Mary Mudd was born in the 1940s, during a time of transition. The world was changing around her; the United States was in the midst of mounting racial tension that would lead to the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s, and women were still fighting for their equality in terms of education and employment. She grew up in public housing on Atlanta’s west side, across the street from Atlanta University Center, which was the largest coeducational consortium of historically African American educational institutions in the country at the time. Every morning on her way to elementary school, Mary walked through Mars Brown campus. Growing up next to the University Center and its activities, Mary always knew she would go to college: “I didn’t know where I would go, but I knew I’d go somewhere. I grew up across the street from all these colleges—even though it was public housing—and I saw college students all the time, so it wasn’t unusual to think that I could do that” (Interview).
Mary did well in school and went on to attend Booker T. Washington High School, the first black public secondary school in Atlanta. Her parents supported her pursuit of education and encouraged her exploration of other creative outlets such as music, especially since her father played in a band himself. Mary began to play the clarinet at just seven years old. Music had, and would continue to have, a great impact on her life. She joined her high school band and traveled to colleges to play in competitions. Through band, she became familiar with Tennessee State University (TSU) in Nashville. Later, a TSU student teacher came to her high school to direct the band and encouraged her to attend the University, where she planned to pursue a degree in music.
After graduating from high school, Mary received a scholarship to attend TSU. Although Mary left for TSU with dreams of earning a degree in music, she soon realized that her passion was in education: “I took piano lessons growing up and I do love music, but I hated practicing. I wanted to be with people. With a music major, everyone spends their time locked up in little private practice rooms all over campus, but everyone is alone. I couldn’t do that” (Interview).
Mary changed her major to education, subsequently losing her full-ride scholarship to TSU. Her parents still supported her choice, and they all worked together to come up with the extra money needed to pay for Mary’s tuition. She recalls, “I just realized it was the right thing to do. And as long as I had a way of paying