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Dr. Cornelius Golightly (1917-1976): The Life of an Academic and Public Intellectual

In the following article Michigan State University professor John McClendon explores the remarkable life of  little know early 20th Century black intellectual Cornelius Golightly.

Philosopher, teacher, civil rights activist, public intellectual and educational administrator, Dr. Cornelius Lacy Golightly utilized his rich philosophical insights and commanding intellect toward the consistent aim of eradicating segregation and seeking racial harmony. The grandson of former slaves, Cornelius Lacy Golightly was born in Waterford, Mississippi, on May 23, 1917. He was one of ten children born to Richmond Mack and Margaret Fullilove Golightly. A Presbyterian minister, Rev. Richmond Mack Golightly was a native of Livingston, Alabama, while Margaret Fullilove hailed from Honey Island, Mississippi. Richmond Mack farmed land which supplemented his income as a minister.  Growing up in Waterford, a small farming community between Holly Springs and Oxford, Mississippi, Golightly was subject to early and regular encounters with racial segregation and discrimination which would have an indelible impact on his life and motivate his activism.  

In 1934, 17-year-old Golightly left Mississippi for Alabama where he enrolled at Talladega College. Founded in 1867 by two newly freed slaves, William Savery and Thomas Tarrant, its mission was educating the thousands of new freedpeople in the state. Golightly excelled academically as well as in athletics. As a student-athlete, he participated in football, baseball and tennis. His reputation for academics and athletics extended far beyond Talladega. On July 9, 1938, The Carolina Times, a Black newspaper in Durham, North Carolina wrote glowingly about his participation in the “Intellectual Olympics,” which the New History Society held in New York City. Golightly was one of only five black students from across the nation to earn honors in this 1938 academic competition.

Golightly met his future (first) wife Althea Catherine Cater, at Talladega. Catherine Cater was the daughter of James Tate

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