Mary Frances Early
Mary Frances Early in her Center-Meyers dorm room at the University of Georgia in the summer of 1961. Ms. Early was one of the first African Americans admitted to the University of Georgia.
Mary Frances Early was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. The daughter of the late John H. Early, a businessman, and the late Ruth Early, a former teacher, she began her education at E.P. Johnson Elementary School, from which she graduated as Valedictorian. She completed her secondary education at the historic Henry McNeil Turner High School in 1953, from which she also graduated as Valedictorian. She went on to receive her post-secondary education at Clark College, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music Education in 1957, again graduating as Valedictorian. She continued her post-graduate studies at the National Music Camp in Inter loch en, Michigan and later transferred her studies to the University of Michigan to pursue a Masters Degree in Music Education during the summers, beginning in 1957.
On January 12, 1961, Early observed a picture of Sharlene Hunter in the newspaper “clutching a Madonna and looking so despondent,” after Char lay ne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes, the first two black students admitted to the University of Georgia, had been suspended from the University. Early knew Holmes and Hunter from Turner High School and decided that she would “join the struggle to help these two young people and do what I could to help end the segregation that was so prevalent in the South,” subsequently pursuing her transfer to the University of Georgia. Early credited Horace T. Ward as a main influence on her determination to overcome the obstacles she herself encountered on her way to becoming the first black student to graduate from the University of Georgia. She followed the Ward trial when she was in high school and remembered the appalling actions of the state and university officials who rejected Ward’s application. After an FBI-styled background check and interrogation by University of Georgia officials, the university admitted her to its graduate school for the summer quarter of 1961. Early completed her graduate degree in Music Education in 1962. She was the first black student to graduate from the University of Georgia.
Early went on to achieve a number of accomplishments as a music educator, teacher, role model, and mentor to numerous students in her 37 years of service to the Atlanta Public School System. During her professional career, she served as a music teacher, planning and development coordinator, elementary division curriculum specialist, and music resource teacher at various schools throughout the system, including John Hope Elementary and Wesley Avenue Elementary Schools, and Can Middle School.
Early has also been the recipient of a number of awards and honors, including the STAR Teacher Award, Can Middle School, 1972; Benjamin E. Mays Black Music Heritage Award, 1995; University of Georgia Outstanding Alumna Award, 2000; and the Foot Soldier for Equal Justice (University of Georgia) Award. She is currently department chair and associate professor of the Clark Atlanta University Department of Music, as well as a doctoral student in education administration at Clark Atlanta University.
Maurice C. Daniels, Eddied with assistance from Jan a Porte, MSW Graduate Assistant
Sources: Mary Frances Early, interview with Maurice C. Daniels, Atlanta, Georgia, February 19, 1997 and Horace T. Ward: Desegregation of the University of Georgia, Civil Rights Advocacy, and Jurisprudence by Maurice C. Daniels