Josetta Brittain Matthews

Two residence halls in one of Auburn University’s on-campus living communities will soon bear the name of two Black women considered “trailblazers” at the University.

The re-naming of the two co-ed residential halls in the Village community off Wire Road was announced during the Auburn Board of Trustees meeting on Feb. 5. Eagle Hall will be renamed in honor of Josetta Brittain Matthews and Tiger Hall will be renamed in honor of Bessie Mae Holloway. According to members of the Board, both women have a distinguished legacy at Auburn.

One hundred and ten years after Auburn University was founded as East Alabama Male College in 1856, Matthews became the first Black student to graduate from Auburn, earning a master’s degree in 1966 and a doctorate in 1975, both in education. Prior to attending Auburn, Matthews received her undergraduate degree in French and political science from Indiana University. 

After receiving her master’s from Auburn, Matthews taught political science and French at Tuskegee before returning to Auburn for a doctoral program in social science education in 1971. 

While completing her doctoral studies, nearly a decade after becoming the first black graduate, Matthews also served Auburn as the first Black faculty member at the University, joining the College of Liberal Arts as a French and history professor. Auburn also awarded Matthews an honorary doctoral degree in education in 2005.

Auburn University Trustee James Pratt, alongside Trustee Elizabeth Huntley, co-chair of the Board of Trustee Task Force, expressed gratitude for Matthews legacy at Auburn, according to a University press release. 

Pratt asked Trustee Sarah Newton, who has had a distinguished career as an educator, to speak to the renaming of Eagle Hall after Matthews. 

According to Newton, it was fitting to rename Eagle Hall, which houses Auburn’s Honors College students, after Matthews. 

Passing away in 2019 in Montgomery, Matthews' legacy continues at Auburn with her daughter, Heidi B Wrights, who became an Auburn alumna in 2020 and currently teaches special education on the Plains.

Nearly 130 years after the founding of Auburn, Bessie Mae Holloway was the first Black person to serve as a member of the Board of Trustees, serving from 1985-2000. During her tenure, Holloway was also the second woman to serve on the highest cabinet at the University. 

Huntley, who said she knew Holloway when she was a student at Auburn, called her “truly a students’ trustee” as her focus was on all students. 

“Her commitment to Auburn students likely derived from her background as an educator,” Huntley said. “As the second black woman to serve as an Auburn trustee, I am more than proud to continue her legacy.” 

Holloway, who spent more than 25 years as a teacher and instructional specialist in the Mobile County Public Schools, was a native and lifelong resident of Prichard and dedicated her life to education. 

According to University archives, Holloway received her bachelor’s degree from Alabama State University, her master’s from Xavier University and her doctorate from Auburn before being appointed by former Gov. George Wallace to fill an unexpired term on the board in 1985. 

Holloway passed away in 2019 in her hometown. 

The move for the renaming the buildings comes after the Trustee Task Force recommended that the Student Center be renamed in honor of Harold D. Melton, Auburn’s first Black Student Government president and chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court in 2020. The official name change in November made the Melton Student Center the first building at Auburn named for an African American. 

Also in 2020, the Auburn Alumni Association Board of Directors created the Dr. Josetta Brittain Matthews Memorial Endowed Scholarship to support Auburn’s goal of "promoting diversity, equity and inclusion among its student body."

In a report of the Alumni Committee, Huntley said the Alumni Association will be seeking support for the scholarship on Tiger Giving Day, scheduled for Feb. 24.

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