- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2006

SWANNANOA, N.C. (AP) — Alma Shippy, thought to be the first black to desegregate an undergraduate institution in the South, has died at the age of 72, officials of Warren Wilson College said.

Mr. Shippy died Dec. 1 in Asheville. The cause of death was not available.

Alma Joseph Lee Shippy enrolled at Warren Wilson, then a two-year junior college, in 1952, a year after the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill admitted five black law students but three years before it admitted its first black undergraduates.

The difference was that Mr. Shippy was admitted with the overwhelming support of students and administrators, while the UNC students had to fight in court for an order forcing the school to admit them, historian Peter Wallenstein said yesterday.

“He’s enormously symbolically important and it’s a wonderful story,” Mr. Wallenstein, a Virginia Tech professor who specializes in higher education and the civil rights movement.

Mr. Shippy grew up in Buckeye Cove near the Warren Wilson campus and graduated from Stephens-Lee High School in Asheville, according to a campus statement.

Mr. Shippy was admitted at the urging of a group of students who gained support from college President Arthur Bannerman and Dean Henry Jensen.

“Alma was a very humble man,” said Rodney Lytle, Warren Wilson’s multicultural adviser and a friend of Mr. Shippy’s. “He never believed he made much of a contribution, but what he did was huge. He helped us move toward a less segregated society.”

Sunderland Hall dorm residents voted 54-1 to accept Mr. Shippy as a fellow student.

When businesses in the community were less welcoming, Mr. Shippy’s classmates shared in his treatment.

If he was refused service in a restaurant, everyone got up and left with him, and at the movies, everyone went in the back door with Mr. Shippy and sat in the balcony, Mr. Lytle said.

“I don’t know who that one was to vote against him,” Mr. Lytle said. “But the people at the college accepted him, and he endured all the insults of segregation with dignity when they all went out together.”

Mr. Shippy attended the school for only one year and never received his associate degree, Warren Wilson spokesman Ben Anderson said.

“But he blazed the way for the ones who followed,” Mr. Anderson said.

Mr. Shippy served in the Army and then worked for many years at Black Mountain Center, a state-run, long-term care facility.

He was honored by the trustees of Warren Wilson College in 2002 on the 50th anniversary of his enrollment.

“We had a wonderful closeness with the staff here,” Mr. Shippy said at the event. “I still feel this is my family, right here.”

Mr. Shippy’s survivors include his daughters, Elizabeth Davis and Delynn V. Patterson, both of Gary, Ind.; four brothers; and two grandchildren.

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