Berea College Statement on the Death of Jessie Reasor Zander, the State’s First Black Graduate Post-Day Law
The Berea College community is saddened by the passing of Jessie Reasor Zander, whose 1954 graduation from Berea made her the first African American student to earn a degree from a Kentucky college after the state’s Day Law was amended to allow interracial education. Zander passed away in Arizona at the age of 91.
An educator, school principal and avid traveler, Zander was a proud Berean but shied away from the label “barrier breaker.” Her love of Berea brought her back to campus many times. In 1989, she worked with student-teachers in the College’s Education Studies department and later with the Carter G. Woodson Center for Interracial Education, where she worked with African American high school students. She was also an award-winning poet. A work titled “Unifying Symbol,” about the need for cultural exchanges as a bridge to promote better understanding among people of different backgrounds, was published in the Appalachian Independent in July 1975. An excerpt from the work reads: I’d like to join you./In a trip toward healing, toward harmony and wholeness.…Say the word and I’ll join you/In a walk toward exchange/Toward a new consciousness and understanding.