USM Celebration of 50th Anniversary of Desegregation set for Sept. 2-6

USM Celebration of 50th Anniversary of Desegregation set for Sept. 2-6

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The following is a news release from The University of Southern Mississippi

An important milestone in the history of The University of Southern Mississippi will be observed Sept. 2-6 when the institution marks the 50th anniversary of the desegregation of the institution.

Bearing the theme "Celebrating 50 Years of Progress: Desegregation of The University of Southern Mississippi," the week's programming will include a keynote speech by renowned author and journalist Soledad O'Brien Friday, Sept. 4 at 7 p.m. at Bennett Auditorium on the Hattiesburg campus.

In September 1965, Raylawni Branch and Gwendolyn Elaine Armstrong made history when they enrolled at USM as its first African American students. Since then, the University has seen consistent growth in minority enrollment, taking great pride in the diversity of its student body and the Southern Miss community.

The complete schedule of events for the week include the following

*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, Ms. Angie Mason Juzang, Mr. Jimmy Jenkins, Dr. Pat Smith
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-Chambers, 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, Hattiesburg campus

*Saturday, Sept. 5
Anniversary observation at Southern Miss vs. Mississippi State University football game, 9 p.m., M.M. Roberts Stadium

*Sunday, Sept. 6
Ecumenical Prayer Service, 2:30 p.m., Kennard-Washington Hall, Hattiesburg campus

Southern Miss alumnus Dr. Alvin Williams, co-chair of the steering committee coordinating the desegregation anniversary programming, said the lineup of events "allows for reflection on the University's history, and what we have learned from our history that will allow us to move forward in a positive and constructive way."

"Our panel discussions will certainly be a highlight of our events, as they will allow for interaction and for a diversity of reflection because the participants represent different times in the history of the University," said Williams, who is also a former Southern Miss professor and administrator. "And Soledad O'Brien is the right person to serve as keynote speaker, as she can share some keen insights on the importance of the desegregation of the university and its subsequent impact."

Jerry DeFatta, executive director of the Southern Miss Alumni Association who serves as co-chair of the committee along with Dr. Williams, said the group has been working for a number of months to develop and plan recognition of the historic event.

"When Raylawni Branch and Gwendolyn Armstrong Chamberlain enrolled at The University of Southern Mississippi in 1965, they courageously forged a path that has led to a diverse and inclusive student body," DeFatta said. "For this, I'm elated to honor these two women who have contributed to making Southern Miss what it is today. The progress our institution has made over the last half-century is remarkable, and it is times like these that truly make me proud to be a Golden Eagle."

For more information about the 50th anniversary of desegregation at Southern Miss, visit