Black History Society recognizes Brenau integration

Yearbook photos of four young Black women
The first four Black women to attend Brenau: Michelle Gray, top left, Lois Green, top right, Belinda Harrison, lower left, and Natalie Roberts, lower right.

Brenau University was among several area groups honored on Saturday, Feb. 25, by the Gainesville-Hall County Black History Society, Inc.

The group presented its inaugural class of “Pillars of the Southside” to highlight the honorees’ contributions over decades of service to the local community.

Brenau was recognized for the 51st anniversary of the university’s integration. Founded in 1878, Brenau welcomed its first Black students in 1972: Michelle Gray Haywood, Belinda Harrison Sims, Lois Green Harris and Natalie Roberts. Margie Gill, executive director of institutional diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging initiatives at Brenau, noted these “phenomenal” women paved the way for her.

“As a Brenau alumna and a Black woman, I am grateful to these pioneers, trailblazers and modern-day influencers,” Gill, also an associate professor of psychology, said. “These women courageously fought racial segregation and I would not be standing here today if they didn’t set the foundation.”

The award was presented by Vanita Moon, an alumna of Brenau who, in 1980, became the first Black woman to be selected as the university’s Miss Brenau.

She also was a member of the chartering Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority class.

Moon echoed Gill’s sentiments in crediting Haywood, Sims, Harris and Roberts for paving the way for her to attend Brenau.

She attended Brenau on a scholarship and majored in chorale education and received an outstanding education alumnus award from Brenau in 2005.

Other groups recognized included:

  • Fair Street-Butler High Alumni Association, which marks 32 years since a committee created to organize a biennial reunion for Gainesville’s two former Black schools became a nonprofit organization. The group supports the community through scholarships and other initiatives.
  • Newtown Florist Club was established in 1950 as a women’s social club. Led by Faye Bush for more than 60 years, the group evolved into an organization that seeks to promote youth development and organize for social, economic and environmental justice.
  • Young’s Funeral Home was started in 1932 by Willie B. Young and is the oldest black-owned business in Hall County. It has remained a family business throughout its long history.

The Gainesville-Hall County Black History Society, Inc., led by Rickey Young, is a nonprofit organization founded April 20, 2002, with a mission to “collect, preserve and educate.”