First Black LaGrange College student remembers her time on campus

Published 8:30 am Tuesday, March 21, 2023

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As a part of Women’s History Month, the young women of Black Girl Magic, a club dedicated to the empowerment of women of color, invited Alfreda Barrow Fannings to tell her story of being the first African American to enroll at LaGrange College. 

Dazia Potts, president of Black Girl Magic, said having Fannings as a speaker was impactful and powerful.

“You don’t get to meet a lot of African American firsts because they have passed away [after] fighting for what they believe in. So, when we had the opportunity to have Miss Alfreda out, we jumped on it,” Potts said.

Fannings was just 19 years old when she made history as the first African American to enroll at LaGrange College.

“I came in 1967 in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement. A time when Black students weren’t allowed to attend the college or university of their choice. A time when we were denied job opportunities, even though we may have had a college degree, you still didn’t have the opportunity to get the best job,” Fannings said.

Fannings said she came to the school as a commuter from Fredonia, Alabama and majored in social work.

“When you’re young, you don’t think about what’s out there. I didn’t think about all these barriers that were in place to prevent African American students from seeking higher education,” Fannings said.

“When I came here, it was not my aim to make history. I just wanted to get a degree in social work.”

Like any college student, when choosing a school there are many variables to consider. When choosing LaGrange, Fannings said she wanted to live at home and be close to her parents. The college offered her a chance to do both. 

“At that time, due to all the civil unrest happening, I decided to be brave and sent a letter to the then President Waights G. Henry, asking him if Black students are allowed to enroll in this institution, and he replied, yes,” Fannings said. “I did that because back in the day, I couldn’t forget the other brave women who came before me that weren’t able to attend the college of their dreams because of their skin — I didn’t want any unrest.”

Fannings said when the president told her the school accepted African American students, she applied and was accepted in March 1967. As she started commuting, Fannings quickly realized she was the only Black student at the college.

“It was about the third day when I was informed I was the only Black student on campus,” Fannings said. “My heart started pounding, but then I’m thinking, ‘What do I do?’ In my head, I said, ‘OK, I’ve come too far to turn around, I’ve got to keep going’. Looking back, I’m glad I made that decision to stay there.”

During her time at the college, Fannings said everyone was welcoming.

“Believe it or not, everybody welcomed me with open arms. There was no unrest, there were no racial slurs, I had the best student advisor and the other faculty members were welcoming. That made it a lot easier for me to be here,” Fannings said.

As welcomed as she was to college, Fannings still faced some challenges while attending the school.

“Number one, being a graduate from a segregated high school you were limited in the education you received. When I came here, I was limited in English, math and had never taken a foreign language before. I was already behind my schoolmates and my first-year classes were pretty much remedial,” Fannings said.

“My second challenge was feeling isolated. Being the only Black on an all-White campus, meant that I had to find my place with the other students. Everybody was welcoming, but there was no connection. I had no campus friends, and when you go to college, you make lasting friendships, lifelong friendships and I missed that.”

Fannings said it wasn’t until her junior year of college she would find a connection in the drama club.

“That was really the highlight of my college career,” Fannings said. “In the challenges I faced, it was through faith and prayer that got me through. I had to have faith that I could do it. Even though I faced challenges, shed some tears and wanted to give up, in the end, I came out victorious. This college on the hill prepared me for my career path and I am forever grateful.” 

Fannings graduated from LaGrange College in 1971 and took a job as a social worker with the Chambers County Department of Human Resources. She has worked with the county for almost 50 years and is still employed as a supervisor working with the SNAP program and child support.

“I said if I had to change history, I would. It took bravery, courage, perseverance — I kept on going on until I reached my goal,” Fannings said.

“I knew that I wanted to graduate high school, I knew that I wanted to attend college, and I knew that I wanted a degree in social work. I am grateful that God has allowed me to accomplish my goals in life.”

Looking back at her life after college, Fannings said she has no regrets.

“You can do anything you think you can do, it just takes a little bit of bravery. You must believe in yourself and think positively at all times,” she said.  “When I enrolled here at LaGrange, I was like the Little Engine that Could. On the day I was handed my degree, I congratulated myself and said, I thought I could and I did.”