Merze Tate was a professor, scholar, author and diplomacy expert who achieved a series of notable firsts in her lifetime. Tate is the first African-American to graduate from what is now known as Western Michigan University, and the first African-American woman to attend the University of Oxford.
Born February 6, 1905, in Blanchard, Michigan, Tate excelled as a student, although schools were inadequate for Black students during her youth. Tate entered Western Michigan Teachers College to join the profession in her home state. Racist hiring practices prevented her from being hired in Michigan, so she took a job as a teacher in Indiana.
Not much is known about this period of Tate’s life, but she became known for exposing her students to the value of travel via a club she began during her early teaching days. This zeal for globe-trotting would become a hallmark of Tate’s further education and career.
Tate attended Oxford in 1932 studying European diplomatic history, advanced economics and international law, among other subjects. In 1935, she earned a Bachelor of Literature degree from the institution, becoming the first Black American to receive the degree. Tate also studied at the University of Berlin while in Europe. She returned to the States to teach history at Barber-Scotia College in Concord, N.C.