Desegregation at Southern Miss

 Desegregation at Southern Miss


In September 1965, Southern Miss enrolled its first African-American students, Raylawni Branch and Gwendolyn Elaine Armstrong, and the University community has since taken great pride in its growing diversity.

September marks the 50th anniversary of desegregation at The University of Southern Mississippi and provides us with an opportunity to reflect on our rich history and pay homage to both the courageous individuals who integrated and those whose actions have advanced the diversity of our institution.

We hope you will join us in commemorating this historic milestone Sept. 2-6, 2015.


Celebration Programming

  • Wednesday, Sept. 2
    Gulf Park Panel Discussion, 3-4:30 p.m., Fleming Education Center
    Reception, Hardy Hall Ballroom, 4:30-6 p.m.
    Panelists: Dr. John Kelly, Dr. Pat Smith, Ms. Allytra Perryman
    Moderator: Dr. Chester “Bo” Morgan
  • Thursday, Sept. 3
    Hattiesburg Panel Discussion, 3-4:30 p.m., Thad Cochran Center Ballroom
    Reception, Thad Cochran Center Ballroom, 4:30-6 p.m.
    Panelists: Dr. Anthony Harris, Judge Deborah Gambrell, Dr. Riva Brown, Dr. Aubrey K. Lucas
    Moderator: Dr. Chester “Bo” Morgan
  • Friday, Sept. 4
    Keynote Address featuring Soledad O’Brien, CEO and Founder, Starfish Media Group, 7 p.m., Bennett Auditorium
  • Saturday, Sept. 5
    50th Anniversary Desegregation Service Project, 8-10 a.m., Osceola McCarty Youth Development Center, 607 McSwain St., Hattiesburg
    Anniversary Observation at Southern Miss vs. Mississippi State football game, 9 p.m., M.M. Roberts Stadium
  • Sunday, Sept. 6
    Ecumenical Prayer Service, 2:30 p.m., Kennard-Washington Hall


Historical Timeline

  • September 1965 – Southern Miss enrolls its first African-American students, Raylawni Branch and Gwendolyn Elaine Armstrong.
  • 1968 – First African-American Student Organization, the Afro-American Cultural Society is formed.
  • 1968 – Basketball player Wilbert Jordan becomes the University’s first African-American student athlete.
  • 1969 – Dr. Walter Washington becomes the first African American to earn a doctoral degree from Southern Miss, also making him the first from any Mississippi institution of higher learning.
  • 1974 – Fred Cook is selected as the University’s first African-American Mr. USM.
  • 1980 – Jacqueline Redd is selected as the University’s first African-American Homecoming Queen.
  • February 1993 – At a University celebration honoring the contributions of African-American students, faculty and staff, the Student Services Building is renamed Kennard-Washington Hall, in honor of Dr. Walter Washington and Clyde Kennard.
  • April 1, 2013 – Dr. Rodney D. Bennett becomes the University’s 10th president and first African-American president of any predominantly white university in the state of Mississippi.
  • Sept. 6, 2013 – The Armstrong-Branch Pedestrian Plaza is named and dedicated to honor the courage of the first African-American students, Raylawni Branch and Gwendolyn Elaine Armstrong.


The University of Southern Mississippi  Diversity Today

  • The student body at Southern Miss is more diverse than ever with 37 percent of the student population being made up of minorities.
  • Southern Miss is home to 17 predominately African-American student organizations, all of which are managed by the Office of Multicultural Services and Programs.
  • Academic courses promoting research and educational opportunities related to the history and culture of African Americans are available to students through the Southern Miss Center for Black Studies.
  • The Southern Miss Alumni Minority Constituent Society provides annual opportunities for black alumni to network, stay connected and contribute to their alma mater.



Please contact the Southern Miss Alumni Association at or 601.266.5013.




Special Thanks to:

Dr. Beverly Dale

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