• Pictured from 2019: (L-R) Mrs. Sharon Clark; Dr. Terri Johnson, SU Assistant Dean for Multicultural Affairs; Mr. Ernest Clark; Mrs. Paulette A. Taylor, Georgetown Community Member and Leader
    Carlos Barron Photography

Dear Southwestern community,

In May 2019, community members gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the graduation of Ernest Clark ’69, the first Black student to attend Southwestern University. Today, we announce that, effective immediately, the University is changing the name of Ernest L. Kurth Hall, a first-year residence hall, to Ernest Clark Hall in recognition of Mr. Clark’s contributions to the Southwestern educational community.

This is the second act the University is taking to fulfill its promise to support Black students, faculty, staff, and alumni in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. The first was the creation of a discussion forum called Our Stories Matter, in which students, faculty, and staff have been invited to learn more about and reflect on racial justice and civil rights.


“As a historian, I know that our understanding of the past grows, and what we recognize as praiseworthy often needs to catch up. This is the appropriate time to honor a particular Southwestern graduate’s courage and accomplishments, as well as the turning point in Southwestern’s history that his experience represented. Ernest Clark was not only the first Black student at our university, but he initially was the only Black student. Our students today deserve to know his story and honor his legacy.”
Dale T. Knobel, president of Southwestern University


First to matriculate, first to graduate

Clark enrolled at Southwestern in the fall of 1965, initiating the school’s desegregation 11 years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case. The young pianist discovered Southwestern after studying at Georgetown’s Negro Fine Arts School, an integrated after-school music program for middle- and high-school students that had been established in 1946 by Iola Bowden Chambers, Southwestern professor of music, and three of her students.

As an undergraduate at SU, Clark was a member of the band, the choir, and Mask & Wig, the student-run theater organization. He completed his music degree at Southwestern in 1969 as the school’s first Black graduate and went on to become a band director and music instructor in the Dallas Independent School District, teaching an estimated 36,000 students during the course of his career. In 2009, Mr. Clark was awarded the Southwestern University Medal, the institution’s most prestigious honor, for charting the path for later Black students and in recognition of his contributions as a long-time educator.

Clark is a significant and inspirational figure in Southwestern’s history because he had to overcome the residual prejudices that characterized the turbulent period of desegregation. He initially had his doubts about attending the University when, at the age of 19, he was featured on the local news. Seeing himself on television made him briefly consider dropping out because “too many people were interested in where I was going” to college. However, he continued on because he realized that “a lot of people [were] depending on me to go to school.”


“The Black Lives Matter protests over the past month have provided all of us with opportunities not only to reflect upon our past, our biases, and our mistakes but also upon our future. I hope that honoring Ernest Clark in this way represents the beginning of a serious effort on the part of  Southwestern University and its Board of Trustees as we all examine changes we can make to come to grips with our past and build a better future.”
Stephen G. Tipps, chair of the Southwestern University Board of Trustees


The renaming of the residence hall in Clark’s honor will be commemorated in a rededication ceremony that will take place at Southwestern in the coming months. Details about the event are forthcoming.

Sincerely,

Dale T. Knobel
President

Stephen G. Tipps
Chair of the Board of Trustees