By Cortlynn Stark, MSU The Standard News
In 1950, Mary Jean Price Walls was denied admission to Southwest Missouri State College, now Missouri State University, because she was African American. On Friday, the new Multicultural Resource Annex was named after her.
Mary Walls applied for admission at SMS after graduating salutatorian of her high school class from Lincoln High School. At the time, Lincoln was strictly an African American school. She waited for months to hear back from the university but never received a response. Mary Walls said it made her feel horrible.
Walls’s son, Terry, graduated from MSU in 2012. When he was here, he researched what happened to his mother 62 years prior. According to an article by National Public Radio in 2012, Terry Walls found a letter typed “on fragile, onion-skin paper,” from Oct. 2, 1950.
Mary Walls wrote the letter to apply to the university. In 1950, the university was all-white. Terry Walls continued to look for additional information and found letters between Roy Ellis, the president of SMS, and other university presidents. These letters reportedly refer to Mary Walls as “the colored girl,” the article says.
The article adds that the university’s board of regents met specifically to discuss Mary Walls’s case. They denied her admission because the classes she wanted to take were available in Jefferson City at Lincoln University, an all-black college.
However, Mary Walls couldn’t afford Jefferson City. The all-black college was also four hours away and Mary Walls’s father recently fell ill, so the move would be too far.
Her dream was to be a teacher. In 2010, MSU gave her the first-ever honorary bachelor’s degree. Now, the MRC Annex will bear her name
When asked how the naming made her feel, Mary Walls said “like a celebrity.”
According to Dee Siscoe, vice president for student affairs, the naming was spurred by a letter of demands received in the fall from a group of students. One of the demands was a recommendation that the annex be named after Mary Walls.
Siscoe sent emails out to students informing them and asking for additional ideas. Students voted on the naming on the Student Government Association ballot.
“We wanted to make sure that everyone was involved in the decision making,” Siscoe said.
While the MRC Annex has been open for a couple weeks, the grand opening was on Friday.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Siscoe said. “Earlier you couldn’t walk in here; it was packed, it was crowded. We’ve had lots of people come and go so I’m very happy.”
Students, faculty and members of the community visited the annex on Friday. Mary Walls’s daughter Sonya “Missy” Walls was there as well.
“It feels great, outstanding, wonderful, I can’t put it all in words. This is like history in the making,” Sonya Walls said. “We are so proud that this building is being named after her. She deserves it.”
The new building offers a number of services to students, such as a study room, kitchen and the LGBTQ Resource Center.
“I hope that students will come over here, hang out, have small study meetings, have organization meetings, events in the evening or weekend,” Siscoe said.
Mary Walls was at the grand opening, munched on cheese and crackers and sipped on punch while she talked to people who came to see her.
“She has come a long way from the time when she couldn’t go to school to getting her undergraduates degree,” Sonya Walls said. “I am really proud of the university for making this right with her.”