William Hargraves I
William Frederick Hargraves made Miami history in 1925 when he and Eleanor Reece became the first two African American students to earn a four-year bachelor’s degree from the university. He was born on February 5th, 1902 to parents Hammond Arthur Hargraves and Anna Langford Hargraves in Barnesville, Ohio, where Hammond worked as a hotel porter. William attended grade school in Gila, Arizona before the family moved to Oxford, Ohio in 1911, where both of William’s parents began working for the university— Anna as a cook and Hammond as a janitor. After graduating from Oxford High School, he enrolled at Miami in the fall of 1921, pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree.
William was the first of his three siblings to attend the university. His brother, Langford, enrolled at Miami in 1924, finishing his degree at Wilberforce University— a historically African American university in Xenia, Ohio and the first in the nation to be Black-owned and operated— in 1932. His sister, Edythe, graduated from Miami with an education degree in 1943. Both of his siblings went on to have careers at Miami— Langford worked as a pool technician in the campus athletic facilities, while Edythe worked as a secretary in the Department of Home Economics and Division of Secondary Education until her passing in 1947. According to family accounts, she was the first African-American to be professionally hired by the university. William graduated from Miami in the spring of 1925, demonstrating great academic success in the face of adversity and paving the way for generations of Black Miami students to come.
In 1929, Hargraves began his career as a social studies teacher at the Lincoln-Grant School in Covington, Kentucky, a segregated public K-12 school building for African American students consisting of both an elementary school (Lincoln School) and high school (William Grant High School). During his first year living in Covington, he and another teacher stayed in the home of Lincoln-Grant’s principal, Henry R. Merry. William married Annie Leona Thomas, who also taught at the Lincoln-Grant School, in June of 1930 in Lorain, Ohio. The couple had two children together, William II and Beatrice. Hargraves earned his Master of Arts degree from Miami in 1936. While living in Oxford, he was a member of the Bethel A.M.E. Church— he transferred his membership to the St. James A.M.E. Church when he moved to Covington, where he served both as a trustee and as superintendent of their Sunday school.
William Hargraves I passed away on December 12th, 1953 at the age of fifty-one and is buried in Woodside Cemetery.
Written by Laurel Myers, (4, History & American Studies, 2023)
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Published: August 12, 2022
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