In 1965, Gwendolyn Elaine Armstrong and Raylawni Branch were the first Black students to enroll at the University of Southern Mississippi. Now a half century later, Tonya De’Nee Blair is the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in history from the university.
Dr. Blair earned her undergraduate degree at the Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina and currently teaches African American studies at a high school in North Carolina. Her research is focused on post-Reconstruction southern history.
In speaking out her time at the University of Southern Mississippi, Dr. Blair said “I really enjoyed the community here. It was hospitable and supportive. I thank the staff of the graduate school and my dissertation adviser. He supported me from day one and never gave up on me.”