Sixty years after enrolling in law school and stepping into history, Silas Hunt has finally received his degree.
Hunt, who was the first Black student to enroll at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville since Reconstruction, died of tuberculosis before earning his degree. However, the university has bestowed a posthumous degree in his name.
Law school Dean Cynthia Nance said the college wanted to honor Hunt as the 60th anniversary of his enrollment came this year.
“The faculty of the law school realized that the 60-year anniversary of his admission was coming up and we planned a program called ‘Sixty Since Silas,’” Nance told the Texarkana Gazette. “In the context of having those discussions and planning, the question was asked, ‘Did we ever give him an honorary degree?’ and everyone started checking and checking and the answer was no. So the faculty voted … and we were able to get it done in this very significant year.”
Hunt was born March 1, 1922, to Josie Gulley Moton and R.D. Hunt of Red Bluff. The Hunt family moved to Texarkana in 1936 from Idabel, Okla.
Hunt attended the Agricultural, Mechanical, and Normal College at Pine Bluff, which later became the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. Hunt left college after being drafted in the U.S. Army and later was wounded during the Battle of the Bulge.
He returned and finished his degree. On Feb. 2, 1948, Hunt enrolled into the University of Arkansas law school without any troubles, though he was forced to attend segregated classes in the school’s basement.
Before he finished his degree, Hunt suffered a bout of tuberculosis and died on April 22, 1949.
“I think it was his courage — having to tough it out, being segregated in the basement and knowing that it was important,” Nance said of Hunt’s determination and tenacity. “It was important for him personally, but he also knew that he was opening a door for so many people behind him.”
Since his death, the law school named a building after Hunt. The Arkansas Legislature also honored Hunt in its last session by approving Feb. 2 as a memorial day in his name.
“Now we have scholarships in the name of Silas Hunt,” said Chris Erwin, who produced and directed a documentary about him. “There are really no barriers for them to succeed now.”
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