2015 Archives

Bridwell Library exhibit marks 60th anniversary of first African Americans to graduate from SMU

Exhibit runs through July 10, 2015

May 12, 2015

DALLAS (SMU) – Bridwell Library at SMU's Perkins School of Theology announces an exhibition highlighting the first five African Americans to graduate from Southern Methodist University. 

(l-r) James A. Hawkins, John W. Elliott, Negail R. Riley, A. Cecil Williams, and James V. Lyles
(l-r) James A. Hawkins, John W. Elliott, Negail R. Riley, A. Cecil Williams, and James V. Lyles 

The exhibition, which runs through July 10, 2015, celebrates the distinguished accomplishments of the Perkins alumni on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of their graduation: 

  • A. Cecil Williams
  • James V. Lyles
  • James A. Hawkins
  • John W. Elliott
  • Negail R. Riley

The five received their degrees through Perkins on May 30, 1955.

“John Wesley Elliott, James V. Lyles, Arthur Hawkins, Negail Rudolph Riley, and Cecil Williams helped Perkins School of Theology to lead the way in the desegregation of the University as the five became the first African Americans to be admitted as degree candidates and to graduate from Southern Methodist University,” said Perkins School of Theology Dean William B. Lawrence. “These remarkable ministers had a global impact in a variety of ministry settings. We are pleased that this exhibition provides an opportunity to honor courageous leaders who have exemplified faithfulness and excellence in ministry.”

Both of the two living graduates featured in the exhibition are past recipients of the Perkins School of Theology Distinguished Alumnus Award. Rev. Dr. James Lyles received the Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2015. Rev. Dr. Cecil Williams was named Perkins School of Theology Distinguished Alumnus in 1996. Additionally, SMU conferred upon Williams an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree in 1997 and a Distinguished Alumnus Award – the highest honor the University bestows upon its graduates – in 2009. A new preaching lab was named in Williams’ honor as part of the construction of the Elizabeth Perkins Prothro Hall completed in 2009.

For more information, contact the exhibition curator, Bridwell Archivist Tim Binkley, 214-768-1989.

For more information about Bridwell Library, visit www.smu.edu/bridwell, call 214-768-3483, or email bridadmin@smu.edu.


Perkins School of Theology, founded in 1911, is one of five official University-related schools of theology of The United Methodist Church. Degree programs include the Master of Divinity, Master of Sacred Music, Master of Theological Studies, Master of Arts in Ministry, and Doctor of Ministry, as well as the Ph.D., in cooperation with The Graduate Program in Religious Studies at SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.


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