|JoAnne Smart and Bettye Tillman, 1956|
This decision eventually led the state of North Carolina to begin the process of desegregating its three branches of the Consolidated University of North Carolina: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State College in Raleigh, and Woman’s College in Greensboro. In 1956, Woman’s College (now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro) admitted the first two African American students – JoAnne Smart and Bettye Tillman.
Smart recalls in her oral history interview, conducted in 2008 for The University of North Carolina at Greensboro Institutional Memory Collection, that she decided to apply to the previously all-white Woman’s College after she became aware of the Supreme Court decision.
She learned about being accepted to the college from an Associated Press reporter who called her in mid-August of 1956 to ask her how it felt being accepted to the Woman’s College. Smart said the telephone call “boggled her mind” since she had not gotten an acceptance letter from the college.
When Smart arrived on campus on September 13, 1956, she learned that she had been assigned to Shaw Residence Hall where she met her new roommate, Bettye Tillman. She and Tillman not only shared a room but an entire wing of the first floor of Shaw dorm. The college made this special arrangement to prevent the two black students from sharing bathroom facilities with their white classmates – separation of bathroom facilities had been a major concern often mentioned in letters from white parents when news began to spread that two black students were being admitted to the college. This arrangement left several rooms in that wing of Shaw dorm empty while other students were housed three or four per room across campus. The internal segregation lasted for a couple of years until several white students asked permission from the college administration to move into the empty rooms.
During the next few years, black students moved into other dorms on campus, but were always assigned rooms together and often in former dorm counselors rooms that had private bathrooms.
Smart also talked about being treated fairly by most faculty members and students. Some students would ignore her but that was rare. She was never in the same class as Tillman, they were always the only black student in a class during their entire four years, and they never had a black instructor at Woman’s College.
Regarding her social life on campus, Smart remembers that it was almost non-existent since movie theaters, restaurants, and other public places were still segregated in the late 1950s. Smart said that she did socialize with the other black students on campus or with students from the historically black North Carolina A&T State College located in east Greensboro.
Smart and Tillman had their education classes on campus but were not allowed to do their student teaching at the Curry Practice School located on campus. Smart recalls taking a taxi across town to do her student teaching at all-black Dudley High School.
After graduating from Woman’s College in 1960, Smart went to North Carolina Central College and Duke University to complete her master’s in guidance counseling. She eventually held several positions in the Raleigh City Schools and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.
In 1992, the parlor of Shaw Residence Hall was named for JoAnne Smart and Bettye Tillman and in 2008; the Smart-Tillman Distinguished Professorship in the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance was created in their honor.