Trailblazers and Builders: Glenda Phillips Hightower and Eugene Perry

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Portraits displayed at the entrance of Moseley Center

Elon’s first Black students arrived at Elon without a formal support system. Glenda Phillips Hightower (née Phillips) became the first full-time Black student in fall 1963, though Paul DeMontaigne, a faculty member at the nearby Palmer Memorial Institute, had taken some evening classes the prior spring in preparation for graduate study. Neither Phillips, nor Eugene Perry, the first Black student to graduate in 1969, nor any Black student for almost three decades after desegregation, received formal support from the institution on the basis of their identity. These trailblazers navigated the racial politics of a slowly desegregating university and built new institutions on their own.

Glenda Phillips Hightower left Elon in the Fall of her sophomore year, later graduating from the University of Iowa in 1974.  Hightower received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Elon during the 2019 Spring Convocation.  

In 2016 during a special college coffee the formal unveiling of portraits commissioned to honor Glenda Phillips Hightower and Elon's first Black graduate Eugene Perry, which now hang in the Moseley Center entrance.  

Black students then, as now, had a diversity of experiences in their confrontations with systemic racism. Compared to other venues in American life, most remembered overt incidents of anti-Black prejudice to be relatively rare—but that did not mean things were easy. “At Elon,” remembered Donna Oliver ’72, “there was no name calling, there were no threats, but it was the other extreme. You were totally ignored. It was as though you were invisible.”

Each account of individual experiences, some of which are preserved thanks to the extraordinary work of L’Tanya Richmond ’87 but many of which are still unheard, brings a more nuanced understanding of the time. Her master's thesis Elon's black history : a story to be told includes detailed oral histories and historical background on Elon's first Black trailblazers.  

Moseley Center, Portraits of Glenda Phillips Hightower and Eugene Perry