They might not have realized it at the time, but many former Appalachian State University faculty, staff and students spearheaded the university’s diversity efforts beginning in the 1960s.
Four of those individuals were honored with a Faces of Courage Award presented Oct. 2, 2015, during a Commemoration of Integration held on campus. They were:
- Dr. Carolyn Anderson ’69 of Winston-Salem
- Dr. Willie Fleming ’80 ’84 of Charlotte
- Barbara Reeves Hart ’65 of Gastonia
- Dr. Zaphon R. Wilson ’76 ’77 of Raleigh
“During the Civil Rights movement more than five decades ago, America’s youth forced our nation to face ugly truths and to begin the process of reconciling them. When Appalachian State Teachers College first became integrated more than 50 years ago, our community joined this national movement in our own way, with a dedication to eradicating egregious inequalities, with a hope of making our society more inclusive, and with a desire to make the world a better place for all of us,” said Chancellor Sheri N. Everts.
“It is fitting that college campuses, including Appalachian, continue to be a significant and important part of holding our nation accountable for institutionalized racism and acts of violence and injustice,” she said. “As our nation’s demographics change, our university population must reflect these changes. With the benefit of more diversity of thought, belief and community, we will better equip our students to live with knowledge, compassion, dedication, humility and dignity.”
Dr. Carolyn Anderson ’69
This 2015 video tribute features Dr. Carolyn Anderson ’69, one of four recipients of Appalachian State University’s Faces of Courage Award.
Dr. Carolyn Anderson: How I got to Appalachian? I got there because of an ad I saw for graduate school and Dr. Robert Walker, he heard about Livingstone because it was HBCU that was in Salisbury, North Carolina, and he needed to find a student of color for his grant. It was a special grant to train teachers to teach culturally disadvantaged students. He came down to Livingstone the day after graduation because he hadn’t received my application. He walked around campus while I filled out another application and then went back to Boone and accepted me in his program. Three years, I was there for three years. I did two years of grad school and then I taught there a year.
I think the advice I’d give Appalachian students is the same I give all our students: make the most of what you’ve got. I went to Appalachian for two years. I got my master’s degree, but I learned a lot that I wasn’t tested on. We are here to learn how to learn and that once you learn how to learn you can learn almost anything. I started out in mathematics ended up teaching computer programing and then ended up doing staff development. That wasn’t what I went to school for, so having a well-rounded liberal education helps you to explain your specialty area more so than having a narrow focus on one thing. My biggest hope would be that in 10 years Appalachian would look totally different than what it does now and that more students would be involved in doing research and that there would be a larger diverse population. Community service is important all the time, but it is really important while you’re in college. I don’t think people understand that it’s your privilege to be able to go to college, not everyone can go to college. While you’re there you owe something back to the community that sent you and the community that you happen to be learning in. I think public service is one of the ways you can give back to those communities. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time, but giving back some time, and it doesn’t always have to be money that’s involved in it. Your time is more precious than anything. Those are the types of things that college students could do and it would give them something that would be lifelong. It is something they continue after they get out of college and also, I hope, gives them a sense that they can make a difference. That should be what their life’s work is about, helping others and making a difference.
Carolyn Anderson, who earned a degree in mathematics, was the first African-American, full-time faculty member at Appalachian. She taught in the Department of Mathematics.
“My biggest hope would be that in 10 years Appalachian would look totally different than what it does now, with more students involved in research and that there would be a larger diverse population,” she said in a video tribute.
Anderson held faculty or administrative posts at Livingstone College and Rowan-Cabarrus Community College before retiring as associate director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Winston-Salem State University.
Dr. Willie Fleming ’80 ’84
This 2015 video tribute features Dr. Willie Fleming ’80 ’84, one of four recipients of Appalachian State University’s Faces of Courage Award.
Dr. Willie Fleming: The day I received my letter of acceptance from Appalachian State, it was the probably the happiest day and the saddest day of my life. My father died that day and I had made up my mind that I was not going to go to college because I was one of 10 children. My family didn’t have a lot of money so all of us did our part to make things happen at home and to help out with the family, so I thought my responsibility was at home. My oldest sister was very diplomatic and said, “No, you’re not going to stay home.” There was no diplomacy there at all of course, no regrets for taking my sister’s advice or actually yielding to her command to go off to college.
