First Black Graduate Students
UT’s first black graduate student, Gene Mitchell Gray, was admitted to study chemistry in the winter quarter of 1952. His admittance followed a lawsuit in fall 1950 when he and three other students sought admission to UT’s law and graduate programs. Lincoln A. Blakeney and Joseph H. Patterson applied to the Law School. Gene Mitchell Gray and Jack Alexander applied to the Graduate School. After a judge in federal district court upheld their right to admission but did not issue an order, the students took their case to the US Supreme Court. However since UT had already changed its admission policy and admitted Gray, the Supreme Court declined to take action. Gray took undergraduate courses in the sciences for a year before withdrawing and transferring to Lehigh University. Alexander did not enroll in UT. Blakeney spent one quarter in law school and then withdrew. Patterson announced that he would enter law school in September 1952, but never did.
Pulitzer Prize Winner John M. Hightower
Alumnus journalist John M. Hightower’s coverage of international and national affairs was so impressive that in 1952 he won three of journalism’s most prestigious awards. One of those awards was a Pulitzer Prize for the sustained quality of his international affairs coverage. Hightower continued to cover international events until he retired from the Associated Press in 1971 to teach journalism at the University of New Mexico and write a column for the Santa Fe New Mexican. A member of UT’s Academic Hall of Fame, Hightower died in 1987.
1953 – 1955
Smokey I, First UT Mascot, in Service
In 1953, the UT Pep Club held a contest to select a coonhound as the school’s live mascot. Rev. W. C. “Bill” Brooks entered his prize-winning bluetick coonhound “Brooks’ Blue Smokey.” At halftime of the game against Mississippi State, several dogs were lined up for voting. Each dog was introduced over the loudspeaker, and the student body cheered for their favorite. “Blue Smokey” was the last hound introduced. When his name was called, he howled. The students cheered and Smokey howled more. This kept on until the stadium was in an uproar. Smokey I began his mascot career at the 1953 home game against Duke by entering the field on a white carpet rolled out by cheerleaders. He served for the 1953 and 1954 seasons under head coach Harvey Robinson with an overall record of 10-10-1. Smokey I was hit and killed by a car in 1955 after escaping from the garage at his home. In 2019, the bluetick coonhound became the state dog of Tennessee.
1955 – 1963
Smokey II in Service
Smokey II, one of Smokey I’s sons, had an exciting term as mascot. He and new head football coach Bowden Wyatt both began their service at 1955’s opening game against Mississippi State. In his rookie season, Smokey II was dognapped from his home by Kentucky students posing as members of the UT Pep Club who needed him for photos. His dognappers sent a postcard to his owners saying he would be alright and was simply part of a friendly rivalry. They even took him to the Kentucky pep rally draped with a Wildcats blanket. Smokey II was returned to his owners eight days later, before the kickoff of the Kentucky game. Smokey II also had a clash with the Baylor University bear during halftime at the 1957 Sugar Bowl. The bear took some swats at him after Smokey II barked at the bear. The two were separated, and neither was injured. Smokey II also served under head coach Jim McDonald. Smokey II died in Lexington in 1963 after he was fed an entire chocolate pie during the Vols game against Kentucky. His owners believed it was an accidental death, the result of someone who did not know dogs cannot digest chocolate.
Johnny Majors Heisman Trophy Runner-up
Johnny Majors, a star tailback on the Vols football team, was runner up for the Heisman Trophy in 1956. He led the Vols to a 10-1 record, an appearance in the Sugar Bowl, and a final national ranking of No. 2. Majors went on to become head coach at Iowa State University in 1968, followed by the University of Pittsburgh in 1973, and he returned to take the helm at UT in 1977. As head coach of the Vols from 1977 to 1992, his teams won three Southeastern Conference championships in 1985, 1989, and 1990. UT retired Majors’s No. 45 jersey in 2012. Majors died on June 3, 2020 at 85 years old.
