by Shane Thomas and Von Kennedy
Photos by Rebecka McAleer and Von Kennedy
VSU celebrated 50 years of integration with the Heritage Community Cookout and “A Look 50 Years Back and 50 Years Forward Kickoff Reception” on Wednesday.
Robert Pierce and Drewnell Thomas, the first African-American male and female to attend VSU, were honored during the cookout, sponsored by the Langdale College of Business Administration, in Palms Quad.
Students gathered in Palms Quad as free hamburgers, hot dogs and other refreshments were served from noon until 2 p.m.
SGA president Will Jimerson, VSU First Lady Dr. Dacia Charlesworth and Valdosta Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Payton addressed the student body during the cookout.
“I think the turn-out was great,” Jimerson said. “We had a diverse group of people that came out to celebrate. That is what the mission of this event was—to bring people of different heritages, cultures, and backgrounds together as we celebrate 50 years of integration.”
“This moment is so historical because it allows us to reflect on everything that people have done to make the university more inclusive and it’s important to remember that 50 years later,” Charlesworth said. “Students that I spoke to in line knew what they were celebrating and they were excited—it was great.”
In addition to free food, students could also participate in a raffle to take home commemorative “50 Years” t-shirts.
“I feel very thankful,” Ayannie Thomas, junior speech communication major, said. “For the two that paved the way for African Americans to attend a university like this I just feel very honored. I wanted to volunteer and do what I can to help.”
Payton reflects on his own experience in 1963 as a third-grader when Pierce and Thomas arrived on campus and what it means to the city of Valdosta.
“Being born and raised in Valdosta and being here in 1963; knowing some of the changes the city was going through at that time, as a third-grader, you don’t see those things,” Payton said. “Obviously, Ms. Thomas and Mr. Pierce, to be the only two African-American students on this campus in 1963, those were some heavy, heavy burdens to bear.”
“From a city perspective, I think this (event) shows how far the city and the county have progressed in their forward thinking,” Payton said.
Various VSU organizations also hosted “A Look Back and 50 Years Forward Kickoff Reception” in the Bailey Science Center.
The event celebrated Pierce and Thomas, as well as Dr. Shirley Hardin, professor of English and Director of the African American Studies program and other notable people and moments.
Hardin has been at VSU for 37 years witnessed much social change on campus.
“Sometimes people take their education here for granted,” Hardin said. “(Here) you get to interact with different fraternities, sororities, races and once you learn their history and culture, you are empowered. All of us can soar, and that is my greatest joy; when students can come together.”