In June 1955, Marj Joslyn and Will Smith completed high school in very different worlds. Marj graduated from the all-white high school in Fenton, Michigan, where her father worked for Pontiac as a tool-and-die maker and her mother as a nursing assistant in local doctors' offices. After taking her freshman year at Flint Junior College, Marj arrived in Ann Arbor in the fall of 1956.
In 1955, in Little Rock, Arkansas, Will Smith graduated from all-Black Dunbar High School. He had been raised by his grandmother, Pearl Rowan, who worked for the family of the sheriff of Pulaski County, and by his grandfather, a masseur at the all-white YMCA. Michigan had recently begun recruiting football players at Southern schools and the year before had persuaded future All-American Jim Pace '58 to come to Ann Arbor. Will and Jim had played together at Dunbar and it was partly because Jim was at Michigan that Will became a Wolverine.
Cupid's arrows struck at a party one night on Division St. in late November 1956 when the air was chilly and fragrant with smoke from burning leaves. Will had already caught Marj's eye. She'd seen him on a sidewalk in September and recalls, "I had never seen a more handsome boy in my life." A couple months later she and some friends were invited to a party around the corner from Osterweil, her co-op on the corner of Jefferson and Division. "We squeezed our way inside and found a quiet wall to stand against. Suddenly I saw the handsome boy."
Marj remembers that Will, at 6' 3", was imposing in "a dark sport coat," and that she was wearing "a long straight skirt, gray and blue plaid, and a gray cashmere sweater." Will was standing in the kitchen "surrounded by a group of people," she recounts. "I noticed a lot of girls paying attention to him. He seemed to be well known, and I guessed from the looks of his broad shoulders that he was a football player.
"I have no memory of how, suddenly, I was standing in front of him, being introduced," she continues. "He asked me how I was classified, and I was embarrassed that I didn't know what he meant by `classified.' He wanted to know if I was a freshman or a sophomore. Then he offered me a piece of gum, and I guess we stood there and talked for a little. He said he was too warm, it was too crowded and would I like to talk out on the front porch. When we stepped through the door, into the cool fall night, we melted into our first kiss."
This socializing was not what the University had in mind for them. Next >>