First African American Student Admitted to Spring Hill Dies


Alumna Julia Ponquinette Joyner, M.D., passed away on January 7, in Richmond, Va. She made history on The Hill by being the first African American student admitted to the College in 1954. Joyner and seven other classmates – Mary Andrea Abrams ’57, Patricia Blackmon ’58, Robert Buchanan ’57, Elbert LaLande ’57, Cecilia Mitchell ’58 and Fannie Motley, ‘56; bravely desegregated the College in September 1954, by quietly joining the student population.

Julie Clementine Ponquinette was born November 2, 1934, in Mobile, Alabama, to Myrtle Parker, a homemaker, and Ernest Ponquinette, a Mobile shipyard worker who was also a talented musician. “Julie” was the middle child among seven Ponquinette children.

Dr. Joyner attended Most Pure Heart of Mary School, graduating in 1952, and went on to Loyola University in Chicago, intending to pursue pre-law. However, after two years, she changed course to a pre-med curriculum. She returned home to Mobile in 1954, where she transferred to Spring Hill College.

“We fully appreciate that Julia was a trailblazer at Spring Hill, opening doors to the transformative experience of higher education for women and people of color across the south and the United States,” said Mary H. Van Brunt, PhD, Spring Hill’s 39th President. “As a student, her example taught an infinite number of people the importance of acceptance in our communities. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family.  We are grateful for Julia for being a part of our lasting legacy of providing academic excellence to all people.”

The final item on the agenda for Spring Hill College’s consultors’ meeting of May 7, 1954, was an application for admission received from “one Julia Ponquinette, a young African-American woman from the Mobile area.”  She was studying at Loyola University in Chicago and wanted to return home to the south after being homesick. During her time on The Hill, Julia was inducted into the National Honor Society for Biology.

After graduating from Spring Hill in 1958 with a degree in biology, Joyner went on to attend Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., earning an M.D. in 1963. It was there that she met a student named Lawrence Turner Joyner who was pursuing a dental degree. Lawrence and Julie married in April 1963. The following year they moved to Washington, D.C., when Julie was offered a position as a resident in psychiatry at Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital. That same year they welcomed their firstborn son, Richard, and two years later, a second son, Charles. In 1970 the family moved into a home on the St. Elizabeths campus, officially named “Staff Residence Number 7,” where they spent many happy and productive years.

During her 23 years at St. Elizabeth’s, Dr. Joyner earned a reputation as an outstanding clinician and a capable division director. She rose quickly from staff psychiatrist to hospital superintendent (chief executive) of this facility that housed some 8,000 patients.

In 1979, the family moved to suburban Clifton, Virginia. Eight years later, she retired from St. Elizabeths and established a private practice in psychiatry in Alexandria, Va., and worked at a state-run mental health clinic in Springfield. She retired from her practice in 2014 – at the age of 80 –  leaving a legacy of innumerable cherished and grateful patients.

She lost her husband Lawrence suddenly in 1999 but remained in Clifton, Va. In her retirement, she enjoyed cooking, home decor, and even woodworking, converting the garage into an impressive workshop. Dr. Julia Ponquinette Joyner passed away peacefully in the hospital with her family by her side.

Services will be held this Friday, January 20, at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 9505 Gayton Rd., Henrico Va. In lieu of flowers, the family would ask you to consider a donation to Mental Health America or Habitat for Humanity, two charities that embrace Julie’s spirit of compassion and beneficence.