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College of Education to be named in honor of Mary Frances Early

October 16, 2019

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The University of Georgia’s College of Education will be named, effective February 2020, to honor one of the state’s pioneering educators—Mary Frances Early, UGA’s first African American graduate and longtime leader of music education in Atlanta’s public school system.

The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia gave final approval Wednesday for UGA to name the College of Education in honor of Early, who was a central figure in the desegregation of UGA.

“Through her courage and determination, Ms. Early has made an indelible mark on UGA, and we are pleased to honor her legacy and lifetime of accomplishments as a music educator and civil rights icon,” said University of Georgia President Jere W. Morehead. “I would like to thank the Chancellor and Board of Regents and applaud them for their support of this fitting tribute to Ms. Early’s life and legacy.”

The university plans to hold the naming ceremony in February 2020 as part of UGA’s celebration of Black History Month, Morehead said.

“Ms. Early has spent her life as a tireless advocate for racial equality and for the importance of music education in the lives of children,” said College of Education Dean Denise A. Spangler. “We are proud to create this permanent tribute to Ms. Early and the countless lives she has touched.”

In April, the college launched a fundraising initiative to honor Early, which has raised $2.6 million to date, and that effort continues. Morehead made a lead gift: a designation of $200,000 from the President’s Venture Fund which, when matched by the UGA Foundation, has created four new $100,000 Georgia Commitment Scholarships for students with financial need. These Georgia Commitment Scholarships have been awarded with a preference for students who intend to pursue majors in the College of Education or music education majors in the Hugh Hodgson School of Music.

A native of Atlanta, Early came to UGA in the summer of 1961. Earlier that year, Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Hamilton Holmes became the first African American students to enroll at UGA. Early had started postgraduate work at the University of Michigan when she transferred to UGA to complete her studies.

She became the first African American to earn a degree from the University of Georgia when she graduated on Aug. 16, 1962, with a master’s degree in music education. She later returned to UGA to earn a Specialist in Education degree.

Early, who was class valedictorian at Henry McNeal Turner High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in music education from Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University) in 1957, became a music teacher in the Atlanta Public Schools and was eventually promoted to music director of the entire school system. She worked with teachers in the system’s 100-plus schools and was in charge of the music curriculum, budget, textbooks and more.

Early retired in 1994 after working for 37 years in public schools. She later taught at Morehouse College, Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University as head of the music department.

Morehead led the dedication of her portrait in the university’s Administration Building last fall, and in January 2018 she was named the recipient of one of UGA’s highest honors, the President’s Medal.

She was presented with an honorary doctorate from UGA in 2013, and a documentary, “Mary Frances Early: The Quiet Trailblazer,” is dedicated to her life. Her life and accomplishments were featured in a Georgia Groundbreakers profile. She has delivered inspirational speeches on campus on many occasions, most recently at the Black Faculty and Staff Organization’s 17th annual Founders’ Award Scholarship Luncheon.