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 at all,” 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.
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 was just 12 years old when UGA was desegregated, and while the university was definitely not her first choice for college she came to treasure her experiences in Athens.
“I thought I had made a sacrifice,” Vaughn recalls from her home in Atlanta. “But it was really the best thing that could have happened.”
Vaughn and her college roommate, also an African-American, were among the first students to live in Brumby Hall. After classes, Vaughn would join other African-American students at Memorial Hall, where they ate, played cards, and talked. She was a freshman when Harold Black and Tyrone Barnett became Terry’s first black graduates in 1966, but she didn’t have contact with them or with many minority students. At first, she was lonely.
She was fueled, however, by the support of her local community. The Madisonian reported on her making the dean’s list and townspeople sent her gifts and cards throughout her college years. As Vaughn succeeded in the classroom, a few white students began to study and work with her on assignments. Her father, Nathaniel Davis Sr., influenced her decision to major in accounting. As a child, she had accompanied him when he collected rent on properties he managed.
By the time she graduated, Vaughn had a completely different outlook on the university.
“It was great to be a black student with a UGA degree,” she says, and job offers followed.
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 — who would later earn her CPA license — to show the same tenacity she had displayed at UGA.
“That experience I had at Georgia gave me what I needed to work for an agency like the IRS,” says Vaughn. “(Businesses) didn’t want me there because I was an IRS agent. They weren’t used to having someone looking like me doing that.”
Vaughn later worked 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.
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.
Vaughn has been a guest panelist at Terry, and on a recent visit to campus she and her three best friends from UGA — who still talk weekly — wondered aloud, “Is this our campus?”
“We listened to black students and Hispanic students speaking so positively about their experiences at UGA,” says Vaughn. “We were so happy. We claim credit, I tell you that, just as much as Charlayne and Hamilton.”