan Gaudin became the first African-American Homecoming Queen
- Wilton “Larry” Wallace became the first African-American student to become president of the Student Association
- Bishop Joseph A. Johnson became Vanderbilt’s second African-American trustee.
- On March 1, 1971, fourteen men established the Theta Beta Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Incorporated, becoming the first African-American Greek letter fraternity at Vanderbilt University.
- Taylor Stokes became Vanderbilt’s first black football player.
- 1972 — The chartering ceremony was held on Saturday, November 11, 1972 in Branscomb Quadrangle, making Alpha Kappa Alpha the first black Greek letter sorority at Vanderbilt University.
- William N. Ligon was an undergraduate student at Vanderbilt from 1970 to 1974 and also attended law school at Vanderbilt from 1976 to 1979.
- Roslyn Jackson was selected as the first black cheerleader at Vanderbilt University.
- December 10, 1975, the Mu Rho Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated was chartered at Vanderbilt on the Peabody campus.
- The Kappa Theta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. was founded on April 26, 1975. There were twelve young men, known as 'Genesis 12,' who began Alpha on Vanderbilt's campus.
- 1977 — Teresa Phillips became Vanderbilt’s first black female athlete when she joined the basketball team in the 1977- 1978 season.
- 1979 — Cathy Bender was the first to receive a basketball scholarship from Vanderbilt.
- The Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center at Vanderbilt University was dedicated in 1984 in memory of the first African American student admitted to Vanderbilt in 1953. It received a $2.5 million renovation and expansion in 2005.
- The Association of Vanderbilt Black Alumni (AVBA) founded.
- 1986/1989 — The Nu Rho Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. was established on February 25, 1989 at Vanderbilt University. The chapter was first established as the Alpha Theta colony on November 22, 1986 after the “Seven Diamonds of Genesis” cross-pledged at Tennessee State University. Eric Jones, the first polemarch of the chapter, along with several other brothers helped transform the dream of Kappa Alpha Psi into a reality here at Vanderbilt University.
- 1987 — Sharon Fluker became the first African-American woman to become an assistant dean of the Vanderbilt Graduate School
- The Tennessean published an article on January 31, 1989 discussing a larger history around the campus building “Confederate Memorial Hall.” The Social-Religious Building had received a lot of attention concerning its name and whether or not Vanderbilt wanted the Confederacy to be a part of its identity. The story, written by Eugene Tesselle a professor of church history and theology at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, discussed how the Peabody Campus was the site of a black college from 1874 to 1905 first called the Nashville Baptist College then renamed Roger Williams College.
- The school stood right across Hillsboro Pike from Vanderbilt University. The article notes that starting in 1891 there were attempts to remove the school, and in 1905 two fires, the second of which was especially suspicious, destroyed the main buildings. The point of the article is that no building on campus preserves the name of the school or its founder, D.W. Phillips. Teselle suggests that in order to calm the controversy surrounding the name of “Confederate Memorial Hall,” that the Social-Religious Building be renamed “Roger Williams Hall” in recognition of a school whose main building stood on the same site.
- 1991 — Hall Thompson Protest – Vanderbilt students protested board member Hall Thompson and demanded his resignation from the board. Thompson Hall was quoted in the Birmingham Post-Herald, stating the country club he founded in Birmingham, AL, Shoal Creek Country Club would not be pressured into accepting “the Blacks”. “The country club is our home and we pick and choose who we want…I think we’ve said that we don’t discriminate in every other area except the Black.”
- Stephanie Grier, LaTriceMcBee, and Kimberly Scott started the Voices of Praise Gospel Choir.
- Nakia Davis became the first African-American golfer at Vanderbilt and the first African-American female golfer in the SEC.
- 1994 — Rhythm & Roots was founded in the fall of 1994 on the campus of Vanderbilt University by Tania Archer, Velmalia Mathews, Monique Nelson, Jamillah Warner, and CindyYoung.
- 1996 — Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity chapter started at Vanderbilt.
- 1999/2000 — Five young women started the Vanderbilt chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. The charter members are: Asiah JaNean Hodgen, Zainab Areej Muzaffar, Lydia Eno Idem, Temitope Omoyemi Adibaje, and Shawna Tameer Rasul. The chapter was officially chartered March 18,2000.
- 2002 — Sheryll Cashin, Vanderbilt alumnus and professor of law at Georgetown University, begins service on the university’s Board of Trust. She is the first African-American woman elected as a regular Trustee.
- 2006 — Vanderbilt’s “cluster hire” of five African American professors increases the number of African American professors in the Literature Department from 1 to 6.
- James Lawson, expelled from Vanderbilt in 1960 for his involvement in organizing non-violent sit-ins at Nashville’s segregated lunch counters, returns to Vanderbilt as a distinguished visiting professor.
- Walter Murray honored with building being named after him and the first inaugural Walter R. Murray, Jr. Memorial Lecture held to honor distinguished African-American alumni.
- Vanderbilt hires their first African-American head coach. D’Andre Hill, a former American Olympic Sprinter, accepted an offer to become head coach of the Vanderbilt Women’s Track and Field Program.
- 2008 — Erica Robertson is the first African-American to play for Vanderbilt’s Women Tennis
- 2010 — James Franklin becomes the first African American head coach to lead the Vanderbilt football program.
- 2011 — Following requests from students to reconsider the university’s policy to hold classes on the King holiday, Vanderbilt began canceling classes university-wide, starting with the spring 2011 semester, in observance of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday each January.
- 2012 — Emilie Townes, an ordained American Baptist clergywoman and a distinguished Yale University scholar and administrator, is named the 16th dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School. She is the first African American to hold this post.
- 2013 — Legal scholar and Vanderbilt alumnus Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” delivers the keynote address at the university’s annual event commemorating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
- 2014 — Derek Mason, regarded as one of the nation’s top coordinators, is named head football coach of the Vanderbilt Commodores.
- 2015 — Sheryll Cashin, Vanderbilt alumnus and professor of law at Georgetown University, will deliver keynote address during Vanderbilt’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration.