Amy D. Jackson
The first five may never have shared a pair of jeans for the summer. However, what they did share was more special than a pair of jeans. They changed and made history. The first five were the first African Americans to graduate from Wesleyan College in 1972. Some would view this achievement as world history or state history but here on Wesleyan Campus it’s more than that. It’s our history. It’s a legacy they left behind for all of those who would follow in their footsteps. So, to quote Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” for these five women +1. The group includes: Carolyn Woodard, Sonya Tomlinson Holland, Christine Everett, *Dyleane Taylor (Alma Jean Spradley) *Marvette Baldwin Jenkins and Franchetta Terwick (who was the first African American to graduate with a MBA from Wesleyan College).
A handful of years ago, the first five were regular college students. They were bursting and brimming with their dreams. They were writers, singers, and dancers. The women collectively admitted they never experienced open hostility on campus. The obstacles they faced were hurdles of the organic kind. They were afraid. Each woman came with her own escape plan. Everett admits all of her ideals were being challenged and put to the test. However, Mrs. Everett does reminisce about her one experience of rejection. She wanted to attend church and so she tried going to the Vineville Church but was turned away. It stung her pride but she bounced back. After that the fabulous five were taken to church in a limo. Christine Everett went on to say that the Professors were always kind and nurturing. She came to revere Wesleyan as a haven. Sonya T. Holland’s plan of escarpment included skipping class and playing spades. However, she said after noting the disappointment on her mother’s face she began applying herself rigidly. Holland says praying in the chapel got her through. Franchetta Tarwick (a 1982 graduate) her biggest obstacle was change. She said she learned to embrace the change through self-determination and acceptance. She took it one day at a time. Woodard gives credit to her failing to her big sister. She also says “the more you are able to establish friendships the better it will be.”
The women became educators and therapists. Education is important to them they are have Master Degrees. Everett admits to having several Masters. They revealed their entertainment regiment. The first five spent time going to dances, basketball games, modeling, singing in the Glee club, writing, and attending church. They each held a strong place in their heart for Black Student Alliance which they formed on the Wesleyan Campus. Sonya Tomlinson Holland spent some of her time speaking sign language for the deaf which she had learned and perfected in her church, Wheat Street Baptist. Carolyn Woodard volunteered to help people register to vote.
However, when it comes to advice for new ladies of Wesleyan, they become quite serious. Everett says find out what you’re passionate about and follow it. Woodard admits that many of the adolescents she comes in contact with are trying to please everyone. She says follow your heart and listen to the inner voice and you will never go wrong. Holland suggests a positive outlook. Tarwick sums it up beautifully. She also suggests a positive outlook and the development of solid relationships. In these relationships have loyalty and integrity and of course be self-determined. Lastly, she suggests that “all students of Wesleyan College are a part of history because Wesleyan College was the first school established for women in the country.”
Sisterhood bonds make the world go round.
*Were not in attendance due to illness and conflicting work schedule.