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GSU honors first African-American student

    More than 40 years after breaking the color barrier at Georgia Southern, Dr. John Bradley's achievement was commemorated Monday with a ceremony in which a plaque and an oak tree planted in his honor.
    Bradley, 70, and his wife, Winnette, were both on hand for the event, which drew dozens of students and faculty members for the unveiling.
    Leading up to the event, Bradley said he couldn't really believe the university was honoring him, but when he drove onto campus and saw a parking space reserved for him, that's when it hit him.
    "I had no idea 40 years ago that anyone would would be talking about the fact that I attended Georgia Southern," he said. "During that time, we didn't have any publicity about me coming on campus."
    He never had any intention of integrating Georgia Southern when he applied to take some courses to complete his Masters degree. In fact, he wasn't aware the school was all-white until he showed up on campus.
    In fact, when he filled out the paperwork to attend the school, there wasn't anywhere on the forms to indicate race. But when he arrived on campus, then-president Zach Henderson escorted him through the registration procedure.
    "I hope that the time I did spend here was really worthwhile for the students that are coming along now," Bradley said. "The majority of students, and I'll say African-American students for sure, have no concept, no idea about the depth of seeing signs that said 'colored' or 'white'," he said.
    While Georgia Southern's integration wasn't as contentious as it was in other colleges throughout the south, Bradley said he encountered his share of racism, including having people call him "the N-word" while at the school.
    Georgia Southern President Dr. Bruce Grube said they were in the process of putting several plaques up around campus to recognize historical events, including the integration of the school. However, until Bradley contacted Grube, he didn't know who was the first African-American student at the school.
    "He turned out to be such an accomplished person, getting his doctoral degree and being a professor at Augusta State University. And then it turned out that (his wife) is a Statesboro native, graduate of Georgia Southern College and currently finishing her doctoral work here made it all the better," Grube said.
    Terrance Laney, a senior, political science major at Georgia Southern, said he's living the legacy left by Bradley.
    "He made the next five (African-American students) more comfortable, and they made the next 15 more comfortable," Laney said.
    Beita Turner, a senior philosophy major, said it wasn't always easy to be black on campus today, but she couldn't imagine what it must have been like for Bradley while he was at Georgia Southern.
    "In the 60s, they were a little more open with the racism," she said.
    In the time following Bradley's admission into the school, Georgia Southern has worked to create a campus that is open and inviting to all races. In fact, in the 2004-2005 school year, Georgia Southern was 28th nationally in minority students graduating.
    "He did blaze a trail, and that's incredibly important to us," Grube said. "Today we have thousands of African-American students and lots of opportunities and we're one of the premiere institutions in the country for graduating African-American students."

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