The weekend kicked off with a special “Ring Your Bell and Tell Your Tale” panel discussion in Mitchell Memorial Library’s Grisham Room. It featured Col. Robert Barnes, who graduated in 1972 in sociology and was the first African American to be commissioned into the U.S. Army from MSU; Harvest Collier, who earned MSU bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in chemistry in 1972, 1974 and 1977, respectively; Vernon White, a physical education major who in 1971 became MSU’s first African American, scholarship track athlete; and Doug and Linda (Robinson) Milton, who met at MSU, married and were commissioned into the U.S. Air Force together in 1979 when they completed their degrees in political science and history, and business respectively.

Open to the public, the panel discussion allowed Barnes, Collier, White and the Miltons to share their experiences of being African American students at MSU in the 1970s.

“The environment here was totally strange to me,” recalled Collier, who grew up in Starkville’s Needmore community, just west of MSU. “I’d never come to campus. I had no sense of what it was like having grown up and lived in a totally segregated environment. So, you can imagine the cultural change that I had to figure out in arriving here.”

Though Dr. Richard Holmes successfully integrated the university with his enrollment in 1965, the panelists recalled how they still felt like outsiders at the university in the 1970s. They credited the community of African American students at the time with creating pathways to success for Black students, identifying allies within the faculty and administration, and creating safe spaces to gather.

“As I got to be a senior, there might be only one or two Black people in class,” Barnes recalled. “As soon as class was over, I would see if I could have a conversation with people. So, we found our community.”

Panelists noted that the top floor of the YMCA building, through word of mouth, became a meeting place for Black students. That same informal, word-of-mouth network, as well as Afro-American Plus—MSU’s first Black student organization established in 1968—helped students connect and find campus resources.

“When I got here,” Linda Milton recalled, “there were 36 Black people total. It was like a small family that told you everything you needed to know. They looked out for you.”

These remembrances, as well as others, have been collected as part of the project “Ring Your Bell and Tell Your Tale: The History of Black Students at Mississippi State University, 1965 to 1975.” The project, which was initiated by a group of Black alumni and aided by the MSU Libraries’ University Archives, aims to capture and preserve the experiences of MSU’s first African American students.

The yearlong project involved conducting interviews with alumni and reviewing historical documents to chronicle life at MSU during integration and the Civil Rights Era. As announced during a Black Alumni Weekend panel about the project, the work will result in a scholarly book, documentary, website and soundtrack.

For more information about “Ring Your Bell and Tell Your Tale,” visit For more information about Black Alumni Weekend or other alumni events, visit