By Sherry Reddick, DDCE Pre-College Academic Readiness Programs
African American alumni and students at The University of Texas at Austin honored the legacy of Dr. Ray Floyd Wilson, the first black man to receive a PhD from the university in 1953, at the Third Annual Honor Awards Luncheon on April 21, 2012.
The Precursors, a group of the first African American students to enroll at the university, sponsored the event. Among those present were three of the five African Americans who Dr. Wilson influenced—Drs. Lawrence Baye, James Teal, and Charles Urdy—to also pursue a PhD in chemistry in 1957. That year, all five men enrolled as students. Dr. Wilson taught four of them including Curtis McDonald and Chavus Womack as undergraduates at Texas Southern University, and he met Dr. Urdy years earlier at Huston-Tillotson College, where he often visited on study breaks from UT Austin. The five, who all received their doctorates, are known as “The Fabulous Five.”
From left: Dr. Charles Urdy, Dr. Laurence Baye, Dr. Ray Floyd Wilson, Dr. James Teal and Mr. Charles Miles
Dr. Urdy says he and Dr. Wilson’s protégés often talked about how campus life must have been difficult for their mentor, especially socially.
“A lot of the guys were not very helpful when we were there so I’m sure they were not very helpful when he was there,” he said.
Upon being presented with the 2012 Honor Award, Dr. Wilson gave an emotional acceptance speech, and credited his mother and teachers for pushing him.
“It was not all me,” he said. “I wanted to be an electrician. They said no.”
Like Wilson, four of his mentees attained the PhD in chemistry, and went on to teach at Historically Black Colleges and Universities in Texas, North Carolina, and Louisiana. Dr. Teal obtained a medical degree.
Another award recipient the Precursors honored this year is Charles Miles. The group presented Miles, Austin’s first human relations manager, with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his lifelong commitment to public service. Miles, who enrolled at the university in 1956 as a “true freshman,” stated he was humbled to receive the award from his peers because so many of them are just as deserving.
Over the years the Precursors have not only recognized their own members, but have also returned to campus to relate their shared past to current African American students. They hope that students gain a greater sense of purpose after learning about this history.
One student attending the event stated that before meeting the Precursors his knowledge of integration on campus was very limited. Miles says he is pleased that students are meeting with Precursors because they want them to know that they are here to help them succeed.
“For a student to get a letter of recommendation from someone like Dr. Teal is significant,” he said. “It will be recognized widely because he is well-known in the field of radiology.”