Estes Kefauver Selected as Vice Presidential Candidate
In 1956, US Senator and alumnus Carey Estes Kefauver was selected by the Democratic National Convention to be the running mate of presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson. After they lost to the Eisenhower-Nixon ticket, Senator Kefauver was named chair of the US Senate Antitrust and Monopoly Subcommittee in 1957, a position he held until his death in 1963. In 1950, Kefauver headed a US Senate committee investigating organized crime. Officially known as the Senate Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce, it was popularly known as the Kefauver Committee. Hearings were held in 14 cities, and many of the witnesses were well-known crime bosses (for example Frank Costello). The hearings, televised live as many Americans were first buying televisions, made Kefauver nationally famous and introduced many Americans to the workings of the Mafia. In 1951, when Kefauver was a celebrity guest on the game show What’s My Line? he discussed the hearings briefly with the panel. Before he was a senator, Kefauver had served five terms in the US House of Representatives. He graduated from UT in 1924 with a bachelor of arts degree. He was an editor and reporter for the Orange and White student newspaper from 1921-1924, junior class president in 1923, president of the All Students’ Club in 1924, and a tackle and guard on the Volunteers football team. The Estes Kefauver wing of Hoskins Library was taken down in 2019 due to structural issues, but it had been home to an exhibit that recreated his office in Washington. The Kefauver archival collection is in the Modern Political Archives.
Author David Madden Graduated
Prolific writer David Madden graduated from UT with a bachelor of arts in education in 1957. He enrolled at UT in 1951, but left later for opportunities with the US Merchant Marines and the Army. After earning his MA in creative writing at San Francisco State University in 1958 and attending the Yale Drama School from 1959 to 1960, Madden published his first novel The Beautiful Greed in 1961. Madden began his teaching career in 1958 as an instructor in English at Appalachian State Teachers College. He spent time teaching at Centre College, the University of Louisville, Kenyon College, and Ohio University. In 1968, he joined the faculty at Louisiana State University as the writer in residence, a position he held for 24 years. Madden retired in 2008 as Robert Penn Warren Professor of Creative Writing, Emeritus. He is the recipient of a Rockefeller Grant and a National Endowment for the Arts Grant. His stories have appeared twice in Best American Short Stories. Madden’s collection of four novellas called Marble Goddesses and Mortal Flesh was published by UT Press in 2017.
Pulitzer Prize for John Netherland Heiskell’s Newspaper
Coverage of a school integration crisis earned a Pulitzer Prize in 1958 for the Arkansas Gazette and its editor, alumnus John Netherland Heiskell. He was publisher and editor of the newspaper for more than 70 years during the 1900s. Heiskell also served a 23-day stint as a US senator after the death of a senator he had feuded with in editorials.
1959 – 1970
Andrew D. “Andy” Holt Presidency
Andrew D. “Andy” Holt was already a nationally prominent educational administrator when he began his career at UT. At the end of World War II, Holt, who served in the Army preparing training programs for high schoolers, declined an offer to become public relations director for the US Office of Education. Instead, he returned to his home state of Tennessee and his position as executive secretary of the Tennessee Education Association. While with the TEA, Holt successfully lobbied for a state retirement plan for teachers and a statewide sales tax to help finance public education. In 1948, he was elected as the first vice president of the National Education Association and became president in 1949, the first time a state association executive secretary had been elevated to that office. He was also once named chairman of the US Delegation to the World Organization of the Teaching Profession meeting. Holt began at UT in 1950 as executive assistant to President Cloide Brehm. He rose to become Brehm’s vice president and made substantial contributions to UT’s improvement including the establishment of a faculty retirement system and the creation of a development council to organize and promote a development fund. Selected as the 16th president of UT, Holt took office on July 1, 1959. His administration was marked by a burst of energy. Student enrollment tripled; faculty and staff doubled; eight new buildings were added; the west side of campus was developed, and the physical plant doubled in size and tripled its value. Holt also made a lasting impact during his administration through his relationship with J. Clayton Arnold, the first million-dollar donor to the College of Education. He spoke to almost any community group that invited him, estimating that in one year alone he had given 150 speeches. After the creation of the UT System in 1968, Holt became its first president, and UT Knoxville created the position of chancellor. He retired in 1970 and died in Knoxville on August 7, 1987. His daughter, Ann Skadberg, and her husband, Dean, established the Andrew D. Holt Endowed Professorship in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences in 2018.
First Black Undergraduates Admitted
Theotis Robinson Jr., Charles Blair, and Willie Mae Gillespie were UT’s first admitted black undergraduates in January 1961. Robinson, whose first attempt to apply to UT in 1960 was turned down because it was policy not to admit black students, was elected as Knoxville’s first black city council member from 1970 to 1977. He returned to UT in 1989 as a lecturer in political science and later joined the purchasing department staff. In 1992, Robinson became an administrative aide in the Office of Federal Affairs where he remained until 1999, when he transitioned into the same post within the Office of the Senior Vice President. In 2000, he became the vice president for diversity and equity for the UT System. Robinson retired from UT in 2014 and received an honorary doctorate in social work in 2019.
