f/8 and Be There
Fred Lynch

Helen Carter - SEMO's first black graduate

Posted Monday, January 15, 2018, at 12:00 AM

Helen Carter - (G.D. Fronabarger photo)

May 19, 1956 Southeast Missourian

First Negro Grad of College Hopes to Remain in Girardeau

Miss Helen N. Carter became the first member of the Negro race to graduate from State College when she received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Education at commencement exercises Monday.

Miss Carter, who majored in speech with minors in social science and English, was the second member of her race to enroll at the college here when integration occurred years ago. The girl with whom she rooms at 323 North Frederick street, Miss Roberta Slayton, a Cape Girardeau native, was the first to enroll, but she has two more years of work before graduation.

Miss Slayton, an art major, enrolled the first day of the fall term in 1954 and Miss Carter a short time later. Before enrolling here Miss Carter had attended Lincoln University at Jefferson City for two years.

Grateful for help

Reluctant to look upon her graduation as anything unusual, Miss Carter said she is deeply grateful to the many Cape Girardeans, both her people and others whose help and encouragement enabled her to complete her degree with her limited financial means.

"I'm Cape Girardeau's graduate," she said.

She said she considers Cape Girardeau her home and wants to stay here and hopes she can be an asset to the city that helped her. Many members of her race have left here and many of them, she feels, could have helped the town by staying.

Enjoyed Teaching

Miss Carter is prepared to teach and evidently likes it. She said she enjoyed her teaching classes in College Elementary School very much and she and the pupils got along very well together. She taught high school English.

Of course there is a problem facing Miss Carter in reconciling her desire to teach and to stay in Cape Girardeau, where as in many other places, the pupils have been integrated but not the teachers.

She is not discouraged, however. "Acknowledge God and He'll guide your way," she said is her belief.


Editor's Note:

Ruth Smith submitted this letter to the editor about Helen Carter:

The history of Helen Nancy Carter

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

For those of you who would like to hear "the rest of the story" about Helen Nancy Carter, here are some interesting facts about her life. As the Southeast Missourian printed in an article of Jan. 21, 2018, Helen Carter was the First African American to graduate from Southeast Missouri State College. She had attended college two years at Lincoln University in Jefferson City and then completed her degree in education here in May 1956. She was born May 10, 1902 and died Jan. 28, 1996 at the Bond Nursing Care Center in Marble Hill, Missouri. Some records show she was teaching school in 1923, which means she taught without a certificate, but that was common in that time. Her roommate during college was Roberta Slayton, who also graduated from Southeast and taught school at Hayti, Missouri. Both of these ladies are buried at Fairmount Cemetery in Cape Girardeau in Section 11, lot 50. You can find memorial pages for them on the website find-a-grave. If you have questions or additional information, click on my name and leave a message and I will get back to you. This information was from many people who helped: Jim Crites at the city cemetery office; Ed Pikes (a walking encyclopedia of history in South Cape); the Southeast Alumni office; Historical Archives in Jackson; our neighbor Steve Lee and many more. To them we say "thanks."

RUTH SMITH, Cape Girardeau

Find-a-Grave for Helen Carter


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