About the Mary Frances Early Speaker Series

Each year, a speaker is invited to deliver a lecture that honors Ms. Early’s quiet determination and dignity as she strived to ensure that the state’s flagship university became an institution of higher learning for all the people of Georgia.

2022 marked the 60th anniversary of Mary Frances Early’s graduation in 1962 as the first Black student to earn a graduate degree from UGA. This historical milestone was commemorated at the at the annual Mary Frances Early Lecture, held on February 22, 2022. To honor Ms. Early’s vision, Chancellor Robert J. Jones of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign delivered the 2022 lecture. He is the first African American scholar appointed as chancellor of the University of Illinois, the state’s flagship, land-grant university. Chancellor Jones is a Georgia native that has worked to make education available to young scholars around the world. Read more about Chancellor Jones.

Lecture Vision and History

The annual lecture demonstrates the progress that has been made while also recognizing that work remains to fully realize Ms. Early’s vision. With pride, we salute Ms. Early for all that she has accomplished and for the excellence, integrity, fortitude, and grace that she represents.

In 1999, Graduate and Professional Scholars (GAPS) members Tracey Ford and Valerie White proposed that Ms. Early serves as the featured speaker for the GAPS Spring Lecture. Her selection was prompted in part by her appearance in Foot Soldiers for Equal Justice, the documentary chronicling the desegregation of the University of Georgia. Dr. Maurice Daniels, the former GAPS co-advisor, served as senior researcher and executive director of the Foot Soldiers project.

Following Ms. Early’s keynote address on April 18, 2000, GAPS renamed its annual spring lecture in her honor. In 2010, in consultation with Ms. Early, the Graduate School assumed responsibility for the event, working in partnership with GAPS to promote and maintain the event’s visibility and consistency.

The Mary Frances Early Lecture is sponsored in part by the Graduate School, Graduate and Professional Scholars (GAPS), the Mary Frances Early College of Education, and the Office Institutional Diversity (OID).

More about Ms. Mary Frances Early’s Published Autobiography

Ms. Mary Frances Early’s autobiography, “The Quiet Trailblazer: My Journey as the First Black Graduate of the University of Georgia recounts her experience coming to campus as one of the first Black students to enroll at UGA. In August 1962, Ms. Early once again made history as the first Black student to earn a Graduate degree from UGA. She earned a master’s degree in music education. She chronicles her career as a music educator, first teaching in segregated schools before blazing trails to lead the Atlanta City Schools music education department and then becoming the first African American elected president of the Georgia Music Educators Association.

Mary Frances Early discusses her autobiography with WUGA’s Alexia Ridley,  Sept. 22, 2021; listen here.

Previous Speakers


Robert J. Jones – Chancellor of the University of Illinois


Marion Ross Fedrick – President, Albany State University


Dr. Christopher Emdin – Associate Professor, New York Times bestselling author, Founder of #hiphoped social media movement


Bakari Sellers – Attorney, Politician, and CNN Political Analyst


Dr. Joycelyn Elders – 16th U.S. Surgeon General


Dr. Johnetta B. Cole – Anthropologist, and Former President of Spelman and Benedict Colleges


Michael Thurmond – Superintendent of the DeKalb County School District, distinguished attorney, and author


Donna Brazile – Vice Chair of Voter Registration and Participation for the Democratic National Committee


Hank Klibanoff – James M. Cox, Jr. Professor of Journalism at Emory University


Cynthia Tucker – Charlayne Hunter-Gault Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at UGA


Rep. John Lewis – U.S. Representative of Georgia’s 5th District


Ambassador Andrew Young – GoodWorks International LLC


Dr. Maurice Daniels – Dean of UGA School of Social Work


Ms. Harriet A. Washington – Medical ethicist


Ms. Elaine Brown, Esq. – Politician, activist


Dr. Michael Eric Dyson – Religious scholar, commentator


Ms. Charisse Jones & Dr. Kumea Shorter-Gooden – Authors


Dr. Nai’m Akbar – Professor of Psychology


Dr. Mitchell F. Rice – Political scientist


Dr. Sharon Ames Dennard – 2002 Working Mother of the Year


Dr. Reuben Warren – Bioethics researcher


Ms. Mary Frances Early – Civil rights pioneer, music educator


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