Mary Frances Early is a pioneering music educator—in more ways than one.

By Meghan Overdeep
February 27, 2020
Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA

In 1962, Mary Frances Early became the first African American to graduate from the University of Georgia, and this past Tuesday, the university celebrated the naming of its College of Education in her honor.

“With her historic legacy at the University of Georgia, it is fitting that Ms. Early is making history once again as the first African American to have a college or school named in their honor at this institution,” President Jere W. Morehead said at the ceremony.

An Atlanta native, Early arrived at UGA in 1961 after transferring from a graduate program at the University of Michigan. She graduated a year later with a master’s degree in music education and later returned to UGA to earn a Specialist in Education degree.

Early went on to become a music teacher in Atlanta Public Schools and was eventually promoted to music director of the entire school system. In 1981, she became the first African American elected president of the Georgia Music Educators Association.

Early experienced a number of hostile incidents as a student, but credits her Christian faith with continuing her coursework.

“I think about the poem by Robert Frost, ‘The Road Not Taken,’” Early, 83, said in her remarks on Tuesday. “We all have choices to make, and my choice was not the easy road or the well-known road. I chose to take ‘the road less traveled by’ because I saw the need to do something. When I chose to come to the University of Georgia, I wanted to open the doors for graduate students. I had to make a contribution to help make our state better, and the thing I knew I could do was go to school, so that’s what I did."

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Early retired in 1994 after working for 37 years in public schools. She later taught at Morehouse College, Spelman College, and Clark Atlanta University as head of the music department.

“We will always need good educators,” she continued. “And to have the College of Education named in my honor, I can’t even describe how wonderful that is. Even after I’m gone it will still be there. I want to thank all of the people who made this happen.”

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