Appalachian State changed my life and there were a lot of wonderful opportunities in Boone and I grew up in Boone. I matured there. Absolutely the best time of my life. My freshman year we started the gospel choir and probably had 25 students in the group. Over the years when I was directing the choir it actually became church. The most beautiful thing would happen at the end of rehearsals. We would have what we called prayer request and praise reports times. Students that were not in choir would come to rehearsal and just sit and observe and watch, and if they had a concern or they were worried about an exam or whatever they would wait until the end of rehearsal and ask for the group to pray for them. Many of them would just sit in and listen to the music and they got consolation just listening to the music. It was not just a form of cultural expression, but for many people it was a spiritual outlet for them and it was a place where they felt safe and where they felt comfort. I think it reminded them of being at home in their local churches and being with their families. Those types of comments were expressed over the years.
My career at Appalachian State started as Director of Minority Affairs and I think that was in 83’ 1983 to be at the forefront of the gospel choir, the Black Student Association and working with the African American Greeks. It was a great honor. It gave purpose to my life. I saw my job at Appalachian State as more of a calling than just a job or career. I have always felt very fulfilled in the work that I have done on college campuses. Especially there because I knew there was a need, and I always felt really honored that I was the one chosen and allowed to serve those wonderful students.
Willie Fleming was a founding member of the Appalachian Gospel Choir and its first director, a founding member of the Black Student Association and the Black Faculty and Staff Association and an advisor for minority students. He also helped university administrators establish National Pan-Hellenic Council fraternities and sororities for African-American students.
“Appalachian State changed my life. I grew up in Boone; I matured there and it was absolutely the best time in my life,” Fleming said. “My career at Appalachian State started as director of minority affairs in 1983. To be at the forefront of the gospel choir, Black Student Association and African-American Greeks was a great honor. It gave purpose to my life.”
Fleming is an associate professor of psychology and coordinator of school and mental health programs at Gardner-Webb University.
Barbara Reeves Hart ’65
This 2015 video tribute features Barbara Reeves Hart ’65, one of four recipients of Appalachian State University’s Faces of Courage Award.
Mrs. Barbara Reeves Hart: As the youngest child and only daughter of Larkin and Bernice Reeves, I was born and raised in Belmont, North Carolina. My parents were always willing to make sacrifices so that we could have an education. They were determined that all of their children would attend college. We attended a segregated public school, Reid School, in Belmont. For many years the black children of Belmont were not allowed to visit any public library in the vicinity. In all of my schooling at Reid school I can never recall having new textbooks. Instead, we only received the discarded, tattered and worn textbooks passed down to us from the white schools. And of course we were always relegated to the back of the bus in all public transportation.
Yet, in spite of all such adverse conditions, the students of Reid school and many of my classmates became successful leaders in the community, state and nation. I graduated from Reid High School in 1960, ranking 3rd place in academic achievement. Following my high school graduation I attended Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina, majoring in elementary education with an interest in special education. Other than teaching and nursing very few opportunities were open to black women at that time. It was during my student teaching at Bennett that I really felt a strong desire to pursue a career in the field of special education. In May of 1964 a Bennett College advisor informed me of an internship program at Appalachian State Teachers College. I was elated to learn that I had been accepted in the program as a candidate for a master’s degree in special education for the deaf. I did not realize at that time that I might become the first African-American to receive a master’s degree from Appalachian State. For more than 30 years I served in various educational capacities including teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing in the states of California and North Carolina. After my retirement I became interested in quilting.
Under my inspiration and guidance, the African American Quilt Guild of Gaston County was established in 2005. We have presented several community programs about the story of the Underground Railroad and the secret codes of the slave quilts correlating this story with the secret codes found in the Negro spirituals. My joy and passion will be to share the legacy and importance of remembering from whence my people have come as we emerged from the Middle Passage and sorrows of slavery to the present time of hope and goodwill. I’m truly thankful first to my heavenly Father, then to my parents, to the dedicated teachers of Reid School, and to all other who helped pave the way in this achievement. Respectively submitted, Barbra Reeves Hart.
Barbara Hart spoke of the challenges of living during segregation in the South. She attended a segregated school, was denied access to the county library, and learned from used and tattered textbooks discarded by the white schools. “Yet in spite of all such adverse conditions, the students became successful leaders in the community, state and nation,” she said. Hart came to Appalachian to earn a master’s degree in special education. “I did not realize that I might become the first African-American to receive a master’s degree from Appalachian State.”
