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.
An honors student at Durham’s Hillside High School, Harris knew by 10th grade she wanted to attend Duke.
The mechanical engineering degree candidate chose Duke because it offered a full scholarship.
Reuben-Cooke hesitated to attend the same school as her father, who was enrolled at the Divinity School.
The zoology major applied to Duke twice. She was denied admission before the university desegregated.
Growing up three miles from campus, White said attending Duke was “like going to a whole new city.”
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:
During the 9-month commemoration, Duke University plans to compile a rich archive of photos and other visual material to help tell the story of black students, faculty and staff over the past 50 years. Alumni, as well as faculty and staff, may have their own materials that offer a glimpse into black life at Duke. We invite you to send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 1963, the first five black undergraduates enrolled at Duke. At that time, the university had only two
black professors, and no black administrators or trustees. The small numbers set the stage for culture
shock and little integration. These videos present memories from some of the people involved.
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?
When I came to Duke in May 1986 to attend the Summer Transitional Program (STP), I never imagined Duke would be my professional home for the next two decades of my life… It’s been 23 years, but I’ve stopped counting. Duke has always felt like home. I have held a profound sense of belonging in Durham and at Duke that began with family. Both my parents are Durham natives and proud graduates of Hillside High School, also Nat White, Jr. and Mary Mitchell Harris’ alma mater. At Duke I was enriched by caring faculty such as Gerald Wilson; coaches, including Bob Sanders, Tommy Bowden, Marvin “Midnight” Brown; and staff like Nancy Austin, Joby Branion, Dean Caroline Lattimore, Dean Sue, Caroline Nisbet, Linda Capers, Maureen Cullins, and a bright cloud of faithful witnesses who comprise the house, grounds, and food service staff. Several of my relatives were on staff, including my late, great uncle Thelma Downey, who retired after 30 years as a head chef, and my dear aunt/second mother Mary Ann (Pat) Ruffin, a retired Duke Hospital RN who passed in 2009. The litany continues.
Thank you Durham and Duke families who make Duke so beautiful, and to our esteemed pioneers and trailblazers for paving the way and inspiring our university to become greater. Thank you for making the challenging times seem but a light affliction compared to the glory revealed through God’s grace in your courageous ambitions and amazing accomplishments. It is a joy to celebrate with you during this momentous year. I pray we honor you as we contemplate and take action during the next half century.
Keith Daniel, T ’90, M. Div. ’05, Candidate for the Doctor of Ministry, Duke Divinity, 2016
Attending Duke Law School in 1969 was one of the best decisions that I have ever made. The fact that my first white roommate told me that I had been assigned to the wrong room in the Men’s Graduate Center and two of my four black class members withdrew from the law school after one day of classes, did not prevent me from having a good experience. Law school professors, including the deans, and white students went out of their way to ensure that myself and other black law students felt comfortable. When I and my black female date attended PAD Fraternity parties or when I would be the only black student attending law school functions, I felt no discrimination towards me. Though some of my classmates were from the South, they were as cordial to me as any of my classmates from the North. The fact that the law school was so small at that time, enabled me to develop relationships with people throughout the school and and maintain them for over forty years.
Amos T. Mills, III, Law ‘72
Good to see the semi-centennial of the integration of Duke’s undergraduate program being celebrated. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn more about the broader Duke context, and I look forward to following remotely. Till now I only knew of the pioneering integrators of the medical school. For instance, Dr. Delano Meriwether, who was the first black student at Duke Medical School. He subsequently became the fastest man alive (100 yards) at the time. After which he directed the United States Public Health Service’s National Influenza Immunization Program, before proceeding to run a high-volume clinic in a remote region of South Africa. Also note Dr. Joanne A. Peebles Wilson, who was the second African-American woman to graduate from Duke Medical School, the second woman to attain the rank of full professor in the Duke Department of Medicine, and the first woman to serve as secretary of the American Gastroenterological Association. She finished as number one in her medical school class, was nominated to Alpha Omega Alpha academic honor society, and was elected class president. Space limitation precludes a comprehensive listing of early pioneers, several of whom are still at Duke, and whose contributions and accomplishments I hope the commemorations of 2013 will highlight.
Stephen Odaibo, M.S. ‘09, M.D. ‘10
I was so naive when I came from Indiana to Duke in 1954! I had no experience with segregation and was totally caught off guard when I realized black people were required to sit in the back of the buses I took to classes on West Campus. Many discussions in my dorm ensued; racial injustice was the major learning that I experienced at Duke. Now I live in Durham and celebrate the changes in my community and alma mater.
Ann Hadley Deupree, T ‘57
Congratulations on 50 years of integration! I count it an honor to have been a part of the journey. As I reflect on my time there, I am appreciative and in awe of those who came before me, recognizing that had they not stepped out on faith, endured, and successfully completed their tenure at Duke, my opportunity may have never been. And oh what a tragedy that would have been! I was transformed during my time there. Through my classes, seminars, and countless cultural events, my mind was challenged and developed. (Thanks Paul Jefferies for all that jazz.)
My memories of living in Southgate (then all girls), hanging out in the Bryan Center and on the quad, attending events in the Mary Lou Williams Center, shopping at Uncle Harry’s, and eating at my favorite on-campus restaurant – the Oak Room – continue to enrich and define me.
Since I graduated, I have visited often, given annually, and am an active member of the local alumni admissions committee. I give back to the university in appreciation for what it gave to me and with the hope that those who have and will come after me may also be forever enriched by their Duke experience. Again, congratulations Duke!
Jocelyn Harrison Henson, T ‘90
While I see the diversity related to people and conversation on the main campus, I believe some of the professional schools have a ways to go.
At the university level, I felt my voice was not only sought after but heard. Sadly, this was not my reality in my professional school experiences. We can pay lip service to diversity but until the entire community embraces diversity of age, gender, race and ethnicity, and sexual identity we have a few miles to go.
We can make it!
Yvonne R. Ford, M.S.N ‘00, MHS-CL ‘04
I remember being interviewed and chosen to be the first university mascot of color, from 1976 to 1977. Back in those days, the mascot wore a Batman-type mask – only the top half of the face was covered. I can remember going to both home games and away games and being taunted with racial slurs by the opposing teams and their fans and even dodging missiles thrown my way by these people and their fans.
Nothing, however, was more heartbreaking than to discover that I had been excluded from university alumni functions when visiting other cities with the cheerleadiung squads, evidently due to my obvious blackness. This alienation was further driven home when I was excluded from the annual athletic banquet held at the end of the academic year. Not only was I not invited, but I also was never offered, nor did I receive, the customary athletic jacket that previous Duke mascots received.
Adding insult to injury, the next year the face of the Blue Devil was covered in totality. To this day I have refused to join the Alumni Association nor have I ever made a contribution to the Duke University Loyalty Fund. Duke Athletics made it clear that I was not a welcome student ambassador. My subsequent silence echoes my agreement with their sentiments.
Michael M. Holyfield, T ‘79