Reasons for Naming
- Part of first class of Black undergraduates to enroll in and graduate from the University of South Carolina
- Was university’s oldest living alumnus in 1936
- Denied the ceremonial cane by Alumni Association due to race
Alonzo G. Townsend (1853-1937)
Alonzo Gray Townsend was born in Charleston on August 29, 1853, to James and Julia Brown Townsend. He graduated from the Avery Institute in Charleston and then attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. He enrolled at the University of South Carolina in 1874, where he graduated with a B.A. on December 13, 1876. He was part of the first class of Black undergraduates from the University.
After graduating, Townsend became a minister in Orangeburg and served in the South Carolina Conference of Methodists. He was also a district superintendent and head of examiners and teacher at Claflin College. He retired after 53 years, in 1931. In addition to his education and clerical work, Townsend was also a member of conventions and delegations that asked for improvements throughout the state, such as the convict leasing system, the lynching of Black South Carolinians and the needs of African American citizens.
In 1936, Townsend became the oldest living graduate of the University of South Carolina, and thus should have received a symbolic cane. The Alumni Association, however, declared him ineligible and wanted the cane to go to a white alumnus. The secretary of the Alumni Association claimed that the university had repudiated diplomas issued during Reconstruction due to its integration. The refusal gained nationwide attention. Four months later, on March 13, 1937, Townsend died at the age of 83.
Reid, Richard. “USC alumni snubbed Townsend despite his many accomplishments.” The Times and Democrat (Orangeburg). July 31, 2011.