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First African American woman to graduate from Wilmington College dies at 87

Lela Thompson ’67 was the first African American to graduate from UNCW. She visited Watson College of Education with her family on August 14, 2018. (Bradley Pearce/UNCW).

WILMINGTON — The first African American woman to graduate from Wilmington College, now UNCW, died on Dec. 30.

Lela Thompson, class of 1967, received her bachelor’s degree in education and taught in New Hanover County Schools for 30 years. While enrolled at UNCW, she was also a wife and mother of four children.

Thompson was also a significant contributor to the local theater. She was involved in the Willis Richardson Players, acting in the troupe and later serving as president for nearly two decades. Thompson was the first recipient of the Enduring Contribution to Wilmington Theater Award by StarNews Media in 2012. The award was later named in her honor.  

View the obituary for information about the public viewing and Thompson’s celebration of life service. 


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