Artist Waits 50 Years For A Wrong To Be Righted

Quick post today since I am going to link to something longer worth reading.

The venue I run is associated with a university across town that made things right for an alum after it was deferred for 50 years. One of the first Black women admitted to the university back in the 60s was pursuing a career in medical illustration and so was majoring in both biology and art. However, as a result of some racist motivations, the chair of the art department at the time denied her an opportunity to mount a final exhibit. As a result, she was able to graduate with the biology degree, but not the art degree.

That student, Gwendolyn Middleton Payton, had a chance midnight meeting at the Atlanta airport with one of the university history faculty and happened to relate her story. The faculty member advocated for her leading to Payton receiving her final exhibit and degree last Friday.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) wrote an extensive story I referenced earlier. If you are interested, there is a video on Facebook of Payton’s remarks at the exhibit.

Our marketing director was responsible for shepherding a lot of the details along, including the AJC interview and had mentioned Payton’s son was on The Walking Dead. For some reason, I didn’t make the connection that her son is Khary Payton, who I actually knew better as a voice actor for a lot of superhero cartoons, until his mother mentioned him in her talk.

Through our marketing director, I learned some roadblocks and assumptions that thwarted her earlier efforts to get her full degree that illustrated people did not appreciate the enormity of the challenges Payton faced. She said she had to pick her battles and if you read the AJC article, you will see she fought a lot. She just chose not to fight the final exhibition battle when graduation was imminent.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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