Mrs. Clara Belle Williams was the first black student to graduate from New Mexico College of Agriculture & Mechanic Arts (now known as NMSU). She enrolled in the university in the fall of 1928. Mrs. Williams taught at Booker T. Washington Elementary School in Las Cruces, New Mexico for more than 20 years, during a time when Las Cruces’s public schools were segregated. While teaching she was taking courses only offered during the summer and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in English from NMSU in 1937 at the age of 51. Clara Belle Williams continued her education well beyond her graduation date, taking graduate level classes into the 1950s.
She succeeded despite significant obstacles of discrimination placed upon her while pursuing her higher education. In 1961, New Mexico State University named Williams Street on the NMSU-Las Cruces campus in her honor. She received an Honorary Doctorate of Laws degree from NMSU in 1980. Mrs. Williams passed away July 3, 1994 at the age of 108.
On Sunday, February 13, 2005 at NMSU New Mexico State University renamed its English building as Clara Belle Williams Hall “in honor of a person who was unquestionably a pioneer,” in the words of President Michael Martin.