A Long and winding Road

0104 - 50 Years

50th Anniversary of the Graduation of Westminster's first Black Graduates

In the late 1960's, a period of enormous social change, Westminster itself stepped onto a road not taken before, as a result creating a new pathway for a longstanding community in the South, African Americans. Its decision to partner with the visionary Stouffer Foundation and other parties led to admitting Black students for the first time and, in 1972, graduating them into the nation's strata of elite candidates for college admissions as well. Only a couple of years ago, this was chronicled and very closely revealed by Dr. Michelle Purdy in a breakthrough book on integrating Southern private schools. What we know: the beginnings of that path continue to be both echoed and evolved today.


But that persistence is not just history; it is motivated and driven. We looked to Wildcat magazine's own team for this following reflection on the more personal side and impact of taking that path, and of leading on it, from Corliss Denman '73, a co-founder of the magazine and a key figure in Westminster's journey further forward.


2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the graduation of Westminster’s first Black graduates. I'm looking on, from 1973 which marks the beginning of my own Westminster story as Mr. John Ehle reached out to my junior high school counselor, Ms. Willia T. Smith. I remember it well. Although I don’t believe in random coincidences, I do believe in divine providence. I was at William E. Miller Jr. High on track to graduate as valedictorian when Ms. Smith recommended me for the Stouffer scholarship. Up until the day before starting junior high, I was enrolled in a different junior high.


My story over the years since graduating in June 1973 has seemingly always included Westminster; singing at a classmates’ wedding, attending dormie and class of ’73 reunions, celebrating my birthday with high school friends in NYC, staying at a classmate’s home in London and participating in the panel discussion of Michelle Purdy’s book, Transforming the Elite: Black Students and Desegregation of Private Schools. Last year, I was asked to participate as an inaugural member of Westminster’s Black Alumni Council.


The council was formed in the wake of racial unrest and the pandemic at the request of the Board of Trustees.


In the words of my fellow council member, Ira Jackson, ’83:


“The Black Alumni Council exists to inspire and support Westminster in fulfilling its call for inclusivity and respect for the dignity of all people, manifesting a thriving and vibrant community that produces leaders who lead with compassion and integrity, by pursuing the following aims:

  • Reconciliation

  • Representation

  • Recruitment

  • Retention

  • Renewal”


This experience has been eye-opening while I revisit memories from my days at the school and compare them with those of graduates from the 80s, 90s and 2000s. My time at Westminster was a positive one filled with once in a life-time experiences and the formation of lifelong friendships. Building on this 50th Anniversary milestone, my hope is that my participation on the council will in some way contribute to the goals listed above, of connecting and re-engaging Black alumni and in building a lasting community.


Corliss Denman

(West '73)

Contributor


Malcolm Ryder

(West ‘72)

Contributor