Mrs. Irma Willson

Mrs. Irma Willson embodied one Black woman's life and struggles at George Mason College (GMC).  We do not know if an intervention by Dr. Severinson directly helped Mrs. Willson, so we can only speculate. However, what is clear from the sources available is that Mrs. Willson overcame the obstacles placed in her way by GMC administrators.

It is apparent from archived documents in the University Libraries' Special Collections Research Center that admissions officers and directors of the college were not committed to recruiting or welcoming people of color in the 1950s and 1960s. The story of Mrs. Willson's undergraduate enrollment and academic success speaks more about her than it does the institution of higher learning that granted her degree.

After Mrs. Willson's graduation from GMC, her battle against inequality remained a core value that she instilled in her own family. 

In 1915, Ms. Irma Ricks was born in Manassas.  She resided in the Northern Virginia area until 1935. The next year she married Mr. Donald Willson in New York. Donald and Irma Willson had two daughters, Audrey and Adrienne, and two sons, Donald and Wayne. Some time before 1965 the Willson family relocated to Centreville, Virginia. Mrs. Irma Willson died in August of 2001. 

Audrey Willson is a strong example of following her mother's path and continuing the fight against inequality. Known as Yve-I Rastafari at the time of her death, Audrey was a member of the Congress for Racial Equality, and she helped shape the Black Cultural Consciousness movement.  She earned a Masters Degree in Education and launched Artists for Orphans, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing educational, physical, emotional, and financial support to Ethiopian orphans. Yve-I Rastafari's daughter, Memuna Abdur, married Craig Lee, the son of US House of Representative Barbara Lee.  Congresswoman Lee is among the most committed  legislators in America who uses the law to fight institutional racism and promote public education. 

Mrs. Irma Willson’s determination to earn a degree from GMC might interest current students on campus. It is hoped that GMU will create a discussion with members of its own community about the unsung founders, like Irma Willson, who actually graduated from our school.

By Veronica Mata

Prev Next