First African American Student Returns To UNA Campus

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FLORENCE, Ala. (WHNT) - The first African American student ever enrolled at what is now the University of North Alabama returned to tell his story during the fall convocation, on the 50th anniversary of desegregation.

Wendell Wilkie Gunn made his mark on campus, so thousands more could follow in his footsteps.

Gunn was initially denied admission to Florence State University and had to get a court order so he could step onto the as a student for the first time.

“I didn`t think much about it at the time because I was just trying to finish my education,” said Gunn.  “I couldn`t go back to Nashville to finish it, and I was really surprised when I was told ‘no.’”

As Gunn remembers his first ten months he tells an auditorium full of freshmen, no one spoke to him.  Gunn says he received threatening phone calls, and was the center of campus controversy.  However Gunn says eventually, students started to accept him, he made friends, and he excelled in school.

“Everything that happened to me here at Florence State, now UNA gives me that hope, so maybe the rest of the world needs to learn Florence State,” said Gunn.

And after hearing Gunn’s account of studying on this campus, it`s that same hope that drives students now.

“It makes a difference because me being black, it pushes me to work even harder in class and study more because I know I have the potential, said freshman, Freddie Reed.

Gunn studied physics and mathematics at Florence State University.  He went on to serve in many careers, even serving under President Ronald Reagan’s administration.