Saturday, February 21, 2015



The Promise of Desegregation Leads to Oxford

By Nicole Brown,  MPA  and  Dr. Felicia McGhee, Ph.D

(February 2015)--The media has a constant flow of stories about young African-American males, but they rarely depict positive images of our black youth. For some, the Millennial generation has been defined by saggy pants and tattoos. However, one Tennessee college student is an example of all things right with this generation. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) student Robert Fisher, was recently named a Rhodes Scholar (32 scholars were chosen out of 877 applicants). He is also one of five African-American college students who received this honor. 

Fisher is the third student from The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to earn this distinction, and the first African-American student from the university.
For the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Fisher’s accomplishments are a positive step in the university’s history. 

The desegregation of the university (formerly known as the University of Chattanooga), was recently chronicled in a documentary, “Reaching the Light: The Desegregation of the University of Chattanooga.” In 1886, black applicants Louis Gibbs and William Wilson applied to the University of Chattanooga (UC) but were denied based on race. The United States Supreme Court’s 1954 decision of Brown vs. The Board of Education recognized the struggles minorities have endured with equality and access to education.

Photos: First black applicants to the University of Chattanooga Louis Gibbs and William Wilson

Nine years after that decision, Horace Traylor, then president of Chattanooga City College (a black community college),applied to UC but was denied admission based on race. In 1963, after a second application attempt, UC admitted Traylor as the first African American student in its graduate program.
Photo Chattanooga Times Free Press: First Black student admitted and graduated from UC Horace Traylor

Generations before Fisher was born, local African American pioneers like Traylor were creating a path for a young man whose grandparents graduated from segregated schools. Now fifty years later, Robert Fisher stands on the shoulders of those pioneers.

Fisher was raised by parents who served in the military in Clarksville, Tenn. He enrolled at UTC as a Brock Scholar in Fall 2011, with a major in Political Science and minors in History and Africana Studies. The faculty, staff and students instantly recognized Fisher as the powerful representative of his generation. Fisher is completing his second term as the Student Government Association president. He has worked with three Chancellors, city and county mayors, the governor’s office and is a Presidential Fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.

Photo from UTC: Fisher greets President Barack Obama

April 2014, Fisher was selected as a Truman scholar. He is the fourth student from UTC to receive this honor. Truman scholars are recognized for their academic success, outstanding student leadership and potential in public service leadership.
Fisher is aware of the new spotlight and has embraced the opportunity to reflect how he sees America from the Millennial perspective. During his message at the Fall 2014 commencement, Fisher challenged his peers to “Think, Talk and Act.” He stated, “Think about the systems and structures that inform--or misinform--your perspectives of other people. Talk about race, gender, sexuality, ability--because yes, all these things still matter. Act because thinking and talking without action, just leaves us with regurgitated thoughts and repeated conversations.”

Fisher will enter Oxford University in October 2015 to pursue the Master of Philosophy in Comparative Social Policy. Sixty years after the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education verdict, and 51 years after UC admitted its first African-American student, Robert Fisher, is the result of a promise fulfilled.

Authors Relevant Experience:

Nicole Brown is the Academic Advisor and Adjunct Faculty member in the Communication Department at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She is former radio personality “Khole Brown” where she worked for Brewer Media Group stations WJTT- FM and WMPZ-FM. 

Brown created UTC’s first student run, web-based radio station The Perch in 2009. She is also the executive producer of the documentary 9 United for Equality: Reflections on the Struggle for Civil Rights in Chattanooga (2014). Before joining the Communication Department full time, Brown created several diversity workshops for the University while working in the Office of Equity and Diversity.

Dr. Felicia McGhee is an Assistant Professor in the Communication Department at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. McGhee is a former reporter of WTVC- ABC affiliate, WTOK-ABC Affiliate and WHOA-ABC Affiliate. She is also the former host of Tennessee Insider, a public affairs show on WTCI- PBS affiliate.

McGhee is also the co-producer of the documentary Reaching the Light: The Story of the Desegregation of the University of Chattanooga (2012). Dr. McGhee’s research focuses on media framing of the Civil Rights Movement. She has currently published in The Alabama ReviewMobilization and Media Watch Journal.

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