Black History Month: Woman accomplishes several firsts in career

HENDERSON, Tenn. — “My grandparents and parents started the foundation as far as Christian education,” Elizabeth Saunders said.

She built upon that foundation throughout her life.

“My father was a teacher, and also my mother taught cosmetology in Haywood County,” Saunders said.

Saunders stayed on that path, becoming the first African-American to graduate from Freed-Hardeman College, before going to Memphis State and then East Tennessee State University for her doctorate.

“I was the first American Black to graduate from their doctorate program,” Saunders said.

Saunders spent 40 years teaching at Freed-Hardeman, but she did some traveling during that time, teaching in Nigeria and Poland.

“I got a chance to work with the teachers. I did some teacher training. A lot of those teachers were looking to pursue a higher education in America,” Saunders said.

Saunders wasn’t just teaching overseas; she was learning too.

Saunders said she learned simply by being in another culture and gaining different perspectives.

She says as the university enters its 150th year, she hopes students, faculty and staff continue to build on what they call the “Freed-Hardeman experience.”

“That Christian foundation they are able to find here and able to build on,” she said.

Saunders was also honored at this year’s annual Tolling of the Bell as the Master of the Bell.

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