Mary Frances Early was the first black student to graduate from the University of Georgia. She graduated with a Masters in Music Education in 1962. After the Valedictorian earned a Bachelors degree from Clark Atlanta College, she decided to be a part of the integration movement in the south. After applying to the University of Georgia, Early was given an FBI-style security check of her background. She was admitted in 1961 and made history one year later.
Since her graduation, Early continued to spread her knowledge of music to surrounding premier HBCUs, Morehouse and Spelman Colleges. She also served as music coordinator and supervisor of Atlanta Public Schools. By 1981, Mary Early became the first African-American president of the Georgia Music Educators Association. She later returned to her alma mater, now Clark Atlanta University, in 2003, to serve as the head of the music department.
Ms. Early is a prominent figure in African American history and GAPS continues to celebrate her legacy every year through a lecture series. The annual lecture demonstrates the progress that has been made while also recognizing that work still remains in order to fully realize Ms. Early’s vision.
In 1999, Graduate and Professional Scholars (GAPS) members Tracey Ford and Valerie White proposed that Ms. Early serve as the featured speaker for the GAPS Spring Lecture. Her selection was prompted in part by her appearance in Foot Soldiers for Equal Justice, the documentary chronicling the desegregation of the University of Georgia. Dr. Maurice Daniels, the former GAPS co-advisor, served as senior researcher and executive director of the Foot Soldiers project. Following Ms. Early’s keynote address on April 18, 2000, GAPS renamed its annual spring lecture in her honor.
2016 Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole President emerita of Spelman College and Bennett College for Women and professor emerita of Emory University
2015 Michael L. Thurmond Superintendent, DeKalb County School District
2014 Donna Brazile Vice Chair of Voter Registration & Participation for the Democratic
2013 Hank Klibanoff James M. Cox, Jr. Professor of Journalism at Emory University
2012 Cynthia Tucker Charlayne Hunter-Gault Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at UGA
2011 Rep. John Lewis U.S. Representative of Georgia’s 5th District
2010 Ambassador Andrew Young GoodWorks International LLC
2009 Dr. Maurice Daniels Dean of UGA School of Social Work
2008 Ms. Harriet A. Washington Medical ethicist
2007 Ms. Elaine Brown, Esq. Politician, activist
2006 Dr. Michael Eric Dyson Religious scholar, commentator
2005 Ms. Charisse Jones & Authors
Dr. Kumea Shorter-Gooden
2004 Dr. Nai’m Akbar Professor of Psychology
2003 Dr. Mitchell F. Rice Political scientist
2002 Dr. Sharon Ames Dennard 2002 Working Mother of the Year
2001 Dr. Reuben Warren Bioethics researcher
2000 Ms. Mary Frances Early Civil rights pioneer, music educator