“Celebrating the Past, Charting the future
Commemorating 50 Years of Black Students at Duke”
Our year-long commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the first black students to matriculate at Duke University will celebrate diversity and inclusiveness by illuminating our history and fostering forms of expression that are academic, artistic and service-oriented.
Duke was one of the last major universities to desegregate. On March 8, 1961, the Board of Trustees voted to desegregate the graduate and professional schools and the following year four African-American students matriculated to Duke graduate schools. They found a school with segregated restrooms and an entrance and section at Wallace Wade Stadium designated “colored.”
In 1963, the first five black undergraduates enrolled at Duke. At that time, the university had no black faculty, administrators or trustees. The first students encountered culture shock as they forever changed the fabric of the university.
MitchellAn honors student at Durham’s Hillside High School, Harris knew by 10th grade she wanted to attend Duke.
KENDALLThe mechanical engineering degree candidate chose Duke because it offered a full scholarship.
REUBEN-COOKEReuben-Cooke hesitated to attend the same school as her father, who was enrolled at the Divinity School.
SMITH RUSHThe zoology major applied to Duke twice. She was denied admission before the university desegregated.
WHITE, JR.Growing up three miles from campus, White said attending Duke was “like going to a whole new city.”
EXPLORE DUKE’S BLACK HISTORY
In the fall of 1963, the first five African-American undergraduates entered Duke, joining the black students who had enrolled in Duke Law School in 1961 and the Divinity and Graduate Schools in 1962. These pioneers set the university on a path toward becoming a diverse, global institution.
Duke has planned a series of events throughout 2013 designed to encourage students, alumni, faculty and staff to reflect upon this important moment in our university’s history, honor the “firsts,” celebrate our diverse community today, and ask ourselves where we want Duke to go in the future. The commemoration will feature intellectual, social, artistic and service-oriented events that are inspiring, thought provoking and meaningful.
We invite you to explore this website and:
Learn about the first pioneering students – undergraduates and those in the graduate and professional schools
Connect with others at upcoming commemoration events
Share your stories to enrich our archives with personal histories
Reflect on what this anniversary means to you and to Duke in the future – as we embrace the next 50 years of inquiry, achievement, and service to our global community.
Below, some early black students share their memories of Duke. We invite alumni to follow suit and share memories of their time at Duke on our Facebook page. During your days as a student, who or what made you feel like you belonged at Duke? What obstacles did you encounter that challenged your sense of belonging? Fifty years from now, what do you think the legacy of the African-American community at Duke will be?