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The 1960s was a time of the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam, and civil unrest. African-American student enrollment and graduation rates started to increase in 1963. It is during this period that African-American athletes were recruited for the teams of Southeast. Although Ron Staton became the first African American athlete in the 1950s; Curtis Williams was the first African-American athlete to distinguish himself in basketball and track in the 1960s. Walter Smallwood and Mike Smith were the first African-Americans to play football at Southeast. Walter set several school and conference records as a football player as did Curtis in basketball and track. In the physical education department, Emanuel Balland was the first African-American graduate assistant.
The assassination of Martin Luther King stunned the nation and campus. This event brought together the Southeast African American students to honor Dr. King. A eulogy was given by Herman Williams, one of the student leaders at that time.
In 1968, Carl Nelson and other students formed the Southeast Negro Activity Council (SNAC). This organization was officially recognized by the University in 1969, when Gwen Shields as its first president. SNAC was the first formal support network for African-American students.
By the end of the sixties, African-American student enrollment was approximately 70 with the many of them being athletes. Students were primarily from St. Louis, Cape Girardeau and the Bootheel of Missouri.
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