Campus Mourns the Loss of First African American Student


Barbara Curry-Story poses in March 2020 with her JSU diploma. Photo courtesy of Nik Layman, Alabama NewsCenter.

On a campus already grieving several unrelated deaths over the past few weeks comes the news of another great loss. Barbara Curry-Story, the first African American student to attend JSU, died on Oct. 20. 

“Although she may be gone, her legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of every student and faculty member here at JSU,” said SGA President Jerod Sharp. 

Born Barbara Crook in Ohatchee, Ala., on Nov. 24, 1941, she graduated from Calhoun County Training School in Hobson City in 1959 and briefly attended Alabama A&M before moving to New York City to raise money for college. Fleeing an abusive marriage, she returned home to Alabama five years later and enrolled at JSU in Fall 1965 as a single mother hoping to give her two-year-old son a better life. 

“I was determined never to put my child in the bread line,” Curry-Story told the JSU News Bureau, now known as JSU Public Relations, in 2006.  “I could have resorted to welfare, but that was not the type of life that I wanted. I wanted to elevate, and I saw this as my only chance because I didn’t have money to go elsewhere. I couldn’t pay the board and tuition.”

She lived at home with her parents and borrowed her brother’s 1959 Chevrolet to commute to campus, driving out of her way - up US Highway 431 to Alabama 21 - to avoid harassment. 

“Driving the road to campus was a bigger deal by far than being on campus,” she said “I had more fear of the people on the outside, away from JSU - the people I had to pass by every day going to school. They had ambushed a black man that summer just before I had started school in September…I did not go the back roads at all because I was afraid of being ambushed.” 

Thankfully, she safely made it to campus every day without incident and her arrival was not met with violence or protests. Her first class was History 201, taught in Bibb Graves Hall by Professor Grace Gates, who - on the first day - asked students to look at their registration receipts, confirm they were in the right class, and take their seats. 

“Some of them did, and some of them left,” Curry-Story said. “Now, whether some left because they weren’t supposed to be there, or whether they left because they didn’t want to be in the class with me, I’ll never know.”

At first, as she moved around campus, she heard whispers of “what is she doing here?” from fellow students when she entered the room. She also heard more direct shouts of “go home!” from others as she walked to class. But before long she made friends. 

“It got to be where, in a few weeks, I didn’t sit by myself any longer,” she said. “Somebody I’d know would come in and sit down and we would begin to interact…after that first semester, I rarely had an encounter or any snotty looks or anything to take place. Or else, I was so involved I just didnt notice these things. By the second semester, I had made friends with people in my class and we were studying together.”

Curry-Story graduated from JSU in 1969 with a Bachelor of Science in Education with a concentration in vocational home economics. On the Monday following graduation, she went to work for Alabama Power with the support and recommendation of her advisor, future JSU President Theron Montgomery. She worked as a home service advisor, demonstrating electric appliances at schools. Later, she worked with duct-design layout, electric heat pumps and water heaters. She learned to measure houses to calculate heating and cooling needs.

Earlier this year she told Alabama NewsCenter, “I was the first black home economist in Eastern Division. Up until they hired me, that job was always held for white females. Two years later, they hired two more black employees.”

Curry-Story retired in 2001 from Alabama Power after 32 years of service. She was married to the late Henry Curry of Anniston, a Civil Rights leader, for 23 years until his passing. She spent the final five years of her life married to Roger Story. She was the proud mother of two adult children, Starla and Joseph. 

“Mrs. Barbara Curry-Story was a woman of grace and dignity,” said Charlcie Pettway Vann, JSU’s director of diversity and inclusion. “Her boldness and determination is an example not only to African American students at JSU,  but to all students faced with obstacles or challenges. Mrs. Barbara’s tenacity of never giving up lead her to be a successful student, professional at Alabama Power, mother and grandmother.  ‘Nevertheless, she persisted’ and was the victor! Rest in Power, Mrs. Barbara.”

A graveside service will take place on Oct. 24, 1 p.m., at Anniston Memorial Gardens, with Pastor Carlton Phillips officiating. There will be no public viewing. 

Donna Cope of the Alabama NewsCenter and POWERGRAMS magazine, both operated by Alabama Power, contributed to this report.