On Tuesday, April 21, the Auburn Board of Trustees and University President Jay Gogue renamed Eagle Hall in the Village to Matthews Hall in honor of Josetta Matthews.
Josetta Brittain Matthews was the first Black student to graduate from Auburn, earning both a master’s degree in 1966 and a doctorate in 1975 in education. Around 1972, Matthews was also the first Black faculty member at the University joining the College of Liberal Arts as a French and history instructor.
The event was attended by members of the Board of Trustees, Matthews’ daughter Heidi Brittain Matthews Wright, her son, the Honorable Gammiel Poindexter, a retired judge in the 6th Judicial Circuit of Virginia, and other friends.
Bobby Woodard, senior vice president of Student Affairs, began the ceremony.
“Dr. Matthews’ daughter Heidi is quoted saying her mother not only made history, but loved it, and history is what we have made here today in naming this building,” Woodard said. “Eagle Hall is currently home to Auburn’s Honors College students, and how fitting is it to name a building after someone who was so devoted to education.”
Gogue and Auburn trustee Elizabeth Huntley also said a few words about Matthews.
Gogue said that in 2005, the University awarded Matthews an honorary doctor of philosophy degree in education, and last fall the Auburn Alumni Association Board of Directors created the Dr. Josetta Brittain Matthews Memorial Endowed Scholarship. The scholarship is meant to support Auburn’s goal of promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion.
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Huntley spoke highly of Matthews and her time at the University as a student in finishing what Harold Franklin started when he set out to integrate Auburn in 1962.
“In spite of what ideas anyone had about her because of her race she was willing to come back here and integrate with the faculty and shake up the students,” Huntley said. “That is a woman of humility, of courage, and compassion.”
Matthews’ daughter, Heidi Brittain Matthews Wright, earned her doctorate from Auburn in special education in 2020 and currently teaches special education at the University. Wright said she felt the dedication was an important step in Auburn’s history.
“I know my mother would be delighted and truly humbled by this overwhelming acknowledgment of all that she accomplished,” Wright said. “Sometimes history can be ignored, or far worse, erased. With these recent namings, Auburn is taking a big step in the other direction, acknowledging the accomplishments of its Black alumni, and more fully telling the history of its past and giving hope and encouragement to other students in their pursuit of education.”
Matthews received her undergraduate degree at Indiana University before pursuing a degree at Auburn. There, she met her best friend, Gammiel Poindexter, who is now an attorney of counsel at the Poindexter Law Office in Surry, Virginia.
“I don’t know how to express to you how I felt when I walked up those steps and looked up to see Dr. Josetta Brittain Matthews’ name written on this building,” Poindexter said. “It was an experience.”
Poindexter said she feels the board of trustees couldn’t have picked a better choice.
“She was a real fighter,” Poindexter said. “She told me that she was going to fight for her independence and be productive for as long as she could, and she did, and survived and thrived.”
Matthews is the third Black alumni to be honored with the renaming of a building. The Student Center was renamed in honor of Harold D. Melton, Auburn’s first Black Student Government Association president this past fall.
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