Award-winning poet, author, and creative writing professor Joseph Bathanti will deliver the 2016 Charleston Lecture in Southern Affairs, titled “Alma Stone Williams: Black Mountain College’s First Black Student.” This lecture will be held in the Pleasants Room in Wilson Library.
In 1944, Alma Stone Williams, an African American musician from Atlanta, Georgia, attended Black Mountain College for its eleven-week summer session. She already held degrees from Atlanta University and Spelman College (where she had graduated as valedictorian), but that summer she became the first black student to attend Black Mountain College. This occurred ten years before Brown vs. Board of Education and twelve years before Autherine Lucy, another African American woman, matriculated in 1956 at the University of Alabama for a mere three days. While Lucy is generally credited as the first African American student to attend an all-white college in the Jim Crow South, it appears that Williams initially cracked that barrier. After Black Mountain College, Williams attended Julliard on a Rosenwald Fellowship, then launched a distinguished career as a musician, professor, and community leader. For a woman of her singular importance, over a broad spectrum of disciplines–including African American Studies, Cultural Studies, Sociology, and Women’s Studies–she has often been overlooked and remains a well-kept secret.
Joseph Bathanti teaches English and Creative Writing at Appalachian State University. He is the author of nine poetry collections, three novels, a short story collection, and a book of nonfiction essays, and he served as Poet Laureate of North Carolina from 2012-2014. Among many other honors, he has twice received the Roanoke Chowan Prize, awarded by the NC Literary & Historical Association for the best book of poetry in a given year. His latest collection, The Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost, was recently published by LSU Press.