Published on January 23, 2018 by William Nunnelley  

The son of Samford University’s first African-American student remembered his mother, Audrey Lattimore Gaston Howard, as a quietly courageous woman who may have had a sense of working for the next generation.

The Rev. Charles L. Howard, university chaplain at the University of Pennsylvania, shared remembrances of his mother at a semester-opening convocation at Samford commemorating the golden anniversary of integration at the university. Howard spoke in response to a series of questions asked by Samford Provost Mike Hardin.

Howard’s mother, a preacher’s daughter from Plainfield, New Jersey, became Samford’s first full-time African-American student 50 years ago last fall, in 1967, when she enrolled in the university’s Cumberland School of Law. She had moved to Birmingham several years earlier after completing undergraduate school at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Rev. Howard said he thought his mother found "a good spirit on campus" and that "going to a Christian school was important to her." He added that it took "a ton of courage to be the first," and she was always "thankful that the law dean and school president said yes" to her application. She recalled that "everyone was so respectful at Cumberland."

He added that she was married with a small child at the time and "in hindsight" it might seem easy but "I think of her knocking out a paper with an infant on her lap."

Her legacy, said Rev. Howard, was "the importance of working for the future . . . we are not done." He urged the students to work to ‘bring about change" regardless of their color.

His mother "was a humble woman who would be embarrassed" by the commemoration, "but grateful." She "would pray for you, and she would say thank you."

Howard earned her law degree in 1970, becoming the first African-American to graduate from Samford. She then became the first woman appointed to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the southeast. Later she was appointed courts liaison adviser to the National Criminal Justice Commission. In 1975 she joined the staff of U. S. Representative John Buchanan of Alabama as a legislative assistant. She died in 1989.

As part of the integration commemoration, Samford will recognize a group of 29 African-American graduates with Audrey Gaston Howard Awards during February. The commemoration will continue with a series of programs during the spring semester.

Related story

Birmingham Times story

Anniversary information

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About Samford University – Samford University is a premier nationally ranked private university deeply rooted in its Christian mission. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th oldest institution of higher education in the United States. U.S. News & World Report ranks Samford 4th among regional universities in the South. Samford enrolls 5,619 students from 44 states, the District of Columbia and 29 other countries in its 10 academic units: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy, and public health. Samford also fields 17 NCAA Division I teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference.