Perspective Online

UWG Honors First African-American Student with Dedication Ceremony

by Elizabeth Stone and Taylor Bryant

During 2014 Alumni Weekend, the University of West Georgia held a dedication ceremony honoring Lillian Williams, the first African-American student to enroll and graduate from then West Georgia College. Community members and leaders joined UWG faculty, staff and students in paying tribute to Lillian and her family through the dedication of a campus oak tree in her name. The oak, located on Front Campus Drive, is a reminder of her courage, strength and passion for education.

Dr. Kyle Marrero, UWG president, offered opening remarks and spoke on the importance of Lillian’s legacy. “Today we are honoring Mrs. Lillian Williams and her contribution and legacy that she has already made to not only Carrollton and our university, but to future students,” Dr. Marrero says.

In summer 1963, Lillian became the first African-American student to enroll at West Georgia College. While also raising a family, Lillian pursued a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education and graduated from West Georgia College in 1967. After graduation, she began her career as a teacher in the Carroll County School System. She also went on to obtain her master’s degree in elementary education from West Georgia College in 1972.

In 1985, West Georgia College presented Lillian with the Founder’s Award, which is still the highest honor granted by the university today. In June 1995, Lillian retired from Sand Hill Elementary School after more than 30 years of teaching and inspiring students. Her passion for education truly touched countless lives throughout the years.

The Honorable Gerald Byrd, councilman for the City of Carrollton, and other community members were invited to share memories of Lillian as well. Many of her family members were in attendance including her oldest son, Clarence Williams, Jr. On behalf of the family, Clarence presented Marrero with a plaque commemorating the event.

“We will never forget that the events of today represent a great moment for the community and for the university,” says Clarence. “Because of that, the Williams family would like to present to Dr. Marrero a plaque which states ‘in grateful appreciation for the recognition of Lillian Williams and her contributions to the advancement of education for all people.’”

Faye Williams, Lillian’s daughter, spoke of her mother’s humility and grace, characteristics that were echoed by all in attendance. “She would be so happy, because she never bragged, she never talked about it, and for someone to recognize her, it would make her very proud,” she says.

Lillian’s passion for education and desire to serve others reaches far beyond the community. “Being a part of this school system pretty much completed her life,” says Travis Williams, Lillian’s son. “And her legacy itself, like the president mentioned earlier in his speech, that her great grand children will probably come, and their children and their children, and that we’ll always have a part of this university in our family.”

Lillian Williams courageously pioneered integration at West Georgia. To further honor her legacy, UWG is planning to release a video and exhibit in fall 2014, and a scholarship is being established in her memory.

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