MTSU honors ‘unsung heroes’ at 16th Unity Luncheon...

MTSU honors ‘unsung heroes’ at 16th Unity Luncheon

Four history-making women pose for a photo Feb. 7 outside MTSU's Tennessee Room before the University's 16th annual Unity Luncheon, which celebrates the "unsung heroes" of community service during Black History Month. From left are luncheon guest speaker Dr. Phyllis Qualls-Brooks, executive director of the Tennessee Economic Council on Women, and Unity honorees Olivia M. Woods, Thenartis Ellis and Mary Scales. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

Since 1996, MTSU has held its Unity Luncheon during Black History Month to honor the “unsung heroes” of middle Tennessee’s African-American community.

The 2012 celebration, conducted Feb. 7. in the University’s James Union building, sang the praises of a trio of honorable women: Thenartis Ellis, Mary C. Scales and Olivia Murray Woods.

Ellis was the first African-American hired in a departmental office at MTSU. She worked as a secretary in the Department of Economics and Finance for 36 years until her retirement.

Ellis also was a member of the Clerical Caucus, the Association for Secretarial and Clerical Employees, the Black History Committee and a recipient of the MTSU Secretary of the Year Award.

Scales, MTSU’s first African-American professor, is known for her decades of teaching and civic work, including her longtime membership on the Murfreesboro City School Board and her election as the first black woman on the Murfreesboro City Council.

Scales, who also is owner of Scales & Sons Funeral Home, is credited with helping to formulate the “mini-school” concept at then-Central Middle School.

Woods was the first African-American to enroll at MTSU as an undergraduate student. She earned her Bachelor of Science in elementary education in 1965 and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction in 1974, teaching second and third grade in the Murfreesboro City Schools until her retirement in 1986.

Guest speaker Dr. Phyllis Qualls-Brooks, executive director of the Tennessee Council on Women, addressed the attendees, which included members of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the Intercultural and Diversity Affairs Center and the Murfreesboro City School Board along with dozens of students, family, friends and associates of the honorees and of MTSU.

Nominees for each year’s Unity Luncheon honor must be aged 60 or older, have resided in middle Tennessee for at least 25 years and have made outstanding contributions to their community. To nominate an “unsung hero” for 2013, visit

For more information about MTSU’s Black History Month events, please visit

— Kristy Hardin (