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'Righting a Wrong'

Dashed hopes revived as 1963 high school valedictorian welcomed into SHSU fold

By Blake Griggs

Yes indeed, dreams do come true.

As 52-year-old Marie Williams begins her first semester at Sam Houston State University, she is realizing a dream that began in 1963, when she graduated at the top of her class from Trinity Negro High School.

As were most high school valedictorians, upon graduating Williams was offered scholarships to continue her educational pursuits. Unfortunately those offers came only from two out-of-town colleges where black students were welcomed. That wasn't the case at nearby Sam Houston State Teachers College (now SHSU). A year earlier, Williams' sister had been denied admission to SHSU simply because she was black. In those days that was reason enough. Though the Civil Rights Movement was picking up momentum, its effects hadn't yet taken hold in Huntsville.

Williams' financially struggling family could not afford to send her away to college, so the hopeful young valedictorian from Trinity put her dreams on hold and moved on with her life. A year later, Sam Houston admitted its first black student, but by that time, Williams was already working 10-12 hour days to support her family.

"You just didn't look back," she said.

In the 35 years following her graduation Williams married, raised five children, and worked hard as a cleaning woman to make ends meet. When she could, she would read, voraciously, nourishing her mind and keeping alive her college hope. On occasion she would share her story with clients who had also become her friends.

It was one such friendly chat, with a retired SHSU professor, M.B. Etheredge, that revived Williams' fading college dream. Moved by her story, Etheredge sought the assistance of his former Sam Houston associates, and was able to secure admission to SHSU for the former high school scholar.

SHSU President Bobby K. Marks found enough funding to offer Marie a waiver on tuition and fees for her freshman year. That waiver is normally given to recent valedictorians of Texas high schools. In addition, several SHSU faculty members have come forward with financial contributions towards Marie's educational expenses.

"She's very intelligent," said Etheredge, who is also providing financial assistance to Williams.

Christopher Baldwin, dean of SHSU's College of Arts and Sciences, volunteered to serve as Williams' academic adviser.
In addition to her exceptional aptitude, Williams has proven quite eager to learn. When she told her academic advisor -- who happens to be Arts and Sciences Dean Christopher Baldwin-- that she "wanted to study everything," Baldwin said "I had tears in my eyes."

As a testament to her abilities, Williams has accomplished a feat that often befuddles her younger classmates. She has become computer literate.

Until launching her SHSU studies, she had never owned or used a computer. But because the era of handwritten papers has long since passed, Williams added a new computer and printer to her list of school supplies.

"Many of us can sympathize with the arduous task of setting up a new computer, and the resulting stream of frustrations and headaches," said Blake Griggs, a SHSU senior political science major who volunteered to help Williams.

"So, when I was told that Marie needed some help getting set up, I envisioned a chaotic scene with cables hanging from the equipment and Marie frantically reading through the manuals. But much to my amazement, when I arrived, not only had the equipment been properly assembled but she had already begun using it!"

When asked to comment on the racial discrimination of the early 60s and its affect on her life, Williams simply said, "that was the way things were."

She is "not poisoning her present with the past," said George Reamy, Williams' freshman English professor.

Throughout her life, Williams has remained positive and optimistic. Many who know her have heard her say "I don't like anything that doesn't add to me."


Media Contact: Frank Kystyniak
Feb. 25, 1998

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