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Dr. Cornelius Golightly was a trailblazing educator and scholar-activist and UW–Madison’s first known, full-time Black professor. Golightly earned his doctorate from the University of Michigan and did postdoctoral work at Harvard before gaining the attention of famed philosopher Alain Locke at Howard. Locke, who later came to campus in 1945 as a visiting professor of philosophy, praised Golightly’s academic accomplishments and his reputation for speaking out about the realities that African Americans faced in higher education in the time of Jim Crow. In 1949, UW–Madison hired Golightly as an assistant professor of philosophy, where he became not only the first Black professor at the UW, but also the first Black professor of philosophy at any state university in the country. From his office in Bascom Hall, Golightly researched the philosophy and psychology of human behavior, and his work often examined the intersection of ethics and morals with race. He also mentored students as an adviser for Kappa Alpha Psi, the UW’s first Black Greek-letter organization. He left Madison in 1955 for other opportunities, including being the first Black philosophy professor at UW–Milwaukee and Wayne State University, the first African American elected to the school board of the Milwaukee public schools, and the first Black president of the Detroit School Board. Golightly became prominently known as a civil rights activist for his work to eliminate de facto segregation in busing in Detroit. After his death in 1976, the Golightly Career and Technical Center in Detroit was named in his honor.

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