Education and My Family – Philander Smith College

One of my favorite TV shows is The Cosby Show. If you have ever watched the show, then you remember that Cliff and Claire attended Hillman College. So did their daughter, Denise, and Cliff’s father, Russell Huxtable. Hillman held many memories for their family and was the subject of the show’s spin-off, A Different World. My family has a similar college, Philander Smith College. Philander Smith College is an Historically Black College/University (HBCU) in Little Rock, Arkansas. It was founded in 1877 with affiliation with the United Methodist Church and is a founding member of the United Negro College Fund.

My Grandmother, Gladys Denson Mays (3rd row; 2nd from the left), with her graduating class of 1952

My grandmother, Gladys Denson Mays, was the first one in our family to attend Philander Smith College. She graduated in 1952 with a bachelors in education. By the time she graduated she had already been teaching math since 1934 in her hometown of Newport, Arkansas and was married with three children. So she returned to her life in Newport and continued teaching. When her children graduated from high school in the 1960’s, they all three enrolled in Philander Smith College making them the second generation of graduates of the school. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, my cousin, Annette J. Stewart, and my brother, Russell Mays attended Philander, making them the third generation.

My Dad, Wayman Mays, and his brother, Leslie Mays, in the Philander Smith College Yearbook in 1973.

Education has always been important to my family. Both my grandmothers attended college during a time when very few Black women were able to go off to college in the 1930s. Their college experience set the foundation for education within my family. Although I didn’t attend Philander Smith College, this college will always hold a special place in my heart because Philander is where the first person in my family graduated with an advanced degree making it possible for future generations to be able to attend and graduate from colleges and universities across America. And this is why my journey continues…

One Comment Add yours

  1. Roxanna says:

    This is such an important story to be told.


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