75 years later, Isaac Scott Hathaway’s impact as one of the first African-American professors at Auburn lives on in the College of Human Sciences

Graham Brooks | Communications Editor

An important milestone in the history of Auburn University’s College of Human Sciences came in the summer of 1947, as Isaac Scott Hathaway made an immediate impact the moment he stepped on campus with his brilliant ceramic skills, but more importantly, for breaking the race barrier by becoming one of Auburn’s first African-American professors. Hathaway taught a ceramics class 16 years prior to Auburn’s integration in 1964.

The summer of 2022 marked the 75th anniversary of Hathaway breaking the color barrier at Auburn and Dr. Charles Hendrix, professor emeritus in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Auburn University, is determined to continue sharing the impact Hathaway had on students in the College of Human Sciences.

An avid collector, Hendrix has donated an extensive collection to the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art and still holds some original pottery pieces that Hathaway’s students created during his stint as a ceramics professor at Auburn. In addition, he plans to donate a very special plaque that Hathaway created of Dr. George Washington Carver shortly after Carver’s death in 1943.

“This is the 75th anniversary of Dr. Marion Walker Spidle taking the initiative of having the first African-American faculty member come to Auburn for six weeks in 1947,” Hendrix said. “He enthralled people across campus and was just a multi-disciplinary gentleman. What Dr. George Washington Carver was to science, Isaac Scott Hathaway was to the arts. Since African-Americans did not have role models in museums to see what their leaders look like, he started doing busts of people. He did all the great black leaders at the time and got to be so good that the United States mint called him to do not one, but two 50-cent commemorative pieces.”

Dr. Spidle, who served as the Dean of Women and Head of the School of Home Economics at Alabama Polytechnic Institute at the time, was instrumental in bringing Hathaway on board despite API being an all-white institution in 1947.

After Hathaway taught the summer course in ceramics, Spidle took the time to write a letter of reference for Hathaway following his outstanding instruction and lectures in the composition and analysis of clays, slips and glazes as the letter reads in part; “Isaac Hathaway clearly showed how well qualified he is to make his own formulas using all Alabama clay. He is thoroughly familiar with the subject matter and presented it in such an appealing manner that he attracted students in chemistry and architecture as well as home economics to his courses. I consider Professor Hathaway an authority in his field and it is a pleasure to recommend him for any type of work in ceramics.”

As it turns out, Spidle’s meaningful letter of recommendation for Hathaway would serve him well after his time at Auburn as he moved on to become the Director of Ceramics at Alabama State College where he worked until his retirement in 1963.

Hendrix, who shared a copy of Hathaway’s letter of recommendation written by Spidle, said it’s important to share pieces like this because Auburn has such a strong history of selfless leaders.

“I love sharing the history of Auburn,” Hendrix said. “Auburn is so rich and the selfless and classy things that the people have done at this university… it’s the kind of place that’s a wonderful place to be. There’s just so many stories and Isaac Scott Hathaway’s is just one.”