The guest panel of six included Harold A. Franklin, the first African-American student to enroll at Auburn University and Anthony Lee, one of the first African-American undergraduate to enroll at Auburn University.
The other guests were Fred Gray, a notable Civil Rights attorney, Judge U.W. Clemon, who has served on the federal bench for 30 years and Samuel Pettijohn, who received a Bachelor of Science degree from Auburn in 1967.
The panelists spoke in front of an audience from many backgrounds whom wanted to know the role integration took at Auburn University in the 1960s and the foundation these men laid for future generations to be able to attend Auburn University.
Anthony Lee spoke of his experiences at Auburn University. Lee detailed how it was not an enjoyable experience being an African-American student because of the way he was treated going to class or being in his room on campus. He did find positives from being one of the first to integrate Auburn.
“I was encouraged to do things that other people might not have done,” Lee said.
Lee also gave insight on what he thought about the status of diversity and the opportunities students now have that were unavailable when he was a student. He gave advice on how to achieve better diversity as a whole.
“As a student, the best thing to do is get involved on campus and be a part of the community,” Lee said.
Lee was just one of the panelists who shared his experiences with the audience, he attempted to help listeners understand the struggles he endured and how he was able to overcome them and be a part of the university.
The panelists spoke often about what current students can do now to further integrate the University and avoid the issue of people in different groups not interacting with people from other backgrounds and groups.
The forum provided those in attendance with an eye-opening lesson about diversity at Auburn and what life was truly like for African-Americans during a time of oppression and injustice.
Emily Jay, junior in public relations, shared her thoughts on what she heard and learned from attending the forum event.
“I thought it was very interesting especially after Martin Luther King’s birthday,” Jay said. “Coming from small-town Alabama, I felt like I am kind of sheltered of what is actually going on and the difference between what I’ve learned growing up and now. For me hearing this, it was eye-opening to see how I can help and how I can make people feel more at home at Auburn especially hearing the sad stories of the past.”
For many students similar to Jay, the topic of race and diversity is often not spoken about as much, but with the forum and the guest panelists, it hopes to open the discussion back up in regards to just how far we’ve come and what lies ahead for the future.
Willie Wyatt Jr., another one of the first African-Americans to be enrolled as an undergrad, shared his thoughts about the current issue of race at Auburn University.
“You need to take advantage of all the things Auburn has to offer, but remember at the same time you have to be your own person,” Wyatt said.
At the end of the forum, the panelists challenged the student body of Auburn University to not be afraid to talk about issues such as race with others and to enjoy life in college.