EATONTON, Ga. – It’s humbling and inspiring to meet a national icon. Mary Frances Early is a soft-spoken troublemaker…good trouble, as the late civil rights leader and congressman John Lewis described her. She was the first African American to graduate from the University of Georgia in 1962. Her courageous journey to that important “first” is the subject of her book, “The Silent Pioneer.”
The inspiring book will be the subject of its “Meet the Author” event live at the Georgia Writers Museum on Tuesday, March 1 at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free and the event will also be available on Zoom. A key part of this event will be a short interview with Early by local retired educator Sandra Parham. Contact Georgia Writers Museum to book this educational evening, or visit www.georgiawritersmuseum.org.
Early was born in Atlanta. Her father owned a restaurant (with a public library just across the street) and her mother was a public school teacher in Monroe. She learned to play the piano to accompany her father’s singing and developed a love for music. Encouraged by high school music teacher Henry McNeal Turner, she attended Clark College, majoring in music education. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Clark and continued her graduate studies at the University of Michigan.
African Americans Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes, who enrolled at UGA in January 1961, were kicked off campus for their own safety after a riot prompted Early to take up the torch of civil rights. She chose to move her graduate school from Michigan and she applied to UGA to pursue a Master of Education in Music Education. Her book describes the raw truths of her struggles against raw racial abuse. After completing her master’s degree in 1962, she completed an Ed.S. degree in music education in 1967. Early worked for three decades in the Atlanta public school system, serving as the system’s teacher and music director. When she retired, she chaired the music department at Clark University in Atlanta and was an adjunct professor at Spelman and Morehouse colleges.
In 2013, Early received an Honorary Doctor of Laws from UGA. In 2018, UGA President Jere Morehead presented Early with a presidential medal. And in 2019, the Georgia University System Board of Trustees approved renaming the UGA School of Education in his honor.