The Savannah Tribune Salutes Alma Williams

Mrs. Alma Williams
Mrs. Alma Williams

In observance of Women’s History Month, The

Savannah Tribune is reprinting excerpts from an article published in The Black Mountain College Museum Arts Center Magazine recapturing the experiences of Mrs. Alma Stone Williams, a Savannahian, and Spelman College graduate who was a trailblazer in integration in higher education – being the first African American to integrate Black Mountain College near Ashville, NC, in 1944. Williams is a member of Holy Spirit Lutheran Church, is an associate professor emerita of Savannah State University, and has received numerous awards and honors. And remains active in her community. Excerpts from Black Mountain College Museum Arts Center Magazine, Winter 2007/2008.

“There’s a story in Martin Duberman’s seminal study Black Mountain: An Exploration in Community about the college’s first attempts at racial integration. It begins the first year of the college’s life, 1933. Charles Templeman Loram, Sterling Professor at Yale, has asked to visit the campus with his students, one of whom is Black.

The faculty holds a meeting to discuss the issue. Someone asks the question that is on everyone’s mind: “Should the Black student be treated as just another guest, fed and housed with the community? Or should local mores be heeded and the student boarded elsewhere – with a Black family in the village?” “Without consulting the students or even the rest of the faculty,” Duberman writes, “The Board of Fellows decides that, although it unanimously disagreed with local mores, it would be safer to respect them.” When word gets out of this action, eleven students write up a petition.

They decide “Black Mountain should follow the logic of its own declarations: a place for and by the community” and demand a public discussion of the “race question.”

Drawing from recorded minutes, Duberman writes: “That meeting was long andheated.

No one defended local opinions that receiving a Negro on an equal basis with Whites would be an affront to morality. But several did push the view that for the moment it was more important to ensure the college’s survival than to strike a blow for integration – especially since Black Mountain had not been founded to advance that cause.

A minority during the debate insisted that no compromise be made on the racial question, but in the end caution reluctantly prevailed. Gary McGraw Sr., father of one local student, was asked to find ‘suitable’ quarters in town for the Black visitor.” Jump forward a decade. The “race question” has only deepened at Black Muuntain College, as it has across the South. Students have voted by 2 to 1 to admit Blacks the following term.

Alma Stone received a scholarship from the Rosenwald Fund to make her attendance possible.

Before attending the institute, Alma Stone (Williams) was a valedictorian at Spelman College and received her M.A. in English from Atlanta University. She later received her M.M. from the University of Maryland and studied at Julliard. She had planned to study music at Julliard that summer but saw Black Mountain as a unique opportunity.”

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