The Quiet Trailblazer

My Journey as the First Black Graduate of the University of Georgia

Mary Frances Early

Foreword by Maurice C. Daniels

The Quiet Trailblazer

My Journey as the First Black Graduate of the University of Georgia

Mary Frances Early

Foreword by Maurice C. Daniels

Published by the Mary Frances Early College of Education and the University of Georgia Libraries. Distributed by the UGA Press.

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The Quiet Trailblazer recounts Mary Frances Early's life from her childhood in Atlanta, her growing interest in music, and her awakening to the injustices of racism in the Jim Crow South. Early carefully maps the road to her 1961 decision to apply to the master's program in music education at the University of Georgia, becoming one of only three African American students. With this personal journey we are privy to her prolonged and difficult admission process; her experiences both troubling and hopeful while on the Athens campus; and her historic graduation in 1962.

Early shares fascinating new details of her regular conversations with civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. She also recounts her forty-eight years as a music educator in the state of Georgia, the Southeast, and at the national level. She continued to blaze trails within the field and across professional associations. After Early earned her master's and specialist's degrees, she became an acclaimed Atlanta music educator, teaching music at segregated schools and later being promoted to music director of the entire school system. In 1981 Early became the first African American elected president of the Georgia Music Educators Association. After she retired from working in public schools in 1994, Early taught at Morehouse College and Spelman College and served as chair of the music department at Clark Atlanta University.

Early details her welcome reconciliation with UGA, which had failed for decades to publicly recognize its first Black graduate. In 2018 she received the President's Medal, and her portrait is one of only two women's to hang in the Administration Building. Most recently, Early was honored by the naming of the College of Education in her honor.

If ever there was a book for these challenging times, The Quiet Trailblazer is it. Filled with the kind of history that is mostly missing from our schools, and that is being challenged in some instances today, Mary Frances Early's book should put to rest any doubts about the importance of Black history. And while there are lessons that are racial in nature, there are also lessons that transcend race. I am so proud, as well as humbled, that we walked along many of the same paths and not only survived but prospered to tell a story that Mary Frances describes as her 'life-affirming journey' that resulted in 'personal growth and self-discovery.'

—Charlayne Hunter-Gault, American civil rights activist, journalist, and former foreign correspondent for National Public Radio, CNN, and PBS

Mary Frances Early's memoir is the story of a resolute, gracious southern woman for whom all doors were closed, against whom all forces were aligned, and to whom no deference was paid or advantage given. And yet, in 1962, after much demoralizing abuse and many racist insults, she became the first Black person to graduate from the contentedly white University of Georgia. (You thought it was Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Hamilton Holmes? You need this book!) Even better, look whose name now graces the University of Georgia College of Education: Mary Frances Early, who, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would write, 'brought the state of Georgia closer to the American dream.'

—Hank Klibanoff, winner of the Pulitzer Prize

The Quiet Trailblazer is a gracefully written, eye-opening firsthand account of Mary Frances Early's story and her contributions to the black freedom struggle. The book captures the authentic voice of an unsung grassroots activist who
joined the civil rights movement to help defeat the ravages of Jim Crow in her home state. In so doing, she laid significant groundwork that helped change the course of history at UGA, in our state, and across the nation.

—Maurice Daniels, from the foreword, author of Saving the Soul of Georgia

The University of Georgia is the nation's first public land-grant university, founded in 1785. It took 177 years for the school to graduate its first African American student. This is the story of that student, Mary Frances Early, who was tiny but tough enough to face the challenges while avoiding bitterness. It is her story, with lessons for all of us. It is history, written by the one who made it.

—Monica Kaufman Pearson, long-time anchor for WSB TV (Atlanta, GA) Member of Broadcasters’ Hall of Fame Current Chair of Peabody Awards Noted journalist

Mary Frances Early is an inspiring and courageous freedom fighter whose autobiography illuminates her vital contributions to the history of the civil rights movement. This beautifully written narrative of her life as an activist and educator is now more relevant than ever as a new generation maps a path to greater democracy and freedom. In the obstacles she overcame to become the first African American graduate of the University of Georgia, Ms. Early demonstrates how great tenacity and poise can help us in our contemporary struggle to realize Dr. King's vision of the 'beloved community.'

—Derrick P. Alridge , PhD Phillip J. Gibson Professor of Education University of Virginia Director of the Center for Race and Public Education in the South

About the Author/Editor

Retired music educator MARY FRANCES EARLY was the first African American student to graduate from the University of Georgia in 1962. She taught at Atlanta public schools, Morehouse College, and Spelman College and was chair of Clark Atlanta University's music department. Early lives in Decatur, Georgia, and continues to be an advocate for education and an active member of the UGA community.