Mary Carroll and the Problem of Erasure
Mary Carroll Robertson (nee Mary Carroll) arrived at Elon in fall 1977 and was elected as Homecoming Queen in 1979. The practice of naming a Homecoming Court continues, but it was in full swing in the 1970s, and Carroll’s election was a high honor. Some white students, however, booed Carroll when she was crowned.
Adding to the injury, white students editing the yearbook did not include the customary Homecoming spread in the 1980 edition. In a 2004 interview she recounted how it felt when she first looked in the 1980 Elon College yearbook but could not find the annual homecoming spread, which should have featured her coronation as the first Black homecoming queen. “It was as if I didn’t even exist on campus,” she remembered.
While exclusion from or marginalization within Elon’s documentary record is a near- universal problem for Black people during this period, Carroll-Robertson’s particularly acute case highlights the harm this can cause, its insidious nature and the immense difficulty of repairing the damage.
The episode also has another dimension, however, one of Black resistance. In this incident, though, Black students did not let the insult be the last word. A huge groundswell of Black students, led by football players Alonzo Craig ’81 and James Strickland ’82, risked forfeiting scholarships and their very academic standing to protest. Students marched down by the dozen to the administration building and burned their yearbooks in one of the boldest student protests in Elon history.
Black students did not let the incident define them and continued to study, organize and socialize, as well as to vote for members of the homecoming court. In a sign of progress, the 1981 yearbook included a photo of first runnerup Nish Bynum Jackson ’81 and escort Raymond Jackson ’80.
White students editing the Phi Psi Cli yearbook did not include the customary Homecoming spread in the 1980 edition. The school’s information officer explained that the students working on the yearbook had simply missed a deadline.
This article from the 1980 Phi Psi Cli yearbook "Developing the Image of Elon" discusses the work campus photographers do to capture events on campus that are then used for student publications like the Pendulum and Phi Psi Cli. The article makes specific mention of the Homecoming Queen, and yet the year this was published Mary Carroll and the entire homecoming spread was omitted.
Committee on Elon History and Memory report, pages 25-28.
Teaching about Anti-Black Racism from Elon's History, Teachable Moments, Mary Carroll and BELONGing.