Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

A Voice for Access and Equity: After Serving on the Georgia Board of Regents for 30 Years, Elridge McMillan Is Honored with Lifetime Achievement Award

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

A Voice for Access and Equity: After Serving on the Georgia Board of Regents for 30 Years, Elridge McMillan Is Honored with Lifetime Achievement Award

Article excerpt

ATLANTA

When Elridge McMillan became the second Black trustee to serve on the University of Georgia System Board of Regents in 1975, his Afro and past advocacy made colleagues think he was a militant Black man. They didn't think he'd last.

"Folks were a little bit timid of me," McMillan recalls. Now, 30 years later, McMillan was recently honored for his length of service to the state's higher education governing board with a first ever lifetime achievement award in his name. He is the longest serving regent on the board.

McMillan came to the board seven years after the state's flagship, the University of Georgia, had been desegregated by judicial order. McMillan wasn't directly involved in that fight, but took up the drumbeat for access and equity in education. At age 70, he continues this same cadence today.

"He has served as a regent for over 30 years, (and) in that period of time he's been the voice of consciousness," says Dr. Joseph "Pete" Silver, vice president of academic affairs at Savannah State University, one of three historically Black colleges that falls under the purview of Georgia's higher education system. Silver worked for McMillan earlier in his career.

"He has clearly been the voice for access and equity, and he's been very forward thinking," Silver adds. "He's been a very visible leader on the complex issues, and he's never ducked any of the hard ones. He's also been a very visible supporter of the historically Black colleges and universities in the system. For me, I have appreciated that because over the years, there has been various and varying support of the HBCUs. But he has shown steady support while holding them to great accountability."

A graduate of historically Black Clark College in Atlanta, McMillan's parents were both civil rights activists--his father a United Methodist minister and his mother a teacher. He was reared in the Jim Crow South, which prevented him from pursuing a career in journalism as he'd wanted. Instead, McMillan earned a teaching certificate and became an elementary school teacher. After five years in separate-but-equal classrooms, he was promoted to a counseling position responsible for tracking student absenteeism, but a deepening resentment of segregated schooling forced McMillan to consider ways to affect broader change. He applied to graduate school, and because segregation laws prevented him from attending a school in Georgia, the state paid for him to matriculate at Columbia University's Teachers College in New York.

Upon returning to Georgia, McMillan secured stints with the federal Office of Economic Opportunity as well as the Southern Education Foundation (SEF). He joined SEF in 1968, the year the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and when America was in the throws of the Black Power Movement and antiwar protests. Legal segregation had been declared unconstitutional, Black students had successfully challenged racist admission practices at public universities and the federal government was monitoring and enforcing anti-discrimination laws.

CHALLENGING THE STATUS QUO

Despite the changes, most southern states ignored desegregation orders. Historically, according to a book published about the history of the foundation under McMillan's leadership, the SEF "respected" southern cultural norms and therefore played a quiet advocacy role in achieving justice and equality. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.