The Courageous Life of Dr. Miriam DeCosta-Willis (Sugarmon)

Dear Campus Community:

Yesterday, Dr. Miriam DeCosta-Willis (Sugarmon), the University of Memphis’ first Black professor, passed away at the age of 86. Just a few weeks ago, we held a long overdue event to recognize her with the placement of a historical marker outside the administration building. As I mentioned at the time, there are moments in the history of every institution that need to be recognized, honored and memorialized. 

Dr. DeCosta-Willis’ life of courage, sacrifice and service continues to teach important lessons, particularly at this painful moment in American history with the recent horrific events that occurred at our nation’s Capitol, coupled with the enduring struggle for racial/gender equality and social justice nationally, amidst the worst pandemic in our history. It is in these moments that Dr. DeCosta-Willis’ life reminds us of the importance of persistence and standing up for what we know is right. The fact that she embraced an institution that rejected her as a student in 1957, based solely on race, is a lesson not just about personal courage, but remarkable selflessness.

The University of Memphis was incredibly fortunate to have had Dr. DeCosta-Willis as a member of our faculty. The impact of her life, her work and the lessons she taught will continue to help us grow as a community and shape our future.

Read more about her legacy and the scholarship created in her honor >


M. David Rudd