Western Michigan University Honors Its First Black Bachelor’s Degree Recipient

Merze Tate, the first Black student to earn a bachelor’s degree from Western State Teachers College (now Western Michigan University) will have University College – the academic home for exploratory majors – named in her honor.

Tate’s grandparents were among the first Black settlers in Mecosta County, Michigan, where she was born in 1905. She walked three miles each way from her family’s farm to get to school every day and was the only Black student in her class. She excelled in the classroom and was named valedictorian of her class, but she was denied entry into the University of Michigan when the school learned the color of her skin.

Tate was then offered a scholarship to what is now Western Michigan University. She went on to graduate in three years with a degree in education, becoming the first Black student to receive a bachelor’s degree from the institution in 1927.

Tate went on to earn bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in international relations from Oxford University in England – the first African American to do so. She later became the first Black woman to earn a doctoral degree in government and international relations at Harvard University’s Radcliffe College in 1941. She was one of the first two women to join the department of history at Howard University as a professor, where she spent three decades before retiring in 1986.

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