Alumna Pearlie Toliver, who was among Mercer University’s first Black female students, will give the 2023 Founders’ Day address at 10:20 a.m. on Feb. 1 in Willingham Auditorium on the Macon campus.
Every year on Founders’ Day, a Mercerian is asked to return to campus to share his or her experiences at Mercer and beyond. The speaker delivers a speech that fits into the annual theme chosen by the Heritage Life Committee of the Student Government Association. The organization coordinates the annual convocation, which first took place in 1891.
Before attending Mercer, Toliver was one of the first Black graduates of a racially integrated public school system in Macon.
She was chosen to highlight an essential part of Mercer’s history, said Heritage Life Committee Chair Anniston Nooks, a senior double-majoring in marketing and communication studies. Toliver offers a unique perspective as a Black woman who attended Mercer from 1965-1968, Nooks said.
“Most of Mercer’s historical texts highlight Sam Oni and his perspective, which is a great one, but I wanted to shine a light on the various perspectives that came after him,” Nooks said.
In 1963, Oni, an African missionary convert from Ghana, was the first Black student accepted to Mercer.
“We hope that Miss Pearlie Toliver will provide some wisdom as to how far Mercer has come,” Nooks said. “This is what we want to focus on this year: the progress Mercer has made since becoming integrated.”
This Founders’ Day marks the 60th anniversary of Mercer’s integration. Years ago, Tolliver served on an ad hoc committee to plan the University’s celebration of 50 years of integration. She now sits on a committee to select a physical representation of the progress and ongoing mission of integration.
After graduating from Mercer, Toliver went on to have a successful career in retail banking and mortgage lending, retiring after 37 years as vice president from Branch Banking and Trust Co. She previously served as the community reinvestment officer/lender for the bank for 12 years.
“She’s done a lot concerning financial literacy and progress for the people that live in Macon, so we’re super excited to have her talk and provide insight to the student body,” Nooks said.
In 1985, Toliver graduated from Leadership Macon, a yearlong program that introduces a class of upcoming community leaders to the qualities and challenges of Macon-Bibb County. In 2017, she received the Robert F. Hatcher Distinguished Leadership Award for her service in the program. In addition, she is a recipient of the Women of Achievement Award in Macon and the Liberty Bell Award from the Macon Bar Association.
Toliver currently serves as chair for the Board of Commissioners of the Macon Housing Authority. She previously served as a member of the Bibb County Consolidated Government Transition Team where she was chair of the Finance Committee.
She has also served on various boards and commissions in Macon and the state of Georgia, such as the 1999 Macon-Bibb Unification Commission, the Georgia Tobacco Commission and the Georgia Student Finance Commission. Representing Mercer, she participated in the Achieving the Promise of Authentic Community-Higher Education Summit.
Toliver is a lifetime member of the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce and has participated in the local and state boards for the League of Women Voters. In her spare time, she enjoys music and helping others achieve economic success and financial security.