Rare Footage of Historic Figure in UNT History Discovered

The University of North Texas of 2015 is a fast-paced, bustling campus of 37,000 students and growing.

And the university’s president, Neal Smatresk, says the school is getting bigger, better and prettier.

“We're going places,” Smatresk said. “We're growing still -- we're not quite sure we're going to stop."

What's also obvious is the diversity. As the university celebrates its 125th year, a simple stroll around campus yields proof of how far it has come.

Sixty years ago, it was a much different story.

In newly discovered video, Irma E. L. Sephas is walking on some of the same sidewalks that pave the campus now. Her arms are loaded with books and there is a pencil tucked into her hair. The year is 1956, and Sephas is the first black undergraduate student to ever enroll at North Texas.

"From the very moment I first entered the campus, all the teachers and students whom I have contacted have been swell to me," Sephas said in the video.

The video was recently uncovered in the KXAS news archive at UNT’s libraries. It was likely likely shot by a news team on her first day or first week of classes in February 1956, and likely has not been seen since.

The interview is brief, and Sephas describes her integration onto campus as friendly and without incident.

“They've been anxious to help me become orientated on the campus, knowing that I'd have to feel my way around to find the various buildings," she said.

That contradicts we know about 1956 and integration. Across the country, and across North Texas, integration of schools and colleges led to riots, protests or worse.

Sephas addresses such a problem at the University of Alabama.

"I do think that the controversy raging at the University of Alabama is most regrettable,” she said. “And I would like to say that I am happy to be a student on the campus of dear old North Texas, that exemplifies the true Texas spirit, because certainly every hour that I have spent here has been a most pleasant one. I am anticipating many more pleasant hours here."

Sephas was the only black undergraduate enrolled at North Texas that spring, and it’s unlikely her time on campus was entirely pleasant.

It turns out the university took steps to keep the first black undergraduate’s arrival and any racist backlash out of the news.

University President J.C. Matthews had crews clean racial epithets from sidewalks overnight and had to extinguish a burning cross on the lawn of the administration building.

Irma Sephas only attended North Texas for two months, then went on to live another life. But she paved the way for thousands of students who've followed.

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