Speaker credits education at St. Martin de Porres for societal impact

COLUMBIA—Henrie Monteith Treadwell made history 50 years ago when she became one of three black students to integrate into the University of South Carolina.

Breaking racial barriers took courage, determination and discipline, all of which she learned in her eight years as a student at St. Martin de Porres School in Columbia.

“I was able to go and do what I did at USC because right here I learned I am somebody and I can change the world,” Treadwell told the student body on Sept. 13. “I learned how to love my fellow students and to love myself. My work began here. I was taught I could be whatever I wanted to be, and when the world called, I was able to answer.”

Treadwell was in Columbia to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the university’s desegregation, and visited the school for a special assembly.

On Sept. 11, 1963, she enrolled at USC along with James Solomon and the late Robert Anderson. She graduated in 1965, went on to complete a doctorate in biochemistry and is now a professor in the Department of Community Health and Preventative Medicine at Morehouse University in Atlanta.

“I’ve had a wonderful chance to reflect and be extremely proud of what we achieved back then,” Treadwell said in an interview with The Miscellany.

“It wasn’t until after my time at USC that I began to realize what an impact one small act can have on so many people,” she continued. “It’s still unbelievable to me. I’m grateful I was there, and grateful that I had my preparation both academically and spiritually at St. Martin de Porres.”

She looked at old photos with former classmates Veronica Woodson Ramseur and Bernetha Phillips Henry, who both attend St. Martin de Porres Church. They recalled jumping rope in Double Dutch style, shuffleboard and dodgeball in the schoolyard, and favorite annual traditions such as the May procession.

“I had so many wonderful experiences here,” Treadwell said. “We probably were not the most wealthy people in the world, but there was so much love here. We were a huge family, and the friendships still remain today.”

She is especially grateful to the Dominican sisters who taught her from kindergarten through eighth grade. Dominican priests and nuns served the church and school for 60 years.

“I learned discipline here,” she said. “The sisters taught me how to focus. They let me have high expectations of myself. I can talk about all the fun we had, and we did, but it’s the classroom that had the most impact on me, and the intense, purposeful way that the nuns made sure we learned.”

Treadwell told the students to study hard and realize their own worth because there is still a great need for leaders in the black community.

“My message is that 50 years after the March on Washington, we can’t stop marching,” she said. “There is much to do. We have changed many things in a positive way for many people, but there still are too many others in this country for whom not much has changed.”

Read more about Catholics like you by subscribing to The Catholic Miscellany