Margie Byrd-Walker reflects on time as first black SRU student

Published by adviser, Author: Daniel DiFabio - News Editor , Date: February 23, 2017

In 1951 at the beginning of the civil rights movement and years before any nation-wide desegregation laws Margie Byrd-Walker, then age 17, became the first black student to be enrolled at SRU.

Byrd-Walker was born in Franklin, Georgia on August 18, 1933, moving to Aliquippa, Pa. when she was four years old. She went to high school in Aliquippa, and then went to SRU for a degree in education.

Byrd-Walker was discouraged from attending Slippery Rock by future SRU president Dr. Norman Weisenfluh, who was a psychology professor at the time. Byrd-Walker said she had already made up her mind on attending.

“The state law said that African-Americans could be educated in state schools, and Slippery Rock was a state school,” Byrd-Walker said in an interview with The Rocket in 1999.

Byrd-Walker, now 83 years old and living in Coreopolis, said that she was very upset when she found out that Weisenfluh dining hall had been named after Dr. Weisenfluh.

“If I could get him (Weisenfluh) now I would choke him to death, I’ll let you know that,” Byrd-Walker said. “He wasn’t very nice to me.”

Byrd-Walker said she was at school to get an education, and wasn’t interested in making waves.

“I enjoyed the time that I was there, and the people that were with me most of them were all friends,” Byrd-Walker said.

Byrd-Walker said she had a group of friends at the time who helped to protect her when going out to places like the local theater.

“When I went to the theater they would make sure that one or two people were sitting on either side of me and one or two were behind us, because the people in the community didn’t want black people there” Byrd-Walker said.

Byrd-Walker was also roommates with the first black student athlete Jennie Knox-Brown, who joined the university soon after Byrd-Walker.

“They made us room together,” Byrd-Walker said. “When I first came here I had my own room.”

Byrd-Walker was president and vice president of house council, a member of Gamma Theta Upsilon, Mu Kappa Gamma, Vesper Choir and a member of student government.


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