Josephine Ophelia Boyd Bradley made history when she integrated the all-white Greensboro Senior High School in North Carolina. She was transferred from Dudley High, the city’s black high school at the time.
On Sept. 4, 1957, wearing a prim brown dress with a stiff white collar, 17-year-old Boyd took what seemed to be a never-ending walk toward the arched entryway of Greensboro Senior High School.
Her mother, Cora Lee Boyd, six months’ pregnant, accompanied her as far as the door, she squeezed her hand, and left young Boyd, alone. Neither fully prepared for the hatred they were met with. “Nigger go home!” screamed the students and rabble-rousers lining the sidewalk. “We don’t want you here! Go back to where you came from!” A white woman held a German shepherd on a tight leash.
During the next nine months, Bradley’s time at school was filled with daily jeers that were backed up by a fusillade of snowballs and eggs, hurled at her small frame, she stood 4 feet 11 and weighed 102 pounds. In the cafeteria, boys spat in her food and squirted ketchup in her lap. Tacks were placed on her seat, and ink spilled on her books.
The Boyd’s constantly received threatening phone calls. Klansmen called and cursed her for scorning the will of God. The tires on the family car were punctured; two pet dogs were killed in the night. Her mother lost her job as a housekeeper. Her father’s sandwich shop mysteriously burned to the ground.
Entering Greensboro High as the only black person among 1,950 students, Boyd became the first to enroll at an all-white high school in the country’s most defiantly segregated south. In 1958, Bradley was also the first African American to graduate from Greensboro High.
Bradley wrote a dissertation about her experience to earn her doctorate in liberal arts from Emory University in 1995. She served as a professor of African American studies at Clark Atlanta University. Dr. Josephine Ophelia Boyd Bradley died on September 15, 2015.