REFLECTIONS FROM USD’S FIRST BLACK WOMAN GRADUATE
Living in Washington, D.C for more than 50 years, Ellissia (Darley) Price-Fagin ’66 (BA) has seen plenty of history up close. And as a student in the San Diego College for Women, she made history of her own.
Her life story is more interesting than many novels. Price-Fagin was born on the East Coast and arrived by train to San Diego as an infant where she was adopted by a military veteran and his wife. From an early age, the family attended Christ the King church, a parish that had Latino, Black and white members. Her father worked for the Navy and reminded her “almost every day” that she was expected to attend college.
After winning a poetry competition, she attended the awards ceremony at USD. “I saw the campus and said, ‘That’s where I want to go to school,’” she recalls.
Her adopted mother had passed away when she was only seven, but had left her brother in Los Angeles some land. When Price-Fagin graduated from high school, he presented her with a check from its sale to pay for college.
Price-Fagin was unfazed about attending the College for Women. Being in the minority “was not something different or new,” she says. “I had decided if people didn’t like me, they didn’t like me because of me the person, not my color,” she says with a laugh.
Still, her life experiences stood out. For example, in her civics class, her professor told students that poll taxes had been ended in the South. When she reported that her grandmother in Louisiana was still paying them, “the class got very quiet,” she recalls.
While there were two Black students in her class initially, they did not stay, Price-Fagin recalls. When she graduated in 1966, several of the nuns told her stepmother they believed she was the first Black woman to graduate, although there is no official record.
Asked about the honor of being the first, Price-Fagin is modest. “I enjoyed it,” she says. “I got a great education.” In 2016, she returned to USD for her 50th reunion and was excited to begin connecting with members of the Black Alumni Network.
“We are so blessed to have her wisdom, knowledge and excellence,” says network chair Kelsi Dantu ’19 (BA). “She deserves to be honored and applauded for her resilience and strength.”
After graduation, Price-Fagin moved to the nation’s capital after marrying a graduate from USD’s College for Men who then attended medical school at Howard University College of Medicine.
When the marriage ended, she stayed in the District, continuing what would become a 46-year career as a teacher, school counselor and counseling specialist, eventually supervising and training 250 counselors in the Fairfax County school district in suburban Virginia. She received numerous awards, including American Counselor of the Year and the Virginia Counselors Association Van Hoose Career and Service Award. Now retired and remarried at age 75, she serves on two counseling boards and enjoys traveling, reading and singing in her church choir.
Over the years, she’s been an eyewitness to many of the events taking place in the District from the riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King to the election of Barack Obama, whom she had a chance to meet before he became president. Dismayed by the current political situation, she remains resolute.
“We’ve got to stand up for what’s right and do what’s right,” she says. “Sometimes you take two steps forward and 10 back, but you have to keep moving forward.” — Liz Harman
Note: This story will appear in the Fall 2020 issue of USD Magazine, which will be printed and distributed in Fall 2020.