Mercer University awards honorary degree to music and desegregation pioneer Little Richard

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MACON Ga. — He’s said to be one of the first crossover black artists to reach audiences of all races.

Many most notably know Little Richard (born Richard Wayne Penniman) for his screeching lyrics and music hit “Tutti Frutti,” now a cult rock classic, but fewer associate Richard’s celebrity status who his segregated upbringing in Macon, Georgia, where singing was used as a guise against racial tensions.

Macon’s Mercer University recently honored the singing legend on Saturday, May 11; bestowing him with an honorary degree in humanities for his contributions in music and in uniting people of all races—a moving salute in the city where Richard once had to “keep to his side” in the poor community of Pleasant Hill.

“His concerts broke the color line, drawing blacks and whites together despite attempts to sustain segregation,” record producer H.B. Barnum once expressed.

And longtime friend and Macon resident Gary Montgomery described Richard as “…loving all people, regardless of whether they are black, white or purple.”

Hate groups however, like the North Alabama White Citizens Council, worked hard to try to counter Richard’s spreading influence, issuing public warnings against rock and roll’s power to bring races together; but Richard continued to win audiences with his flamboyantly entertainment antics, flicker lights, and Pancake 31 makeup.

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The son of a deacon who sold bootlegged moonshine as a side hustle, and having been kicked out of church once for screaming and hollering so loud that he was nicknamed, “War Hawk,” Richard never was a traditional child or entertainer.

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Supremacy groups could scarcely hold back his impact, as police could hardly hold wild fans from trying to jump off the balcony of Baltimore’s Royal Theater during Richard’s performance in 1956.

Because of his indomitable legacy, though swirled with controversies and divided between secular and religious attempts, Little Richard earned one additional honor during the day from his hometown; news that his boyhood home would not be demolished for a highway expansion project. The home will instead be relocated and used as a community resource center. Whooo!!

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