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Fannie E. Motley ’56, the first African-American to graduate from Spring Hill, passes away at 89

Fannie Motley
Fannie Motley

Mrs. Fannie E. Motley, a native of Monroeville, Alabama and most recently of Fairburn, Georgia, graduated in 1956 with a Bachelor of Science from Spring Hill College (SHC). She is the College’s first African-American graduate, having done so with honors in history and English, just two years after the United States Supreme Court ruled that the nation’s schools must integrate, in the landmark Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education case.

Nearly 50 years after her historic walk down the Avenue of the Oaks Motley received an honorary doctor of humanities degree in 2004. “I wasn’t trying to break any ground,” said Motley while accepting her honorary degree. She had completed a two-year course of study at Selma University where she met her husband, Rev. D.L. Motley Sr., and then had planned to continue her education at Alabama State but by 1954 the family was living in Plateau, five miles north of Mobile. When news spread of SHC’s impending desegregation her husband encouraged her to complete her degree. Realizing SHC was her best opportunity to finish college she submitted an application and was accepted in 1954.

Motley then went on to teach second grade in the Mobile County school system at A.F. Owens School. She then moved to Cincinnati with her husband and continued teaching for 24 years. In addition to teaching in Cincinnati, she earned her master’s degree in counseling from Xavier University.

The first Fannie E. Motley Scholarship at Spring Hill College was awarded in 2007. It is designed for well-rounded individuals who will be involved in campus activities and who have the ability to enhance diversity on campus through the celebration of their own unique heritage.

Her Wikipedia page states, “In her living room there sits a chair with a sign on it that says, ‘Martin Luther King Jr. sat in this chair at our house, October 10, 1964.’”

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