First African American Lynchburg College Grad Shares Her Story

Lynchburg, VA - For 50 years, African-Americans have been graduating from Lynchburg College.

But, there's a first for everything.

On Monday, Martin Luther King Junior Day, the first African American Lynchburg College graduate spoke at the school and shared her story of struggle and triumph.

80-year-old Helen Witt is just as her name implies; witty, sharp, and incredibly eloquent. Monday night, she shared stories that captivated her young audience and opened their eyes to the rough road that came years before them.

"It was obvious that one of the girls was African American and he had noticed that. The rule was that blacks rode on the front of the train and on the back of the bus" said Witt.

For more than 30 years, Witt was a Lynchburg city school teacher.

"That was life for blacks. That girl was me. And those were only a few special incidents I experienced in growing up" she said.

Now, she teaches again. This time, lessons of life. Ones she suffered, during a dark period of America's past.

"The time was right for the entrance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and come he did" said Witt.

At 17-years-old, her father died. Witt was tasked with finding a job, and feeding her family.

"Blacks were often paid by their employers with old used clothes instead of money. One wonders how they were going to pay their bills" she said.

She would eventually receive a scholarship and enroll in college in Florida. In 1965, after her school switched administrators, her scholarship was dropped.

So, Witt returned to her hometown and was welcomed into Lynchburg College; a milestone for her and for the newly-integrated school.

"I would like to thank Lynchburg College for all of the wonderful things they did for us, to help me get my dream realized" said Witt.

In 1967, she became the first African American to graduate from the school.

"To walk the floors and steps she has walked, and to see that that made it possible for me to do that, hearing her stories were very powerful. And to know that she persevered and came through that, because a lot of people today use excuses" said LC student, Nigel Word.

"Through it all, we never gave up, and we did have those who helped us as well and we thank you" said Witt.

Witt, an education major, taught Kindergarten in the then newly-integrated Lynchburg City School system, for more than three decades.

Witt was also the first African-American school teacher at Forest Hill Elementary School. At that time, she and a janitor were the schools only black employees.

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