LEXINGTON, Ky. ― Harrison B. Wilson, Jr., who was denied admission to the University of Kentucky almost 70 years ago because it wouldn’t accept Black students and who went on to become a university president, is being awarded an honorary doctorate at UK’s commencement Saturday.
The Lexington Herald-Leader says Wilson, 89, and his grandson, 22-year-old Brandon Wilson, will receive degrees together at UK. Brandon Wilson is receiving his master’s in history.
“I consider it an honor,” said Wilson, who also is the grandfather of NFL Super Bowl-winning quarterback Russell Wilson.
Brandon Wilson talked to some of his professors last year about his grandfather, who ended up attending Kentucky State University, coaching basketball at Jackson State in Mississippi and eventually becoming president of Norfolk State University in Virginia—all historically Black universities.
“My grandfather had made an education possible for me that was not possible for him,” Brandon said.
Leaders in UK’s History Department decided last year to start the nomination process for the elder Wilson to receive an honorary degree.
“We could make a two-pronged case,” said history department associate chairwoman Gretchen Starr-LeBeau. “On the one hand, this was righting a wrong. On the other, we were acknowledging his (Wilson’s) accomplishments, especially what an important impact he had on higher education. It seemed especially apropos to do it so that he and Brandon could be acknowledged together.”
Harrison Wilson said he’s happy that he ended up graduating from Kentucky State before going on to get his doctorate.
“I had been to all-White schools in New York from kindergarten to high school, and I got to believing there was something better about Whites than Blacks,” he said. “That changed when I was in the Navy and when I went to Kentucky State, which was great.”