Commemorating fifty years of racial integration at Duke University, The Education of Ida Owens follows Ida Owens from her upbringing in rural North Carolina to her years at Duke University, where she became The Graduate School’s first African-American female to receive a Ph.D. When she reflects on the complicated cultural waters of her era, questions about identity, memory, and social activism surface. This personal exploration of Southern history, Duke history, and the civil rights movement brings to the forefront the past and its lingering effects.
The academic and professional journey of the first black woman to receive a Ph.D. from Duke has now been captured on film.
And Brenda Armstrong saved us… We arrived about 20 years after the first students. When we arrived at Duke, she was already a Pediatric Cardiologist in the Duke University School of Medicine. She made herself an accessible role model for us. She was always willing to come and speak at events and remind us that, as the first black students had succeeded, we, too, could as well. She also stressed the importance of being an accessible role model in the larger community. I remember her telling us that because every student in the medical school had to encounter her, if they came to the program never having encountered a black person in a leadership position up close, she was there to make them, at least, have to reconsider whatever stereotypes they may have brought with them. She helped us to understand that even when some tried to make us feel that they were doing us a favor to let us in, we needed to understand the power and gift and opportunity for growth our presence there was to them as well.
Darlene Wiggins Dockery, T’84