Susan "Sue" Owen '94 May 22, 2019 10:26 AM updated: May 24, 2019 9:32 AM
Texas A&M marked the 65th anniversary of 1954's landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling by honoring two Aggies with the Pioneer Medal, which recognizes African Americans admitted to the university between 1963 and 1970.
Leroy Sterling '67 was the first African American student accepted to A&M, and the late Dr. James Johnson '67 was the first African American student to receive an A&M doctorate.
A&M's president, Michael K. Young, presented the Pioneer Medals to Sterling and to Katie Francis Johnson, accepting on behalf of her late husband, a Rockdale native and Army veteran who got bachelor's and master's degrees at Prairie View A&M before receiving his doctorate in education from Texas A&M.
Sterling applied to A&M in spring 1963; he was a Bryan resident and a junior at Texas Southern University, and was initially rejected because of his race, then accepted for summer classes. Sterling attended two summer sessions at A&M, graduated from TSU and later earned a master's degree from the University of Houston.
According to A&M's archives, Sterling "holds the distinction of being the first known African-American to apply for admission to A&M, as well as the first to attend undergraduate classes." Two other African American students attended 1963 summer classes at A&M as part of a national science program, but had not applied to A&M and weren't enrolled: George D. Sutton and Vernell Jackson.
The president of the Black Former Student Network, Llewellyn A. Derry '88, said Sterling and Johnson’s enrollment not only opened a door, but provided a “destination” for future African American students. The BFSN, a Constituent Network of The Association, will honor outstanding black former students Nov. 23 at its first Aggie IMPACT Awards Gala, to be held in the Clayton W. Williams, Jr. Alumni Center.
Read more about Aggie pioneers Sterling and Johnson and the Pioneer Medal on Texas A&M Today.
Learn about all the Constituent Networks supported by The Association here. Donations of all sizes help The Association provide these and other programs and services for former students, from Reunions to Former Student Career Services. Add your support at tx.ag/give.