Former student led way for diversity

Wendall Wilkie Gunn was the first African-American student to attend UNA, then known as Florence State Teachers College. He has been the guest speaker on campus for multiple events, including graduations and convocation.

UNA is filled with Resident Student Organizations devoted to diversity, but none of that would be possible without the first African-American student.

Wendall Wilkie Gunn enrolled at UNA, then Florence State Teachers College, in 1963.

Gunn, a Tuscumbia native, had to receive a court order to enroll at the university.

After receiving the court order, he transferred to Florence State Teachers College from Tennessee State University.

He graduated in 1965 with degrees in math and chemistry. Some of his achievements include receiving the university Physics Achievement Award.

“The fact that it happened between ’63 and ’65, a time with a lot of turmoil, and the fact that my matriculation happened without incident is a testament to something,” Gunn said in a 2013 university press release. “Looking back on it, it makes me think there was something special about the area.”

Gunn spoke at the 2013 convocation to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of desegregation at UNA. This event took place exactly 50 years since the day Gunn first registered as a Florence State Teachers College student.

He also spoke as an honorary guest speaker at the spring 2017 graduation where he received his honorary doctorate.

In his speech, he said when he first enrolled at Florence State Teachers College, there was virtually no backlash.

He said he was proud to see the campus unaffected by disputes about race relations occurring throughout the country

“This is my UNA,” Gunn said. “This is the UNA that I love.”

Since his graduation, Gunn went on to found his own company, Gunn Solutions, and serve as an assistant for policy development under President Ronald Reagan.

The UNA board of trustees recently passed a resolution to rename the University Commons to the Wendall W. Gunn University Commons. There will be a ceremony March 14 at 5 p.m. in front of the Commons.