Elon University Presents Honorary Doctorate to its 1st African American Student


April 5, 2019

When Elon’s first African-American student, Glenda Phillips Hightower, arrived on campus in 1963, she wasn’t allowed to live on campus. 56 years later, in recognition of the trail she blazed for future Black students and the treatment she should have received, the university has awarder her with an honorary doctorate. 

The Times News reports the presentation took place on Thursday, April 4th during Elon’s spring convocation.

Hightower was accepted into the university based on her academic achievement. As valedictorian of her senior class, her application was approved by Elon’s president, J. Earl Danieley, and she also received a full scholarship. 


Even with the president’s stamp of approval, she still faced discrimination and ridicule.

A battle with hepatitis required her to leave Elon during her sophomore year, however, five years later, Eugene Perry finished what Hightower started when he became the first African-American to graduate from the university. 

Hightower went on to eventually graduate from the University of Iowa with her nursing degree in 1974, according to The Times News. She retired from nursing in 1999. 


While Hightower didn’t fully understand the full impact her admission to Elon would make, thousands of students have since followed in her footsteps. During the ceremony she shared that she was thankful for the acknowledgment and the university’s effort to create an opportunity for healing. 

Photo Credit: Woody Marshall

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