Everett H. Wilson, son of Eastern Shore sharecroppers who was one of the first African-American students to enroll at St. John's College in Annapolis and later became a social worker, died Tuesday of pneumonia at Anne Arundel Medical Center.
The longtime Severna Park resident was 79.
"Everett was one of what we call 'The Magnificent Seven' who came to St. John's before Brown v. Board of Education," said Christopher B. Nelson, president of St. John's College. "He is one of the loveliest human beings who ever walked on the face of the earth. He was a friendly man who was courteous and generous with his time."
Everett Henry Wilson, the son of Richard and Etha Wilson, Eastern Shore sharecroppers, was born in Parsonsburg in Wicomico County and raised in Salisbury.
During his high school days at segregated Salisbury High School, Mr. Wilson earned the nickname of "Professor," family members said.
After graduating in 1952 from high school, where he was class valedictorian, he became the second African-American to enroll at St. John's College on a State Senatorial Scholarship.
"He earned it because a classmate dared him to the state merit test at the courthouse in Salisbury, on which he scored the highest of everyone taking the test, and he was the only African-American in the room," said his son, Anton Wilson of Severna Park.
While at St. John's, Mr. Wilson struck a blow for integration when he went to the nearby Little Campus tavern one evening in 1954, which earlier had denied service to student Martin A. Dyer, the first African-American to break the color barrier at St. John's in 1948.
"That was the same tavern that denied Martin," Mr. Wilson told The Baltimore Sun in a 2004 interview. "The owner said, 'Welcome.' I'll never forget it. That was the end of that."
Mr. Nelson said that Mr. Wilson joined the other African-Americans who had broken the color barrier at St. John's for a 50th reunion.
Reflecting on St. John's great books curriculum, Mr. Wilson told The Sun in 1993, "What the college teaches is timeless. Why should it change?"
After graduating from St. John's in 1956, Mr. Wilson became the first African-American intern at Jewish Family and Children's Services in Baltimore, and he also worked as a psychiatric social case worker at the old Crownsville State Hospital.
In 1964, he earned a master's degree in social work from the University of Maryland and did additional graduate work at the University of Pennsylvania.
He joined Omega Psi Phi in 1965, and became a charter member of NOMADS of Annapolis, a service organization that works with at-risk youths.
During the mid-1960s, Mr. Wilson was the first director of the Office of Economic Opportunity's anti-poverty program in Maryland, and in 1966 was appointed Anne Arundel County's anti-poverty director.
Then for 30 years until retiring in 2004, Mr. Wilson was deputy director of the state Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration.
The focus of Mr. Wilson's life centered on St. John's College.
"He never forgot the college and was always around and willing to help us," said Mr. Nelson. "I can see him now; he had a light bouncy way when he walked up to the college where he was always willing to spread the gospel of St. John's."
In 2006, Mr. Wilson was presented the college's Alumni Association Award of Merit.
Mr. Wilson was a lifelong active communicant of St. Philip's Episcopal Church in Annapolis, where he served as an usher and on numerous boards and committees.
"He loved his church and community, working in his yard and flower garden for relaxation until he was unable to do so," said his son.
As a young man, Mr. Wilson played the saxophone and retained a lifelong affection for jazz.
A memorial service for Mr. Wilson will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at his church, 730 Bestgate Road, Annapolis.
In addition to his son, Mr. Wilson is survived by his wife of 57 years, the former Elsie Mae Rider; a daughter, Mia Wilson of Atlanta; a sister, Barbara Cottman of Delmar; and many nieces and nephews.
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