Margaret Davis Vaughn grew up dreaming of attending a historically black college and pledging a black sorority. But Vaughn’s parents and school officials in her hometown of Madison, Ga., envisioned a different future for the Pearl High School valedictorian.
“My decision to go to the University of Georgia was not my decision,” says Vaughn (BBA ’70), who not only attended UGA but ended up making history there as the Terry College’s first African-American female graduate in 1970. “But because UGA provided an excellent educational opportunity and lasting friendships, I am thankful they made that decision for me.”
Vaughn was much more than valedictorian at Pearl High. She was editor of the school’s first yearbook, and author of its first alma mater. Not surprisingly, she was named best all-around female student—which explains why her parents and the Pearl High principal believed Vaughn possessed all the necessary traits to follow in the footsteps of Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes, who integrated the university when they registered for classes on Jan. 9, 1961.
Vaughn entered UGA soon after Harold Black and Tyrone Barnett became Terry’s first black graduates in 1966. She and her college roommate, also an African-American, were among the first students to live in Brumby Hall. After classes, Vaughn would socialize with other African-American students at Memorial Hall, where they ate, played cards, and talked. But she felt isolated from the rest of the student body.
She was fueled, however, by the support of her local community. The Madisonian ran a story about her making the dean’s list, and townspeople sent her gifts and cards throughout her college years. As Vaughn succeeded in the classroom, the social climate began to change as a few white students began studying with her.
As a child, Vaughn had accompanied her father, Nathaniel Davis Sr., when he collected money from rental properties he managed—and that influenced her decision to major in accounting at Terry. By the time she graduated, Vaughn had a completely different outlook on her college years.
“I was happy to have a degree from the Terry College!”
The Internal Revenue Service was seeking the best black accounting graduates it could find, and Vaughn came onboard in 1972. Working as a field agent required Vaughn to show the same tenacity she had displayed at UGA. Vaughn also served as an IRS appeals officer, helping Fortune 500 firms and other companies settle complex, multi-million dollar tax cases and also writing reports for the Joint Committee on Taxation. She retired from the IRS in 2004, but she still does consulting work as a licensed CPA.
It’s funny how things turn out in life. Vaughn and her late husband had also planned for their son to attend a historically black college. But A. David Vaughn III (BBA ’00) ended up following in his mother’s footsteps by attending UGA and majoring in finance at Terry. He works for Cox Enterprises in Atlanta.
Vaughn has been a guest panelist at Terry diversity events, and on a recent visit to campus she and her three best friends from UGA—who still talk weekly—listened to black students speaking positively about their experiences at UGA.
“We were so happy to hear that,” says Vaughn, “and we claim some small credit for it.”