When Mississippi State admitted its first African-American student in July 1965, no riots or demonstrations erupted as occured on a number of Southern campuses. Instead, approximately 200 whites simply watched as the young man began pursuing his education.
Yet while MSU's integration was not marked by violence, the young man often found himself virtually alone. Such were the times in Mississippi.
Dr. Richard E. Holmes of Columbus will return to his alma mater on Feb. 4 to discuss his role and experiences at the land-grant university during "Leading Out Front: A Conversation with Dr. Richard Holmes."
The free, public presentation will begin at 6 p.m. in Colvard Student Union's Bill R. Foster Ballroom. The Holmes Cultural Diversity Center -- named to honor the doctor's influence at MSU -- is sponsoring the program as part of the national Black History Month observance on campus.
Holmes, who grew up in Starkville, earned his liberal arts degree from MSU in 1969. After he finished his master's in microbiology in 1973, Holmes left the Magnolia State to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a medical doctor, which he did in 1977 when he completed medical school at Michigan State University.
During the years following Holmes' graduation, the university has recognized him many times. Recognitions include naming the cultural diversity center in Holmes' honor in 1991, naming him National Alumnus of the Year in 2006 and awarding him an honorary doctorate of science in 2011.
Holmes has returned to campus numerous times over the years, including when he accepted a staff physician position in 2003 at MSU's Longest Student Health Center, as well as when he and his wife Judie endowed a scholarship for MSU minority students in 1991.
When Holmes was admitted to MSU, he wrote a letter to administrators stating that he wanted to attend to come and learn; he did not want special favors.
On the 40th anniversary of his admission, he said the MSU family had treated him respectfully, both on his first day of classes and throughout his studies at the university.
"I always was moved by the fact that no student would close a door in my face as I entered a classroom or building," Holmes said at his 2003 commencement address. "If students preceded me into a building or classroom, they would simply hold the door until I entered.
"Only a university dedicated to fairness and excellence could have carried out such an orderly transition and such a quiet burial of past practices."
To learn more about Holmes' Feb. 4 visit, contact Ra'Sheda Forbes, diversity center assistant director, at 662-325-2033 or firstname.lastname@example.org.