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WSSU’s long list of firsts

This article is an online extra for Archway magazine.
Going back to its founding in 1892, Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) has a long and distinguished list of firsts. Here's a look at a few.
First President 

Dr. Simon Green Atkins, education visionary and social justice advocate, had a bold dream to create an institution where every student would meet the challenges of their day, and where students were equipped with an education designed to intellectually prepare the “head, hand, and heart.” He founded the university on Sept. 28, 1882.

First Permanent Building

Lamson Hall was completed in 1896. It was named after the Rev. C.M. Lamson of Hartford, Conn.

First Year as a Four-Year College

In 1925, Slater Academy became Winston-Salem Teachers College, the first black institution in the nation authorized to offer a bachelor’s degree in education.

Alma Mater First Dedicated

Noah F. Ryder, a faculty member in the music department, composed and arranged “As We Go Forth” as a Christmas gift to the college in 1938.

First Homecoming

The first homecoming football game was held in 1945, with Coach Brutus Wilson and assistant coach “Big House” Gaines. WSSU played the VSU Trojans.
First Nursing Graduates

In 1957, 12 students made history, becoming the first to earn their bachelor of nursing from WSTC. Due to segregation in North Carolina, the students had to travel as far as New York for training.
First Sit-In Victory in N.C.

On Feb. 23, 1960, 11 WSSU students, joined with 10 white students from Wake Forest, were arrested, jailed and found guilty of trespassing during a joint sit-in at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in downtown Winston-Salem. Three months later, an agreement was reached, and Winston-Salem’s lunch counters were integrated, marking the first sit-in victory in the state.

First NCAA Championship by an HBCU

WSSC became the first HBCU to win a NCAA championship in 1967. The team was led by Earl “The Pearl” Monroe and coached by the legendary Clarence "Big House" Gaines.

First Motorsports Management Program in U.S.

In 2007, WSSU began offering the first baccalaureate major in motorsports management in the nation. The program enjoys close ties with NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program.
Other firsts:
  • 1893 – Classes begin with 25 students
  • 1896 – First graduating class
  • 1927 – First B.S. Education graduates (five students: Annie Laurie Cheek, Gertrude Miriam Dixon, Precious Overa Foster, Bessye Thomas Shields and Grace Ann Smith).
  • 1934 - Hazel Bingham becomes the first Miss WSTC 
  • 1938 – Imogene Brown Ellis, first president of the Alumni Association
  • 1942 – First football team. Howard “Brutus” Wilson led the team to the Flower Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida.
  • 1946 – First woman to register for classes using the GI Bill, Elizabeth Barker
  • 1951 – WSTC graduate Edward O. Diggs becomes the first Black student admitted to the UNC medical school
  • 1952 – Rachel Diggs Wilkerson, first WSSU alumni to earn a Ph.D.
  • 1953 – WSSU’s first CIAA championship of any kind (basketball)
  • 1959 – WSTC wins its first national championship, the NAIA Track Championships. The team repeated in 1960.
  • 1960 – WSSU Professor Lillian Lewis becomes the first Black school board member in Forsyth County
  • 1961 – Alumnus Eldridge D. Alston becomes Forsyth County’s first Black deputy sheriff
  • 1961 – Cleo Hill, first CIAA player chosen in the first round of the NBA draft
  • 1968 – Patricia Johansson, first white graduate at WSSU
  • 1972 – First Chancellor, K.R. Williams
  • 1978 – Gilbert Hill, first male nursing graduate
  • 1981 – Graduate programs are first authorized
  • 1982  – Clarence “Big House” Gaines selected into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He became the first inductee to have spent his entire career at an HBCU.
  • 1983 – WSNC begins broadcasting
  • 1983 – First piece of outdoor sculpture garden unveiled
  • 1990 – Diggs Gallery opens
  • 2013 – First doctoral graduates (24 physical therapy students)
  • 2014 – Tonia Walker, WSSU’s first female athletics director

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