A new 600-bed residence hall currently under construction at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina, will be named after Levern Hamlin Allen. In 1957, she was the first African-American student to enroll at the university and was among the first Black students to be admitted to any of North Carolina’s predominantly White state institutions of higher education.
After her undergraduate education, Allen worked as a speech therapist in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system. She realized soon into her career that she would need certification in special education in order to gain permanent employment. She applied to WCU (Western Carolina College at that time) because it was one of the few schools that offered the courses she needed. The college did not require a photograph as a part of the admissions process.
“Levern Hamlin Allen is one of the true pioneers of the desegregation of our nation’s public education system,” said chair of the WCU Board of Trustees, Patricia Kaemmerling. “In addition to being a quiet trailblazer in the civil rights movement, she served two terms as a member of the WCU Board of Trustees, from 1987 until 1995. The board felt that it was fitting and proper to name a campus building in honor of her historic and courageous step in seeking enrollment at Western Carolina College, in recognition of her role as an agent of social change and in gratitude for her service to this institution.”
Allen earned her bachelor’s degree in speech correction from the Hampton Institute, now known as Hampton University. She also received master’s degrees from the University of Maryland and George Washington University. She served for 25 years as a speech and language pathologist in District of Columbia public schools.
Below is a video on Allen’s effort to desegregate the university.