University of Memphis' first Black professor dies

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Miriam DeCosta-Willis, the University of Memphis' first Black professor and a participant in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, has died, the school said. She was 86.

DeCosta-Willis died Thursday at home, surrounded by family, the university said in a statement. A cause of death wasn't released.

DeCosta-Willis was denied entrance to what was then Memphis State University in 1957, but she went on to graduate from Johns Hopkins University with a master's degree and a doctorate.

She later became the first Black professor at Memphis State University in 1966 as a Spanish teacher.

DeCosta-Willis participated in the Montgomery bus boycott, helped lead a boycott of Memphis Public Schools and joined protest marches in Washington, the university said. She also wrote or edited 15 books.

DeCosta-Willis also worked at Howard University, George Mason University, and University of Maryland, Baltimore.

The University of Memphis dedicated a historical marker to her in December.

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This story has been edited to correct the spelling of Johns Hopkins University.

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