Band Director W J Julian
W J Julian became director of the Pride of the Southland Band in 1961 and designed the uniform that band members still wear. Under his tenure, the band became nationally known for performing the circle drill, forming the T for the football team to run through in Neyland Stadium, playing “Rocky Top,” and playing in the parades for presidential inaugurations—all traditions that continue today.
Vol Navy Began
In 1962, former radio broadcaster George Mooney found a quicker and more exciting way to get to Neyland Stadium than fighting the notorious Knoxville traffic. Mooney navigated his little runabout down the Tennessee River to the stadium and began the tradition that would later become the Vol Navy. Orange and white boats and yachts bearing Vol fans fill the docks on home football weekends, within sight of Neyland Stadium, one of only a few college stadiums in the country that fans can travel to by boat.
1962 – 1977
Men’s Head Basketball Coach Ray Mears and Big Orange Country
Ray Mears was head coach of the men’s basketball team from 1962 to 1977, tallying a 278-112 winning record that put him in the top 20 of the Tennessee, SEC, and NCAA coaching record books. The Vols won three SEC championships under Mears, winning outright in 1967 and 1977 and sharing the title in 1972. Mears is known for originating the tradition of running through the T during the 1962 season when players ran onto the court before each home game. He also coined the term Big Orange Country to represent Tennessee basketball fans. That name later influenced UT’s branding campaign launched in 2012 and the Volunteer family tradition of wearing orange each Friday, known as Big Orange Fridays, which began in 2013.
1964 – 1977
Smokey III in Service
Smokey III presided over the football team’s national championship in 1967 among a total of 10 bowl games. The Vols defeated coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s unranked Alabama team 10-9 on October 19, 1968, after the Alabama quarterback took a kick at Smokey III, saying the UT cheerleaders were letting him come close and bark. A descendant of Smokey I, Smokey III served from 1964 to 1977 under three head coaches Doug Dickey, Bill Battle, and Johnny Majors.
Checkerboard End Zones Began
In 1964, head football coach Doug Dickey introduced an orange-and-white checkerboard end zone design on Shields-Watkins Field. Many football programs, Tennessee included, had used checkerboard patterns to decorate end zones dating to at least the 1930s, but the addition of the orange color was a new and unique tradition for Tennessee.
President Lyndon Johnson Stopped Here
President Lyndon Baines Johnson made an unscheduled stop at UT on May 7, 1964, as he traveled through Knoxville during a Southern tour focused on poverty in Appalachia. When he saw several thousand students and faculty lining Cumberland Avenue, Johnson stopped his motorcade near the Carolyn P. Brown Memorial University Center. After UT President Andy Holt welcomed him to campus, Johnson stood on the trunk of his convertible and asked people to aid him in his campaign against poverty. He specifically asked fraternities and sororities to help establish scholarships for deserving students.
University of Tennessee Space Institute Established
The Tennessee Legislature authorized UT’s creation in Tullahoma of a separate graduate Space Institute offering master’s and doctoral degrees. UTSI began offering graduate coursework in aerospace engineering in 1964, as a branch of the College of Engineering. The institute originally held its classes and had its offices in the Arnold Center. In November 1965, it moved to a new $1 million building constructed with funds appropriated by the legislature and located on 365 acres declared surplus by the Air Force. The property was formally transferred to UT by the Tennessee Department of Health, Education, and Welfare on January 29, 1964.
First Black Undergraduate to Earn a Degree, Brenda Lewis Peel
In 1964, psychology major Brenda Lewis Peel was the first black undergraduate to earn a bachelor’s degree from UT. A Knoxville native, Peel transferred to UT following the integration of undergraduate students in 1961. She had been attending Westminster College, a Presbyterian-affiliated integrated school in Pennsylvania. Peel worked for 30 years as an educator. After graduation, she worked for three years in the Knoxville City Schools system. Following a move to Atlanta, she earned a master’s degree and an EdS in guidance and counseling from Georgia State University and became a school counselor for 27 years in the Atlanta Public Schools system. Peel retired in 2002.
Running through the T
Starting in 1965, Volunteers head coach Doug Dickey and Pride of the Southland Band director W J Julian created a new entrance for the football team. Before each home game, the Vols run onto the field through a T formed by the Pride of the Southland Band. The tradition known as running through the T has continued ever since. It originated with the 1962 men’s basketball season when head coach Ray Mears introduced running through the T onto the court before each home game.
