On assignment for Missouri State University. Below is the article’s text transcribed from Missouri State Magazine. It was such a pleasure meeting this woman.
“In spring 1954, Freda Marie Wright (maiden name Thompson), salutatorian of her class at Springfield’s Lincoln High School, applied to then-Southwest Missouri State College.
She had little hope of being accepted. The school, like many others in the U.S., was segregated, but change was on the way. The Supreme Court ruled to desegregate schools in May 1954. By July, Wright received the first acceptance letter Missouri State had ever given an African-American. Three others joined her: her sister Betty Thompson and another set of sisters, Rose and Elizabeth Ann Payton. She completed two years at MSU, then moved to Minnesota for medical technician training. She went on to blaze trails throughout her career, often serving as the only, or one of few, African-Americans on staff. She retired in the late 1990s and turned 80 years old this March.
Describe your experience applying to MSU.
My mother was a widow, and she didn’t have the money for me to go away to another place for school. When others told me they didn’t have other black students (at MSU) and I wouldn’t be admitted, the only thing I thought was, “I will be admitted, because I can’t afford to go to school anywhere else.” I think it has to do with the good Lord. I prayed: “My mother can’t afford to send me away; I need to go to school here.” I was really thankful I was able to go to school there because I knew some of those kids hadn’t been around black people too much. This way, they could be around somebody other than their color and witness, “Oh, they’re just like I am.”
I never thought anything about it (being in the spotlight). I was thinking about an education, that’s what I was thinking about. The teachers were all very nice and friendly. But I really didn’t feel different. One of my best friends was white, and she went to school there. The neighbors behind me were white. The only time I felt that I was different was when I looked in the mirror.
Why did you choose medical technology as your career?
We lived across the street from a doctor, who wanted me to become a nurse. I never wanted to be a nurse. I wanted to be on the other end, drawing blood or specimens, and then running the specimens. One day after a few years at MSU I saw in a magazine that a university in Minnesota had a one-year med tech program, so I applied there and moved for school. I was the only black girl there at that time. I ended up being just what I wanted to be.
What accomplishments would you say you’re most proud of?
Being able to make money and be on my own two feet. I didn’t want anything stopping me. I felt that if somebody else had something, I could have the same thing. My mother would always say, “What if something happens to your spouse, what are you going to do then? You don’t want to depend on the state or somebody else taking care of you. You want to do it on your own.”
Do you have any advice for Missouri State students?
There’s a song that says you can make it, and it seems like it sticks in my head all the time. Just try, and you can make it. Don’t give up. Keep on trying.
Are you proud you were among the first African-American students at Missouri State?
I feel good about it. At least I helped somebody else along the way — to come through, to break the waters, so to speak. (MSU) gave me a good foundation. It was the very first steppingstone for things that happened along the way.”
A few more outtakes that didn’t make the cut for the magazine.
You can view the original online article HERE.