MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — Julia Ponquinette Joyner and seven other classmates desegregated Spring Hill College in September 1954. Joyner went on to a decades-long career as a psychiatrist. The Mobile native died on Jan. 7 in Richmond, Va.
Spring Hill College announced Joyner’s passing with an obituary on Thursday. The College highlighted Joyner’s many accomplishments, academic and professional.
Born Julie Clemintine Ponquinette on Nov. 2, 1934 in Mobile, her mother Myrtle Parker was a homemaker and her father Ernest Ponquinette was a shipyard worker and a talented musician. Joyner was one of seven children.
Joyner attended Most Pure Heart of Mary School, an important institution in Mobile’s civil rights movement. Joyner went on to Loyola University in Chicago, where she pursued a pre-med curriculum. In 1954, Joyner came home to Mobile and transferred to Spring Hill.
Joyner was one of seven students who “bravely desegregated the College in September 1954, by quietly joining the student population,” according to the College. With Joyner, Mary Andrea Abrams, Patricia Blackmon, Robert Buchanan, Elbert LaLande, Cecilia Mitchell, and Fannie Motley were admitted to the 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.”
At Spring Hill, Joyner was inducted to the National Honor Society for Biology. Joyner earned a biology degree from the College in 1958, and in 1963 earned an M.D. from Meharry Medical College in Nashville. It was in Nashville that she met Lawrence Turner Joyner, who was working on a dental degree, and the two were married in April 1963.
In 1964, the couple moved to Washington, DC, where Joyner was a resident in psychiatry at Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital. Their first child, Richard, was born that same year. A second son, Charles, followed two years later. Joyner spent 23 years at St. Elizabeth’s, rising from staff psychiatrist to hotel superintendent, serving as chief executive over the facility that housed about 8,000 patients.
Joyner’s husband, Lawrence, passed away in 1999. In 2014, at the age of 80, Joyner retired from private practice.
The College said 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,” according to the College. “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.”