Scholarship honors MSU’s first black applicant
By Didi Tang, News-Leader.com
“It’s a great thing for the people,” said Walls, who was denied admission to the local public college in 1950, four years before Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that declared denying black children equal educational opportunities was unconstitutional.
Walls, who retired last year as a janitor, kept the story to herself until her son, Terry Walls, a student at Missouri State, uncovered documents earlier this year in the university archives regarding his mother’s rejection.
The story quickly spread and attracted national media attention after a local television station reported it and the News-Leader put the story on the front page of a Sunday paper.
In July, Missouri State awarded Walls an honorary undergraduate degree during its summer commencement. At a following reception, state Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, suggested the university allow Mary Jean Walls’ children to attend Missouri State for free.
Paula Caplan, a Harvard University professor whose parents, Jerry and Tac Caplan, lent support to Walls for her 1950 college application, followed up on Lampe’s suggestion in a Sept. 22 e-mail message to James Cofer, university president, and Earle Doman, vice president for student affairs and dean of students.
But there are legal, tax and practical issues to offer free tuition to specific persons, Doman said.
“There was some concern about dedicating what is in essence state money to individuals,” Doman said.
The free-tuition scholarship, awarded to specific individuals, might not be tax exempt, and the university grappled with the definition of who should be considered family of Mary Jean Walls, Doman said.
For now, the university has decided to lend support to a scholarship set up in Walls’ honor, Doman said.
In the summer, the Multicultural Student Recruitment Team students at Missouri State decided to establish the scholarship in Walls’ honor, and it will be raising funds through its annual Step Show as well as other endeavors, said Wes Pratt, MSU’s coordinator for diversity outreach and recruitment.
“We really feel the scholarship will be the lasting legacy,” Doman said. “That way, the story of Mary Jean Price and our history as an institution will always be current, whenever the scholarship is awarded.
“Our best effort is to build that scholarship,” he said.