Dr. Patricia McGraw, the First African-American Professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Dr. Patricia Washington McGraw, Professor of English
by Paola Cavallari

In December of 1969, Little Rock University officially became the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, During the 1960s, the civil rights movement in Little Rock forced Little Rock University officials to examine the racial policies of their own institution. One of the main reasons that led to this policy revision was the fear that Little Rock University would not be allowed to receive federal funds if it continued with the discriminatory enrollment provisions established by article II of its Constitution, which stated that the purpose of the University was to promote generally the education of white persons. Therefore, during the spring of 1964, then President Carey V. Stabler introduced to the University board the issue of admitting black students: article II of the Little Rock University Constitution was amended, leading to the admission of the first 10 black students in the fall of 1964.

In 1971, pressured by Students for Equality, an unofficial campus organization at Little Rock University chaired by David Wilmot-Freedman, the University hired Dr. Patricia Washington McGraw, 32, as the first African-American professor. Dr. McGraw was born in Little Rock on May 6, 1935. After attending South End Elementary School and Dunbar Jr. and Sr. High School in Little Rock, she began her college studies at the Spelman College for Women in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1954, she transferred to San Francisco State College, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in Language Arts with a Journalism Emphasis in 1957, and her Master of Arts in Special Studies in Literature in 1968. In 1982, Dr. McGraw received her PhD from in Sociolinguistics and Black Studies from Washington University in St. Louis.

Dr. McGraw experienced two very different realities at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock: the love of her students and of some of the parents, and the racism of some of the faculty and staff, and of some other students, too. She recalls how students began walking her to her car after the night class she was teaching: they were friendly and enthusiastic about the class, and they were suggesting to all their friends to enroll in her course. It never occurred to her that the real reason why they were walking with her was because they had heard that some people wanted to hurt her, and thus they had decided to escort her to her car every evening, watching her drive away.

Dr. McGraw had the feeling throughout her career at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock that young people were trying to show their elders both at school and at home that things could be different in matter of racial relations. She came to the understanding that the racism she experienced during her time at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock was not a matter of education, but of the ideas and prejudices that people had at the time. Despite incidents of evident racism, the main memories that Dr. McGraw has about the University of Arkansas at Little Rock are of inclusion, acceptance, and respect.

In the academic year 1975-1976, the UALR Division of Humanities instituted a Black Studies Program coordinated by Dr. McGraw, which became a minor in 1975. Dr. McGraw remembers that at first it appeared that not many students would be interested in it, but because her students liked her so much, they decided to enroll. Dr. McGraw thinks that one reason for this was the fact that it was hard to make students and faculty understand that black literature is “normal literature”, and that black people can do what everybody else can do. In 1987, after about 16 years at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Dr. McGraw decided that it was her time to leave: she expected to receive tenure from the University, but when they turned her down, she decided to quit. The University of Central Arkansas in Conway received word that she had left Little Rock, and they offered her a job as an English professor with tenure. Dr. McGraw accepted the position, and she taught in Conway until her retirement in May of 2000.


Dr. McGraw’s recent publications

Batts, Cheryl L., Kearney, Janis F., and McGraw, Patricia W. The Winds of Change: John Lee

Webb. The Man & His Legacy. Hot Springs, AR: Phoebe Publishers, 2012.

McGraw, Patricia W. Can You See Me Now? North Little Rock, Arkansas: Sanko4u International Press, 1999.

̶ ̶ ̶ ̶̶ ̶ ̶ ̶ ̶ . Hush! Hush! Somebody’s Calling my Name. Russellville, AR: Aduana Publishing Co., 2000.

̶ ̶ ̶ ̶̶ ̶ ̶ ̶ ̶ . Scattered Ants on a Bone. Little Rock, AR: Computer Enterprises, 1988.

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