First African-American to Graduate from Southwestern Receives Southwestern University Medal
Ernest Clark’s achievement paved the way for other African-American students at Southwestern
Ernest Clark, the first African-American to graduate from Southwestern University, has been awarded one of the University’s highest honors – the Southwestern University Medal. The medals are given by the Board of Trustees for contributions to the University, either through service or philanthropy.
Clark enrolled at Southwestern in the fall of 1965 after having been a participant in the Negro Fine Arts School, an after-school music program for middle and high school students developed by Southwestern in partnership with the First Methodist Church of Georgetown. Clark participated in the program in 1959 and from 1962-1966.
After receiving a music degree from Southwestern in 1969, Clark taught music in the Dallas public schools. He estimates that over the course of his career, he taught 36,000 students.
The medal was presented Nov. 6 during a gala event celebrating 40 years of African-American alumni achievements at Southwestern. Clark played an original composition during the ceremony and led the audience in the singing of Southwestern’s Alma Mater.
“Ernest Clark was the one with whom 40 years of African-American achievement at Southwestern started,” said President Jake B. Schrum, who graduated from Southwestern the year before Clark did. “His achievement paved the way for the achievement of others.”
In presenting the medal to Clark, Schrum praised him for his “courage in a turbulent time, for facing what no others had faced, and for putting Southwestern on a transformative path.”
The Southwestern University Medal was first presented in 1998. Previous recipients of the award include Red McCombs, Red and Genevieve Caldwell, Bernice Kilgore Giddings, Benjamin R. Oliphint, Evie Jo Craven Wilson, James Walzel, Elizabeth Perkins Prothro, Robert and Ruby Priddy, Joe Seeber and William B. Jones.
The medals are cast in bronze and are a faithful reproduction of Southwestern’s official seal, which was adopted in 1879. The seal has four interwoven rings that represent Southwestern’s four root colleges – Rutersville College, Weslayan College, McKenzie College and Soule University. The rings are united by a superimposed shield representing Southwestern today.