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Willa Player, A Remarkable Woman

Posted: 2003-08-30

This is the obituary of a remarkable educator. Notice how she stood up for students.

Willa Player, 94, Pioneer Black Educator, Dies

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, in The New York Times

GREENSBORO, N.C., Aug. 29 (AP) ? Willa B. Player, a strong supporter of the civil rights movement and the first black woman to head a four-year college in the United States, died here on Wednesday. She was 94.

For 10 years beginning in 1956, Ms. Player was president of Bennett College here, a historically black institution for women. It was during her tenure that Bennett became one of the first black colleges to be accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

While president, Ms. Player organized an appearance on campus by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., at a time when no other group in Greensboro would welcome him. Dr. King's speech, at the college's Pfeiffer Chapel in 1958, planted a seed for many of the protests that followed in the city.

At the peak of downtown protests in support of desegregation, as many as 40 percent of Bennett's students were under arrest. Ms. Player backed those students, known as the Bennett Belles, visiting them daily and arranging for professors to hold classes for them and administer exams.

Ms. Player, a Mississippi native, graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University and received a master's degree from Oberlin College. She arrived at Bennett when she was 21, to teach Latin and French.

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