JSU to Dedicate Historic Marker Honoring First Black Student
by Abigail Harris
Jacksonville State University will kick off Black History Month 2023 on Feb. 1 by unveiling a historic marker in front of Angle Hall honoring the woman who integrated the university in 1965, Barbara Curry-Story. The ceremony will take place at 3 p.m. in front of Angle Hall and all are welcome.
The first African American student to attend JSU, Curry-Story was born Barbara Crook in Ohatchee, Ala., on Nov. 24, 1941. She graduated from Calhoun County Training School in 1959 and briefly attended Alabama A&M before moving to New York City to raise money for college. Five years later, she returned home to Alabama as a single mother and enrolled at JSU in Fall 1965, determined to give her two-year old son a better life.
As a black woman living during the end of Jim Crow laws, it was dangerous at times for Curry-Story to do everyday tasks. While at JSU, she lived at home with her parents and borrowed her brother’s 1959 Chevrolet to commute to campus, often taking different routes to school each day to avoid harassment.
When she walked into Angle Hall (formerly Bibb Graves Hall) for the first time to attend her history class, she was not greeted with protests or media attention. Instead, she was met with silence from her classmates. When she walked around campus, her fellow students would whisper, “What is she doing here?” But before long, she began to make friends and find her place at JSU.
“It got to be where, in a few weeks, I didn’t sit by myself any longer,” she told the JSU News Bureau, now known as JSU Strategic Communications, in 2006. “Somebody I’d know would come in and sit down and we would begin to interact…after that first semester, I rarely had an encounter or any snotty looks or anything to take place. Or else, I was so involved I just didn’t notice these things. By the second semester, I had made friends with people in my class, and we were studying together.”
During her time at JSU, Curry-Story was advised by future JSU President Theron Montgomery. When asking about her plans after graduation, he recommended her for a job at Alabama Power. She graduated from JSU in 1969 with a Bachelor of Science in Education with a concentration in vocational home economics. On the Monday following graduation, she started working at Alabama Power.
She spent her entire career at Alabama Power, first as a home service advisor, demonstrating electric appliances at schools. Later, she worked with duct-design layout, electric heat pumps and water heaters. She was one of the first women of color to hold these types of positions.
Curry-Story died on Oct. 20, 2020, at the age of 79. She was married to the late Henry Curry of Anniston, a Civil Rights leader, for 23 years until his passing. She spent the final five years of her life married to Roger Story. She was the proud mother of two adult children, Starla and Joseph.
The historic marker celebrates Curry-Story’s contributions integrating the campus. The text reads:
Integration of Jacksonville State University
When Mrs. Barbara Curry-Story (née Crook) walked into Angle Hall (formerly Bibb Graves Hall) in Fall 1965 to attend history class, she made history herself as the first African American student to attend Jacksonville State University. Born in Ohatchee, Alabama, on Nov. 24, 1941, she graduated from Hobson City’s Calhoun Training School in 1959. Her arrival to JSU’s campus was met with neither fanfare nor protest, and future university President Theron Montgomery served as her advisor and mentor during her tenure. She graduated in 1969 with a Bachelor of Science in Education. Joining her that year as JSU’s first African American graduates were Charlie James, William Alvin Miller and Ophelia Monzia Stamps. Mrs. Curry-Story spent her successful 32-year career at Alabama Power, retiring in 2001. She died on Oct. 20, 2020.
The dedication ceremony is co-hosted by the JSU Office of the President and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
“We wanted to host it as a way to remember our heritage and black history, to understand and appreciate where we’ve come from and provide the representation that will enforce students to feel welcome here at JSU,” said Jacob Phillips, administrative assistant in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
Refreshments will be served inside the lobby of Angle Hall at 2:30 p.m., followed by the ceremony at 3 p.m. Speakers will include Dr. Don C. Killingsworth, Jr., university president; Charlcie Pettway Vann, director of diversity and inclusion; and Jewel Johnson, SGA president. The event is open to the public.
Additional Black History Month events planned for February include:
Take Me to Church
Feb. 5th, 2 p.m.
Leone Cole Auditorium
Feb. 16, 4 p.m.
Houston Cole Library, Room 1101C
The Role of Music in Black Resistance: Panel Discussion
Feb. 23, 5 p.m.
Note: Donna Cope, Buffy Lockette and Al Harris contributed to this report.