College of Architecture and Design Founded
The College of Architecture and Design was founded in 1965 as a school under the direction of Dean Bill Lacy. Interior architecture, first taught in 1918, joined the college in 1997 and was renamed the School of Interior Design. A 2008 partnership with the Herbert College of Agriculture established the School of Landscape Architecture. The graphic design school began accepting students in 2019.
Student Killed during Snowstorm
During a snowstorm in 1960, police arrested 14 UT students along Cumberland Avenue when a snowball fight turned into a riot. Five years later on February 1, 1965, students again gathered along Cumberland Avenue during a snowstorm. Some drivers said students opened their doors and threw snow on them while they were stopped. A truck driver named William Douglas Willett Jr. told police he fired his handgun after students opened his truck, threw snow on him, and impaired his vision. Eighteen-year-old freshman Marnell J. Goodman, of Massachusetts, was shot and killed. After a police investigation found conflicting statements and newspapers printed letters from community members angry at the UT administration and the students, Willett was not indicted.
Before the Rock became a beloved campus message board, a very small portion of it was visible in the lawn of Calvary Baptist Church, where Fraternity Park is now located. In 1966 after UT had acquired the land, the A.B. Long Company unearthed the 97.5-ton hunk of Knox dolomite while grading for roads and buildings. Later that year, UT began the process of selecting a name. The Daily Beacon reported that the Rock beat out other submissions including the Kissing Rock and the Fellowship Stone.
Fifth Football National Championship
Volunteer “Torchbearer” Statue Unveiled
The administration unveiled the Torchbearer statue, officially named the Volunteer statue, in Circle Park on April 19, 1968. It took more than 30 years for the Torchbearer to go from a sculptor’s winning contest submission in 1931 to the nine-foot-tall statue that stands on campus. During that time, the Great Depression, World War II, disputes over the statue’s older appearance and paunchy physique, and a lack of funding kept the project from being realized. UT had adopted the Torchbearer as its official symbol in 1932 and represented it in yearbooks, class rings, stationery, and commencement programs. The university also sold five-inch tall bronze reproductions of the Torchbearer for decades. The Torchbearer is also the name of the highest student honor conferred by UT as well as the name of our university publication.
UT System Created
In 1968 during the presidency of Andy Holt, UT underwent an administrative reorganization which made the Knoxville campus the flagship and headquarters of the new University of Tennessee System. The system is made up of UT Knoxville, UT Chattanooga, UT Martin, the UT Institute of Agriculture, and the UT Health Science Center.
First Black Football Player Lester McClain
Sophomore wingback Lester McClain took the field at Neyland Stadium as the Vols’ first black football player on September 14, 1968. In the game against the Georgia Bulldogs, his fourth-down reception helped the Vols come from behind and finish in a 17-17 tie. McClain played three years for the Vols, totaling 70 receptions for 1,003 yards and 10 touchdowns, while adding two rushing scores. He was part of the 1969 SEC Championship squad and played in the Cotton Bowl, the Gator Bowl, and the Sugar Bowl. McClain is in the Tennessee Athletics Hall of Fame, the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, and the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools Sports Hall of Fame.
1968 – 1971
Charles Weaver Chancellorship
An electrical engineering instructor who started at UT in 1946, Charles Weaver was dean of the College of Engineering when he became UT’s first chancellor in 1968. The creation of the chancellor’s office followed the founding of the UT System. After he stepped down as chancellor in 1971, Weaver continued to serve the university as vice president for continuing education and dean of the UT Space Institute. Weaver even returned to teaching engineering from 1982 to 1986. He died in 1997.
International House Opened
UT’s first International Student Center opened in February 1969. The renovated three-story former residence was located at 1601 Clinch Avenue. The center offered classes in English as a second language (sponsored by the Knox County Adult Education Program) along with craft classes, coffee hours, children’s parties, a game room, sewing machines, and a loan closet with household items students could borrow. The center had a reading room/library and newspapers from all over the world. In 1983, the International House moved to a former residence located at 1515 Cumberland Avenue between the College of Law and the Panhellenic Building—formerly the home of the Graduate School of Planning. In 1994, the International House was razed to build an addition to the College of Law Building. UT held a groundbreaking for the present International House on December 7, 1994. During construction, an International Lounge was established in the Carolyn P. Brown Memorial University Center. The International House opened in 1996.