Samaria Bailey is a civil rights figure from Macon, Ga., who was the first Black girl to integrate an all-white, all-female high school in 1964. Ms. Bailey was also among the first Black women to enroll at Mercer University, and went on to have a stellar career as a medical technologist. Bailey was born Samaria Mitcham on June 29, 1947.
She was the second-oldest of ten children. Her father was a cook in Macon and her mother was a housewife who went back to school and graduated from Wesleyan College when her children were grown. Bailey was among the select group of Black students handpicked by Mercer University Men’s Dean Joseph Hendricks to integrate A.L. Miller High and the Lanier High School for Boys.
Hendricks could have been inspired by President John F. Kennedy’s campaign pledge in 1960 to do more for African-American students. Along with a friend, Dean Hendricks launched a secret plan to tutor Black high school students in a bid to diversify Mercer’s student body and aid the students in improving their test scores for admission.
Hendricks knew that the quality of education Black students received in Macon’s two co-ed Blacks-only schools did not compare with Lanier and Miller High. Bailey excelled as a junior at Appling High, but struggled at Miller. At the root, the instruction she received prior was not of the same quality. Still, she wanted to go to Mercer.
A school counselor discouraged Bailey’s bid to enroll at Mercer, suggesting she go Fort Valley State. But with support from Hendricks, she entered Mercer and adjusted well. Today, Bailey is a medical technologist who resides in Macon with her husband. She started a company, Med-Tech Service. Her story was told in the book The Stem of Jesse: The Costs of Community at a 1960s Southern School by late author and civil rights supporter, Will D. Campbell. Bailey’s life was also dramatized in the stage play Combustible/Burn by Andrew Silver.
(Photo: Little Cookie)
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