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*Wendell Gunn was born on this date in 1942. He is a retired Black corporate executive and Administrator. Wendell Wilkie Gunn was born on Decatur Street in Tuscumbia, Alabama.
His birth was reported two days late by the midwife, a fact he only discovered when he met his future wife and discovered they shared the same birthday. One of four children, his father was a laborer at Reynolds Metal Company and an officer in the Black local of the Aluminum Workers International Union. His mother was a cook and worked in various restaurants around the Shoals area. Gunn had two brothers, one of whom died by drowning when he was five, and a sister.
He has characterized his early life as having benefitted from “a very good support system both from his parents, extended family and just the community. Gunn attended Trenholm High School, at that time a segregated K-12 institution in Tuscumbia. In 1960, he finished high school at the private Nashville Christian Institute he attended for three years. Gunn was not involved in civil rights activity or protests during his high school years. As President of the Student Council, he was warned by the Institute President not to participate in demonstrations that were occurring at the time for fear it would alienate the school’s white benefactors.
Gunn recalls that “It was his warning that made me aware that maybe I should be involved in it. Now, I didn’t get involved in it until shortly after my graduation, which was in 1960. But if the call had come and said, ‘We need your help,’ I probably would have.” After high school graduation, Gunn attended Tennessee State University, a Historically Black University (HBCU) in Nashville, studying Romance languages along with math and chemistry. College was always part of the family’s plans for Gunn: “What I do remember is not ever being faced with the question of whether or not I would go to college … it was not an option not to go.”
In a 1963 discrimination court case defended by Fred Gray, he was the first African American student to enroll and graduate from the University of North Alabama in 1965 (then Florence State College) in Florence, Alabama.