University of Kentucky Honors a Racial Pioneer

In 1954 Doris Y. Wilkinson, the valedictorian of her high school class and a member of the National Honor Society, was one of the 20 black students who were the first African-American undergraduates admitted to the University of Kentucky.  She majored in social work with a minor in English. Wilkinson completed her course work in three and a half years and became the first African American to earn a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky.

Wilkinson went on to earn a master’s and Ph.D. in medical sociology from Case Western University and a master’s in public health from Johns Hopkins University. In 1967 Wilkinson became the first black woman appointed to the full-time faculty at the University of Kentucky. Wilkinson founded the black studies program. She is now a full professor of sociology at the university.

Recently the university unveiled a new conference room in Breckinridge Hall that is named in Wilkinson’s honor. A portrait of Wilkinson is hanging on the wall of the room. The university has also announced that it has launched a fundraising campaign to establish the Doris Wilkinson Distinguished Professorship in Sociology and the Humanities.