Anita Atkinson Ragland, C’57, developed her love for Spelman College long before she entered her 1953 freshman class at the age of 15. “When I was 9 years old in San Antonio, Texas, I would sit up in the huge pecan tree in our backyard and read chatty letters from my big sister Darlyne [Atkinson Killian, C’48]. “In 1948, I attended her graduation and have fond memories of the beautiful campus activities on that fine June day.”  In 1957, it was Ragland’s turn. Fifty years later, in May 2007, she returned to Spelman’s campus to celebrate her Golden Girl reunion bringing with her two special gifts for her beloved alma mater.

Ragland presented Spelman College President Beverly Daniel Tatum with the original painting titled “Future Golden Girl 2071.”  Inspired by her childhood memories, the painting depicts a young girl who is attending her big sister’s graduation.  “This is my personal gift,” said Ragland. “I wanted to show my appreciation to the College in a way that reflected how I felt about Spelman from years back.”  The 16×20-inch acrylic on canvas is permanently displayed in the Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby Academic Center. Limited editions of the painting in a canvas reproduction will be available in early 2012 with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Spelman College Art Department.

Work by Brittany Fields

Ragland’s second gift was The Anita Atkinson Ragland Prize for Excellence in the Visual Arts. This prize is awarded to students majoring in art and art history based on their performance during the Studio Review, an annual faculty evaluation of sophomore and junior students. The award was originally created as a “petty cash fund” to help committed art students in need of extra money for supplies. “That’s really important to me,” explained Ragland who recalls when she was a senior art major and had to be very careful about her resources.

“This prize provides much needed inspiration and encouragement to young women who need financial support,” said M. Akua McDaniel, Ph.D., associate professor and former chair of the department of art and art history.  Brittany A. Fields, C’2011, is one of those women. A two-time recipient, she received the award in the spring of her sophomore and junior years  and credits the gift with easing her financial stress using the opportunity to purchase art supplies, books, and to “splurge” on some artistic items she would normally not purchase.   Fields, now a graduate student at the New York Academy of Art, also said the award was incentive to create her best work for the portfolio review as it was a part of the selection process. “I truly appreciate Ragland for thinking of the Spelman art students and seeing the importance in encouraging and supporting us in our artistic endeavors.”

Ragland returned home to Texas after graduation from Spelman where she was an instructor at St. Philips Junior College. After marriage to a young army officer in 1958, she began a life of international travel and education and studied under professor Heinz Trokes, one of Germany’s leading abstract artists.  Receiving a master of arts degree in education from Incarnate Word Catholic College in 1965, she joined the college faculty, becoming one of the first African-Americans to integrate faculties in higher education in San Antonio. The same year, she and her sister, Darlyne, held a two-woman art exhibit at the San Antonio Witte Museum. Ragland and retired Lt. Col. Sherman Ragland Sr. were married for 45 years. They have three children and six grandchildren.

Ragland continues to fund her gift and maintains a close connection with the College and the recipients. “I am so impressed with their accomplishments,” said Ragland, who prints certificates for the awardees and writes them personal congratulatory notes. “I feel honored every time I receive their resumes.”– Lorraine Robertson is an Atlanta-based author, freelance writer, and regular contributor to Inside Spelman.