Columbus Native, Civil Rights Icon Dies | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Columbus Native, Civil Rights Icon Dies

COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) — Diane Hardy Thompson, one of three African-American women who integrated then-Mississippi College for Women in 1966, has died at an Augusta, Ga., burn center. She was 64.

Officials with Lee-Sykes Funeral Home in Columbus say a funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday. Other details are pending. Survivors include her daughter, her mother and other siblings

Karen Thompson McKinstry of Columbus, Thompson's daughter, tells The Clarion-Ledger ( ) that her mother, who had been battling bone cancer, had suffered a bad reaction to treatment; she had not been burned.

The retired schoolteacher finally got her degree from Mississippi University for Women in 1996, 30 years after the school was integrated.

She was honored at the annual Dream 365 breakfast, among events in Columbus' Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, Jan. 21, but was too ill to attend. Her daughter accepted the award.

Laverne Greene-Leech and Barbara Turner Bankhead were also part of the trio that integrated the college; all were part of same high school senior class in Columbus.

"We were close friends and we knew we were going to college, but we didn't know how," Greene-Leech, also of Columbus, said. "At that particular time, the 'W' was the most reasonable college that we could have gone to.

"We weren't trying to do anything special. We just wanted to go to school. We enrolled. Of course, in 1966, it was not the thing to do, but we did."

Their bond didn't help with the isolation they felt, "just knowing that we weren't wanted on that campus," she said.

Greene-Leech was the first to leave, in 1967.

"I couldn't take any more ... Barbara stayed on through '68 and Diane stayed on through '69," she said. "We all kind of had a bad taste in our mouth about the 'W.' But as time went on and healing began, I think we all felt better. ... Diane and I began to reconcile and to see the progress the W has made now, we were happy. And we knew that whatever we went through, it was well worth it for the students today."

After going back and receiving her degree, Thompson taught 6th grade science at West Lowndes Middle School until her retirement in 2010.

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