New scholarship honors activist and educator Reginald Wilson, Ph.D.

Reginald "Reg" Wilson was born and raised in Detroit, the youngest of four boys. He attended Balch Elementary School, Garfield Junior High School and Cass Technical High School. When he got to Cass Tech, the counselor said he should forget about English classes and signed him up for Electrical Engineering classes. Reg, however, never gave up his love of English classes and reading. He never gave up when it came to anything he believed in.

After Cass Tech, Reg followed his brothers into the military, joining the Army Air Corps (Air Force) which led him to become a Tuskegee Airman. Upon returning from World War II, a white sergeant segregated the Black soldiers from the white soldiers using the "N" word, and Reg said this was when he realized he would have to fight for the rest of his life. This is when he became an activist!

Upon returning to Detroit, Reg again followed in his brother's path and went to work at Ford Motor Company. After an arduous first day, he did not return. Instead, he walked from Osborne Street to Wayne State University, where he enrolled utilizing the G.I. Bill. He became known in the neighborhood as "Book Boy" by the guys hanging out on the corner who often watched him walk to class. In 1950, he graduated with his bachelor's degree in special education. But he was not done making the walk to class. Reg never stopped learning.

Continued education

Reg continued his studies at Wayne State in Clinical Psychology while he worked as a teacher for emotionally disturbed students in Detroit Public Schools. He received his master's degree in 1958 and then completed his doctoral degree in 1971, publishing his 175-page dissertation on African and Caribbean students.

Dr. Wilson became a prolific scholar. Speaking at conferences and universities throughout the country, he described the disadvantages Black students faced in educational settings. As director of Black Studies at the University of Detroit and as president of Wayne County Community College from 1971-1981, he strived to improve student outcomes in his hometown.

Dr. Wilson's widow, Dianne K. Perry, Ph.D., M.Ed. '72, has created an endowed scholarship to honor Dr. Wilson's lifelong commitment to promoting education and equity. The Reginald Wilson, Ph.D. Endowed Scholarship will assist students transferring from Wayne County Community College to Wayne State. Dr. Wilson was president of the former from 1971 to 1981. He took 'WC3' from a storefront school to a vibrant accredited community college with five campuses.

Dr. Wilson also received many awards and honorary degrees, including the Anthony Wayne Award, Distinguished Alumnus Award and Carter G. Woodson Award, all from Wayne State. He was well-published with four books and numerous professional articles. Evidently, the Cass Tech counselor who had told him to forget about English and Literature was wrong!

A life of leadership

Dr. Perry first met Dr. Wilson when she was attending Wayne State working on her master's degree. Dr. Wilson was teaching as an adjunct at the time. Later, Dr. Perry and her friend Jo-Ann Snyder, M.Ed. '78, Ed.D. '84 attended anti-racism workshops for teachers at New Perspectives on Race and People Acting for Change Together. Both nonprofits were funded by New Detroit, and Dr. Wilson was a board member and trainer for both organizations.

"I liked how his teaching was always experiential," Dr. Snyder said. "By pulling out things that had happened to us in our lives and drawing conclusions that way, we learned better than we would have if we were just given information."

Dr. Wilson took his perspectives to the nation's capital, joining the American Council on Education (ACE) in 1981. He continued serving ACE and underrepresented students for the rest of his life, founding the ACE Office of Minority Concerns and publishing the widely read ACE Minorities in Higher Education Status Report. Every year, educators reminisce about him when ACE presents the Reginald Wilson Diversity Leadership Award in his honor.

Even in recreation, Dr. Wilson was a leader. In 1958, he co-founded the first African American ski club in the country - the Jim Dandy Ski Club - which remains active today.

Dr. Perry and Dr. Wilson became friends in the years that followed, crossing paths at anti-racism trainings and political events.

More than 40 years later, their friendship evolved, and they married in 2019. They continued advocating together for social justice until Dr. Wilson died on December 13, 2020.

Continuing his legacy

The Reginald Wilson, Ph.D. Endowed Scholarship in the College of Education will support students demonstrating financial need who, like Dr. Wilson, are interested in teaching, curriculum, counseling, psychology or research. In recognition of his tenure as president, preference will be given to applicants transferring from Wayne County Community College.

Dr. Perry noted that creating a scholarship to honor Dr. Wilson's legacy seemed particularly appropriate given his consistent philanthropy and educational leadership. "Every month, he would mail in donations to the Tuskegee Airmen Fund and other charities," she said. "He believed in giving back."

Dr. Perry added that Dr. Wilson would want others to follow his example and build on the foundation of a strong education.

"He would encourage students to take every opportunity they can to learn, whether it be conferences, coursework or service," Dr. Perry said. "His Wayne State degrees gave him his start."

To join Dr. Perry in supporting promising College of Education students as they build their own advocacy careers, please contribute to the Reginald Wilson, Ph.D. Endowed Scholarship. For details on how to make a gift, contact Joye Clark, director of development at the College of Education, at 313-577-1671 or

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