“I BELIEVED THERE NEEDED TO BE A LIFTING UP OF THE WAY WE SAW OURSELVES, AS POWERFUL INDEPENDENT VOTERS. WE WERE GREATER IN NUMBERS THAN WE REALIZED, BUT WE NEEDED TO BOND AND BECOME A NUMBER TO BE RECKONED WITH, AND (VOTERS) WENT FOR IT.” – REV. SHEILA N. BOUIE-SLEDGE said.
This win was much more than a crown during a football game.
Reverend Sheila N. Bouie-Sledge ran for queen in fall 1971 knowing she wanted to represent independent students, commuters and those who would be the first college graduates in their families.
“I had been really, really active politically on campus,” she said. She served in student government and worked as a resident assistant.
Bouie-Sledge became the first African-American Homecoming Queen at what was then Southwest Missouri State. Given the racial turmoil of the time, she was stunned by her victory.
“I was extremely excited and very shocked, just almost disbelief. … I just can’t tell you. I just wanted us, as individuals and people, to love and be respectful toward each other,” she said.
In college with her twin
When she earned her degree in political science in 1972, she became the first person in her family to complete a bachelor’s degree.
“PEOPLE HAD DIFFERENT REASONS FOR BEING IN SCHOOL AND MINE WAS NOT TO GET A HUSBAND OR TO PARTY, MINE WAS TO MAKE MY MOM AND DAD SAY, ‘I MADE THE RIGHT DECISION. I’M SO PROUD OF YOU.’” – Rev. Sheila N. Bouie-Sledge said.
She didn’t do it alone: Her twin sister, Dr. Sylvia Saddler, also attended MSU, and they spent their days together despite being placed in different rooms in the residence hall. “They couldn’t keep us apart, to be honest with you!”
They still talk or see each other daily.
“She’s absolutely artistic and I’m absolutely political. I’m not artistic at all,” Bouie-Sledge said.
Bouie-Sledge is still grateful for how the school helped both sisters grow. “I think about what that campus provided for us, a very safe haven to be who God called us to be and to recognize that and to find ourselves. What we did there was like a launch pad for the rest of our lives.”
‘Homecoming is significant’
“HOMECOMING IS SIGNIFICANT IN SO MANY WAYS. TO SOME PEOPLE, IT’S A WEEKEND TO HAVE FUN AND RELAX; WITH OTHER PEOPLE, IT’S A GOOD FOOTBALL GAME. FOR ME, IT BECAME A RESPONSIBILITY TO STEP UP AND CHANGE WHO WE ARE WHEN WE COME HOME FOR HOMECOMING.” – Rev. Sheila N. Bouie-Sledge said.
Saddler retired as a St. Louis Public School District principal and art teacher, and Bouie-Sledge is now an associate pastor at Salem United Methodist Church in Ladue, Missouri. She is working on a doctorate of divinity, and her ordainment ceremony was actually held in Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts. She is also an inspirational speaker and started a nonprofit dedicated to diversity.
Bouie-Sledge has returned to the MSU campus for other Homecomings.
“I let people know I was Queen for the school, and they say, ‘wow.’ It actually did happen, and it was worth the work, it was worth the push,” Bouie-Sledge said.
To her, Homecoming can help people reflect.
Bouie-Sledge said, “If there are things we know we should improve, we have a responsibility to do it in such a way that is a positive change. We’re called to step out. We’re educated, we’re strong, we’re smart, and if we just do what little part we’re called to do, the rest of it will fall in place.”
Black Alumni Reunion
Reconnect with fellow alumni at the Black Alumni Council’s Homecoming Reunion Oct. 19-20.