Williams was among first black students at CMA
The first African-American students to attend Culver Academies enrolled in 1965, when a student from Gary, Ind., and a gifted scholarship student from Watts (Los Angeles) enrolled as a sophomore and freshman, respectively.
Then-superintendent Gen. Delmar T. Spivey, according to an article in the summer, 1987 Culver Alumni magazine on the school's black student history, had said prior to the 1965 school year, "Our policy has always been that when a qualified black student applies, he will be admitted," and without fanfare, added the superintendent -- which was just what happened.
Being a trail blazer didn't bother one of those first two black students (and the only of the two to graduate), Alexander Williams. Knowing he wanted to be a dentist from childhood, Williams saw the Academy as a good chance to prepare for college.
At CMA, he played the saxophone in the band, excelling at academics and athletics (he played varsity baseball).
In 1967, Williams was joined on campus by six other black students, including his younger brother Charles.
The following year, Williams made history without headlines by being the first black student to step through the school's famed Iron Gate.
From Culver, Williams went to Indiana University, where he majored in pre-dentistry. He then attended Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., which graduates 70 percent of the country's black dentists, later opening dental practices in Gary and Chicago Heights. His brother Charles went on to become a surgeon in Merrillville, Ind.
A number of Culver Academis' black graduates left their mark at Culver and post-graduation. Arnold Turner, class of '70, was the first black artillery battalion commander at the school, while Eddie Nowlin ('87) served as regimental commander during the first acting period of the 1986-87 school year. Thomas Mayo ('75, today director of the Culver Fund in the school's Development department) and Timika Shafeek ('86) both won the prestigious Morehead Scholarship to North Carolina University at Chapel Hill. And present occupations among those surveyed include lawyers, doctors, college administrators, and bankers.
Recognition has ranged from winning Culver's Mary Frances England Humanitarian award for concern towards others (Tamela Flowers, class of '85 and Kathy Martin '87) and the Van Zandt Key for moral and spiritual influence (Stuart Dunnings '70) to serving on the board of directors of the Community Renewal Society in Chicago (Mayo '75).
Despite the racial tension that was flaring around the country in the late- '60s and early-'70s, incidents at Culver such as mutterings under the breath and name-calling were minor and infrequent. Survey results indicated that seventy-three percent of the black students felt accepted and part of the group while at Culver. None who responded felt out of place or unaccepted . Sixty-four percent found teachers and administrators encouraging and supportive.
Ray Stingley, a 1969 CMA graduate and then a regional sales manager for a division of E. R. Squibb & Sons, Inc., was featured prominently in a March, 1987 Newsweek article titled, "Brothers: A Vivid Portrait of Black Men in America."
"All my experiences at Culver were positive," said Stingley. "I never had any sleepless nights or anything like that."
Roscoe Howard, class of '70 and former United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, agrees: "Sure, there were times when I was standing in ranks at 7 a.m. and it was pitch black, with the wind whistling off Lake Maxinkuckee, that I'd think, 'What the hell am I doing here?' But I really liked the place..."
And, some special scholarships at Culver Academies are earmarked to provide financial assistance to qualified black applicants, such as the Charles and Lela M. Dickerson Scholarship Fund, given by Charles and Susanne Shuler in memory of the black couple's seventy-three years of service to the Academy. (Dickerson served as head waiter in the dining hall for 43 years, then managing the Alumni House for 20 more).
*Portions of this article were derived from "Black at Culver: A Self-Examination," from the Summer, 1987 edition of the Culver Alumni magazine.