DeKALB – The first Northern Illinois University homecoming queen was selected in 1947 – and none of the school’s queens were African American.
Until Carol Briggs in October 17, 1975.
Briggs, 65, of Chicago, was a senior nursing student in 1975, working the front desk of the former Douglas Residence Hall, as well as a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority at NIU.
Being chosen as Homecoming Queen, however, was a surprise.
“When they announced my name, there was a feeling of excitement, joy and amazement that I had actually won,” Briggs said.
Excitement flooded the Chick Evans Field House she was crowned in. Torry Stokes, then a member of her sorority, also was the first African American to be crowned Homecoming King.
“When my name was read, I walked down to the center of the court,” she said. “It was probably one of the most joyous moments of my life, and especially my life at NIU.”
Briggs said she thought the fact that her dormitory nominated her made the selection more unique.
“I ran with the support of the campus and the support of my sorority,” she said. “But I can tell you despite whatever jeers were present, the cheers were greater. The jeers didn’t matter.”
Although not everybody was thrilled Briggs was crowned Homecoming Queen, many others, especially from Douglas Residence Hall, were overjoyed. While being a minority on campus had its challenges, she said that her experience overall was positive.
“No matter the ups and downs, no matter the challenges, they were four years I would repeat,” Briggs said.
One of the biggest such challenges she faced was applying and eventually being accepted into the nursing program.
“My last few years were extra challnging going through the course work,” she said. “I studied when my sorority sisters were out having a good time.
I was at home working really hard to get ahead of the game and be successful in the program.”
She remembers only three or four other African American students being enrolled in the entire nursing program at that time.
“We’ve kind of followed each other’s careers since then,” she said.
After graduation, she was a registered nurse for 11 years – seven of which were spent as a neonatal intensive care nurse at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago. After her time nursing at hospitals, she became a school nurse for eight years. Then she spent another 15 years as a school administrator.
Briggs said her belief in herself propelled her to succeed.
“If you’re prepared and you’re ready and you are qualified, nobody can take away what’s meant for you,” she said. “Success can be yours.”