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Greenville Business Magazine

Converse College Celebrates 50th Anniversary Of First Black Students

Sep 19, 2018 11:05AM ● By Kathleen Maris

Photo: (l-r) Freida Rogers Byrd and Margaret Jones Swindler.

Fifty years ago this fall, Freida Rogers Byrd and Margaret Jones Swindler became the first black students to enroll at Converse College. In celebration of this milestone, Converse College is reflecting on its heritage and exploring the work still ahead with a year-long series, Celebrating Courage & Charting the Future: Commemorating 50 Years of Black Women at Converse. The centerpiece of the celebration will be held Friday, Sept. 21 with alumnae returning to campus for a day of telling their individual stories, gathering with the campus community to commemorate the anniversary through a formal Opening Convocation service, and an afternoon of special topic breakout discussions to delve into thought-provoking topics relating to diversity and charting the future. The Spartanburg community is invited to all events. The schedule and more information is available at

Converse also marks another milestone this year as alumna Phyllis Perrin Harris ’82 becomes the first African American to lead the college’s Board of Trustees.

The Celebrating Courage series began last February with a panel of distinguished alumnae sharing their experiences on campus. It continues through the 2018-2019 year with feature stories highlighting individual alumnae, a Dance Converse performance inspired by the celebration in November, and an exhibition next spring highlighting Converse’s history of African American students developed as part of a class research project.

“We would not be telling this story today were it not for the courage of our first two students, Freida Rogers Byrd and Margaret Jones Swindler, to come forward and share their stories,” said Converse President Krista L. Newkirk. “They blazed a trail at Converse that at times, I’m sure, was not easy. Their stories are part of a long history of Converse and a variety of perspectives and experiences by our black and minority students.”

During the celebration kick-off last February, nearly 100 black alumnae returned home to Converse for an afternoon of fellowship over lunch, a panel discussion with distinguished alumnae, and a reception hosted by Converse students. Seven black alumnae and Converse’s first black faculty member gathered with President Krista Newkirk in front of a packed house in Montgomery Student Center to discuss their Converse experiences, creating a culture that embraces diversity, how they overcome hurdles in their professional lives, the impact of mentors, and how we can strengthen the network between alumnae and students.