Lena Will Brown-Prince, a resident of Nashville’s Castle Gate subdivision, graduated from Martin Methodist College in 1965. Courtesy photo

By Clint Confehr

PULASKI, TN — The first Black student at Martin Methodist College — MMC recently signed a letter of intent to join the University of Tennessee System — is hopeful for her alma mater.

“I think everything will work out,” said Lena Will Brown-Prince, a retired federal employee now living in Nashville. “You have to keep an open mind. We surely have to work out the religious part.”

“Hopefully, more African Americans will be able to attend,” Brown-Prince said.

Officials said tuition might go down.

Born in Pulaski, Brown-Prince graduated with an associate in arts degree in sociology from Martin Methodist in 1965 when it was a two-year school.

Brown-Prince has realized that her brother planned her integration of MMC. After graduation from Giles County’s segregated Bridgeforth High School, she hadn’t planned for college, so she went to live with her sister in Louisville, Ky. She worked at Plymouth Settlement House where she met Louisville Defender publisher Frank Stanley’s wife, Vivian. Brown-Prince recalls that over lunch one day, Vivian Stanley said, “‘We need to get you into college.’ I said I didn’t have any money. She replied, ‘I didn’t say anything about money. We need to get your other father to get you a scholarship.’” One thing led to another and Brown-Prince returned to Pulaski for college.

Her brother, James, “was all into civil rights” and good friends with attorney Avon Williams, later a state senator. Brown “was always doing things to make things better for people in Pulaski,” Brown-Prince said.

As for attending an all-white college, Brown-Prince said, “I never thought about it. I just went; no fear, no problem” on campus.

But in a downtown Pulaski drug store with her father during 1963, they were confronted by the owner who told them, “‘You know we can’t serve you.’” She “took over the conversation” between the owner and her father. “‘You will serve us now, or I’ll go over to the college and get all my friends, and you’ll serve us then.’ Nothing happened. We finished what we were doing and went on.”

At MMC, she “did whatever the other kids did,” said Brown-Prince who sang in a choir that performed in other churches. On one trip, the Black bus driver was told he couldn’t eat with the students. Brown-Prince replied, “‘He’ll either eat with us, or we’ll all leave and eat somewhere else.’

“Those were the only two two incidents” when she was at MMC, Brown-Prince recalled. “I didn’t know I had that much oomph until I did it.” Nothing like that happened on campus. “I attribute that to the fact that it is a religious school.”

Brown-Prince then went to the University of Louisville, and again helped the Defender. She began her government career as a probation officer with Louisville social services. Later she worked for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. She married Runcie Prince who worked at Nashville’s main library. He died in 2000.

Brown-Prince is a member of the college’s Alumni Council. She attended the announcement on campus Sept. 11 when MMC President Dr. Mark La Branche, announced the small, 150-year-old, private college signed a non-binding letter of intent to join the UT System.

“It’s a win for everybody,” Brown-Prince said. “It’s a great idea. My daughter graduated from UT.”

The merger could be in the fall 2021 or a year later. If approved, MMC would become the fourth undergraduate college in UT’s system.

A more extensive story is to be posted at TnTribune.com.

Clint Confehr

Clint Confehr — an American journalist since 1972 — first wrote for The Tennessee Tribune in 1999. His news writing and photography in South Central Tennessee and the Nashville Metropolitan Statistical...