Contact: Gary Shultz 214-768-7650

May 12, 2005


DALLAS (SMU) -- Southern Methodist University will mark the 50th anniversary of the graduation of its first African-American students during Saturday's commencement with special recognition of the Rev. James V. Lyles of Culver City, Calif., and the Rev. A. Cecil Williams of San Francisco.

Lyles and Williams were among five African-American students who graduated from SMU's Perkins School of Theology in 1955. The other three are deceased.

"We are grateful for the courage and determination shown by the Revs. Lyles and Williams, and their colleagues, in breaking racial barriers at SMU and Perkins School of Theology 50 years ago," said William B. Lawrence, Dean of Perkins and professor of American Church History. "Perkins led the way in overcoming this long-standing injustice and is privileged to have played a role in the education and formative experiences that ground the distinguished ministries in church and society exemplified by these two graduates."

They also will participate in a diploma presentation ceremony at Perkins later in the day. Williams will read the Litany of Thanksgiving and Lyles will read from scripture (Joshua 1:1-9).

Lyles was a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force and served in several local pastorates as well as various positions with The United Methodist Church's evangelism and global missions boards before retiring in 1998. Subsequently, he served as a chaplain for the Providence Health Care System until his second retirement in 2004.

Cecil Williams currently is CEO and minister of National and International Ministries at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco. During his 37-year pastorate at Glide, he has built the church into a 10,000-member congregation internationally known for its outreach to the poor and marginalized members of society.

The other three students were the Revs. John W. Elliott, James A. Hawkins and Negail R. Riley. The five students enrolled in Perkins School of Theology in 1952 following the SMU Board of Trustees decision two years earlier to open classes to African-American students. Today, 16 percent of Perkins students are African-American.

Perkins School of Theology is one of five university-related official schools of theology of The United Methodist Church. The school was founded in 1911 by the Methodist Episcopal Church South, now The United Methodist Church. Degree programs include the Master of Church Ministry, Master of Divinity, Master of Sacred Music, Master of Theological Studies and Doctor of Ministry degree, as well as the Ph.D. in cooperation with SMU's Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.


Media Note: The all-university commencement is at 9:30 a.m. Saturday in Moody Coliseum. Perkins School of Theology's presentation of diplomas is at 2 p.m. Saturday in Highland Park United Methodist Church.

Southern Methodist University is a private university in Dallas with more than 10,000 students and offers degree programs through seven schools. More information about SMU is available at