Duke’s first black music major, Alma Jones, W ‘69, performs “Lift Every Voice and Sing” with the 100 Black Men choir during “Duke Celebrates Durham: Where Great Things Happened in 1963.”



As Duke University honors 50 years of black scholars, consider leaving
a lasting legacy through collective gifts. The 50th Anniversary Committee seeks to raise one million dollars over the next nine months to help the next generation of African-American leaders and scholars.



Michael Holyfield, T’79, the first black Blue Devil mascot, returned to campus during homecoming weekend when he was recognized with a letterman’s jacket for his service to Duke.



Some of the first African American students, faculty and staff to integrate Duke—the Rev. Clarence G. Newsome, Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke, Caroline Lattimore, and Dr. Onyekwere Akwari—discuss how faith sustained them during difficult times.



Duke Performances commissioned jazz pianist Billy Childs to compose "Enlightened Souls," in honor of the first five black undergraduate students to integrate the university. It was performed with vocalist Dianne Reeves in Baldwin Theater on Friday, Oct. 4, 2013.


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.
  • MARY


    An honors student at Durham’s Hillside High School, Harris knew by 10th grade she wanted to attend Duke.

  • GENE


    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.


    WHITE, JR.

    Growing up three miles from campus, White said attending Duke was “like going to a whole new city.”

Gene Kendall, Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke, and Nathaniel "Nat" White Jr., the three surviving members of the
first five undergraduate students to integrate, attended their class reunion in April 2012. Photo by Les Todd.


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.

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 blackhistory@duke.edu.


Commemorating 50 Years of Black Students at Duke University

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?


    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


    When Gene and Buddy came to Duke, I was a resident of House H, where they would be housed their first year. Numerous preparatory meetings were held to prepare a good beginning for them. Our two new fellow residents were a joy to know. Their presence, as the first in a long and distinguished line of African-American students at Duke, enriched us all, and I only hope that we in some small way made their time at Duke better. It was way overdue, and it was an honor to be involved in it.

    Denny White, T ‘65

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