Hart’s career spanned 30 years working with the deaf and hard of hearing in North Carolina and California, including serving as a speech-language pathologist in several school districts.
Alumna Barbara Reeves Hart ’65 of Gastonia is one of four recipients of Appalachian State University’s Faces of Courage Award. She came to Appalachian to earn a master’s degree in special education and became the first African-American to receive a master’s degree from the university. Here, she speaks of the challenges of living during segregation in the South and the triumphs in her lifetime.
Dr. Zaphon R. Wilson ’76 ’77
This 2015 video tribute features Dr. Zaphon R. Wilson ’76 ’77, one of four recipients of Appalachian State University’s Faces of Courage Award.
Dr. Zaphon R. Wilson: I went to Appalachian State in 1972. I majored in Political Science and graduated in four years and I loved it so much I decided to stay for a master’s degree. I went to Atlanta University and got a PHD in Political Science. I came back to Appalachian and taught there where I became an assistant to the provost assistant to Harvey Durham for Minority Affairs. He was just a phenomenal mentor and administrator and built VITA for minority faculty members. We went out recruiting minority students.
One afternoon I was sitting in my office trying to figure out how we could get more black faculty members on the campus and coming from the Atlanta University where I got my PHD from I was exposed to so many different kinds of professors from all over the world. Bringing that kind of experience to Appalachian was very important for me because it enriched my educational experience so much. So I presented the proposal to Dr. Durham after consulting with the black faculty. “Dr. Durham you’ve got the juice to do this! Let’s make it happen.” I don’t know where I got that phrase from, but it was the juice it took to push for change and he approved it. So I worked with Dr. Durham on developing a budget and expanding our scope to looking at students in graduate programs across the country and also aggressively recruiting graduate students to build a pipeline for faculty members at Appalachian. We also identified talented black students and encouraged them to go on to graduate school and consider a career in higher education. It was the beginning of this conversation about diversity and about how important it was for all the students on campus. It wasn’t just because of the black question or the black issue, it was to expose all the students to a diversity of faculty members from different backgrounds and different experiences and to enrich the living and learning environment at Appalachian.
My hopes for Appalachian in the future is that they continue in the trajectory that they are going now. In 10, 15 or 20 years from now Appalachian is going to be a completely different place. It’s going to be an inclusive environment, it’s going to be a more diverse environment, and it’s going to represent a variety of ethnic groups and racial groups. Appalachian is poised for even more greatness.
Zaphon R. Wilson earned a bachelor’s degree from Appalachian in 1976 and a master’s degree in 1977. He was a member of the faculty in the former Department of Political Science and Urban Planning and Geography and the university’s first assistant to the provost for minority affairs. While at Appalachian, he founded the Black Faculty and Staff Association. He currently is dean of the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences and professor of political science at Saint Augustine’s University.
In a video presentation, Wilson praised former Provost Harvey Durham for his minority recruitment efforts, which Wilson helped lead.
“We went out and recruited minority students and aggressively recruited students who were in graduate programs across the country to build a pipeline for faculty members at Appalachian and encouraged talented black students to go on to graduate school and consider a career in higher education,” he said.
“It was the beginning of this conversation about diversity and how important it was for all of the students on campus,” Wilson said. “It wasn’t just because of a black question or black issue. It was to expose all of the students to a diversity of faculty members, different backgrounds and different experiences to enrich the living and learning environment at Appalachian.”
Everts spoke of the university’s continuing work to support campus diversity. The Chancellor’s Commission on Diversity has been tasked with increasing the diversity of student, faculty and staff populations, and specific recruitment and retention strategies are underway to meet this goal.
In addition, 15 percent of the 2015 first-year class is comprised of students from traditionally underrepresented groups – an increase of 3 percentage points in one year. “The class of 2019 is the most diverse of any first-year class in Appalachian’s history. While we have accomplished much in a single year, there is still much to be done,” Everts said.
“Our Appalachian community embraces inclusivity, but we are not without our challenges. Discussions about race and equality are not always easy ones for a community to have, but I am confident that this community truly wants to have these discussions in open and honest ways. This is hard work, and I know we as a community are willing to do it,” she said.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the state of North Carolina, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls more than 20,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.
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