E&H Mass Comm Student Story: Katie Bolling tells the story of Emory & Henry’s first female African American graduate

by Monica Hoel
This is part of a series of stories by members of the 2022 E&H Mass Comm 302 Class.

Dr. Rosemary Gray was making history during her time at E&H without even knowing it.

After receiving her B.A in English in 1968, Gray became the college’s first African American woman graduate.

Originally from Gate City, Virginia, Gray knew early on that she wanted to continue her educational career beyond high school, so she attended Morristown College in Morristown, Tennessee for two years before the circumstances fell into place just right to lead her to Emory.

“The churches were integrating during the time I was in high school,” Gray explained. “The Methodist church I went to, we would visit the United Methodist Church that was white, and I had visited Emory & Henry College. I fell in love with Emory & Henry College’s campus.”

Gray says, at the time, she did not think anything was extraordinary about her decision to attend E&H, or college at all.

“I saw how hard my mother worked, she was the building manager at a bank, but I also had friends who were going to college,” she said.

Even after getting to campus and seeing how few Black students there were, Gray was not fazed due to her upbringing in a mixed-race neighborhood.

“I felt very comfortable with other cultures because I grew up in a mixed neighborhood during a time when most people were still segregated. So I was never afraid to meet people,” she explained.

Although Dr. Gray was seemingly unbothered by being a minority at the college, other members of the community expressed their displeasure with her being there, which was evident as soon as she arrived and began to make housing plans.

Gray traveled with her Methodist church the summer before she came to E&H producing plays to help people understand integration. Through this program, she met a friend also going to the college who she hoped to room with, but faced pushback when arriving on campus.

“My classmate and I, we could not room together,” Gray stated. “Her mother did not want her to room with a Black student, so I was put in a private room at Martha Washington [dormitory], and then I found a white student I could room with.”

Unfortunately, this was not the only obstacle Gray would face while at E&H due to the racism of others. She recalled a particularly poignant moment that occurred shortly after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“When Dr. King died, people ushered me down to Martha Washington Hall because they were afraid something could start on our campus, and it did,” she said. “The girls that I was with said, ‘Let’s walk to the general store,’ and we did and some white guys from Hillman Hall yelled out, ‘I’m glad he’s dead! I’m glad he’s dead!’”

Despite this, Gray maintains that she never even considered dropping out of college or obtaining her degree anywhere else.

“My mother always told me, ‘I know you are going to be a leader in something, I just don’t know what.’ I was never a quitter,” she stated.

Gray was proud of her accomplishments at the time, however; she was unaware that she was the first Black woman to graduate from the college, saying it never crossed her mind.

“I don’t remember people talking about it. There would be no reason for me to ask. I’m sure the college knew, but I didn’t realize what was happening. I don’t think I realized what was going on until after I graduated,” she said.

After graduating from E&H, Gray went on to receive an M.A in Education from Catholic University and an Ed.D in Educational Leadership and Political Analysis from East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee. She pursued a career in education, and eventually ended up working with multiple colleges’ Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion centers before retiring.

While she realizes college has come a long way since she attended E&H, having to experience segregation firsthand inspired Gray to continue to work until everyone in college was treated equally, and she believes that is still a work in progress.

“I think there will always be a lot of work to be done when you’re dealing with people,” she said. “We’ve got to learn to look at people as people. Most people hang with people that have the same interests, but we don’t have to hate people.”

 

Story Author, Katie BollingClass of 2023Double major: B.A Mass Communications and B.F.A in Theatr...

Story Author, Katie Bolling
Class of 2023
Double major: B.A Mass Communications and B.F.A in Theatrical Performance

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  • <div class="lw_news_image"><span class="lw_item_thumb"><a href="/live/news/1080-richard-graves-work-wins-reece-museum-award"><picture class="lw_image"><source type="image/webp" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/49,1,802,754/7176_richard_graves.rev.1574284324.webp 2x" data-origin="responsive"/><source type="image/jpeg" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/49,1,802,754/7176_richard_graves.rev.1574284324.jpg 2x" data-origin="responsive"/><img src="/live/image/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/49,1,802,754/7176_richard_graves.rev.1574284324.jpg" alt="Richard Graves, E&H Class of 2008." width="345" height="225" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/49,1,802,754/7176_richard_graves.rev.1574284324.jpg 2x" data-max-w="753" data-max-h="753" loading="lazy" data-optimized="true"/></picture></a></span></div><div class="lw_widget_text"><h4 class="lw_news_headline"><a href="/live/news/1080-richard-graves-work-wins-reece-museum-award">Richard Graves’ Work Wins Reece Museum Award</a></h4></div>
  • <div class="lw_news_image"><span class="lw_item_thumb"><a href="/live/news/1485-animals-carousels-making-lava-its-all-in-a-days"><picture class="lw_image"><source type="image/webp" srcset="/live/image/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,669,669/8939_nicole.rev.1604599032.webp 1x" data-origin="responsive"/><source type="image/jpeg" srcset="/live/image/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,669,669/8939_nicole.rev.1604599032.jpg 1x" data-origin="responsive"/><img src="/live/image/gid/68/width/345/height/225/crop/1/src_region/0,0,669,669/8939_nicole.rev.1604599032.jpg" alt="Nicole Powell, E&H Class of 2016, brings her experience working at zoos to her work at the Greensboro Science Center." width="345" height="225" data-max-w="669" data-max-h="669" loading="lazy" data-optimized="true"/></picture></a></span></div><div class="lw_widget_text"><h4 class="lw_news_headline"><a href="/live/news/1485-animals-carousels-making-lava-its-all-in-a-days">Animals, Carousels, Making Lava: It’s All in a Day’s Work for Nicole Powell</a></h4><div class="lw_news_summary"> Nicole Powell hasn’t let the pandemic put an end to her enthusiasm about teaching science to kids. <a href="/live/news/1485-animals-carousels-making-lava-its-all-in-a-days" class="link-with-arrow gold">Keep reading</a></div></div>