First to Integrate Duke

Many of the first African Americans in Duke’s undergraduate, graduate and professional schools are serving as honorary co-chairs of the 50th anniversary committee. These pioneers set the university on a path toward becoming a diverse, global institution over the past half century and, since then, they have made far-reaching contributions to their communities and the nation.





Mary Mitchell Harris,T ‘67


Harris was valedictorian of her senior class at Durham’s Hillside High School and a pre-med student at Duke. She worked as a performance counselor at Georgia Tech University and was the president of education consulting for Harris Learning Solutions before she died in 2002.


Gene Kendall, E ‘67


Kendall served in the Navy for 35 years, rising to the rank of Rear Admiral. Although he left Duke after his sophomore year, he earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering physics, a master of engineering degree and completed Nuclear Power Training after transferring to the University of Kansas. There, he was integral in establishing minority and diversity programs at the engineering school.


In the Navy, Kendall served as special assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations and a Fellow with the Chief of Naval Operations’ Strategic Studies Group XV at the Naval War College. As director of the U.S. Naval Academy’s Division of Mathematics and Science in 1992, he was the first African-American and first non-Naval Academy graduate to lead a major academic division.


His personal awards include two Legion of Merits and three Meritorious Service Medals, among others. He has been involved in the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, the National Society of Black Engineers, American Society of Naval Engineers and the Surface Navy Association. He is now a consultant and motivational speaker living in Florida.


Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke,T ’67


As a student, Reuben-Cooke, also known as “Mimi,” was involved with a number of organizations, including the YWCA and the Freshman Advisory Council. She was elected May Queen by earning the most write-in votes of any female student in her class. She is an emerita member of Duke’s Board of Trustees and was the 2011 winner of the Distinguished Alumni Award.


Reuben-Cooke is currently a professor at the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law. Before joining the law faculty, she was the university’s provost and vice president for academic affairs. Earlier, she was a professor and associate dean for academic affairs at Syracuse University College of Law and directed its academic program. She was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and serves on a number of boards, including that of The Duke Endowment.


Cassandra Smith Rush,T ’67


As a student, Rush became active in the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and was arrested, along with her fellow CORE members, during a sit-in protest in Chapel Hill in 1964. She left Duke at the end of the first semester of her junior year, and worked in Washington, D.C., for the federal government and, later, the Navy.  While working at the Federal Reserve, she was granted an employee scholarship to continue her studies. She earned her bachelor’s degree in economics from Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill College in 1979 and worked for Southern New England Telephone in New Haven, Conn. Rush died in 1996.


Nathaniel B. White, Jr., T ‘67


White is a native of Durham, where he attended Hillside High School. After Duke, he earned a master’s of philosophy in mathematical statistics and probability from George Washington University. He has a wide range of professional experience in strategic planning, statistical analysis, research design and evaluation, sponsored program development, community economic development, and grant acquisition. He is principal of the Formation Consulting Group, past president of the Hayti Development Corporation, and former director of Morehouse College’s Office of Sponsored Research and Programs in Atlanta.






Donna Allen Harris, B.S.N. ’71


Harris was the first African American to enter the Duke University School of Nursing (DUSON) in 1967; in 2011, she received the school’s Trailblazer Award. After graduating from Duke, Harris went on to practice nursing in a variety of agencies and institutions, including North Carolina Central University, Durham County Department of Social Services, Durham County Health Department, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Nursing, Duke School of Nursing, and other agencies.

Harris has practiced as a medical/cardiac staff nurse, pediatric clinical instructor, public health nurse, school nurse, and social research assistant/clinical research nurse. She currently is a clinical research nurse at DUSON, and is assisting in the school’s Clinical Research Unit. Harris is also a trainer for the Arthritis Self-Help Course and the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program based at Stanford University.


W. Delano Meriwether, M.D. ’67


The first black student to enroll at Duke Medical School, Meriwether graduated with honors before pursuing a medical career at the University of Pennsylvania, Ohio State Medical Center, the National Cancer Institute/National Institute of Health, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, and the U.S. Public Health Service.


He is trained as a hematologist and oncologist, and also served as a primary health care physician in South Africa.


Meriwether was a White House Fellow from 1973 to 1974 and, in 1976, was appointed director of the United States Public Health Service’s National Influenza Immunization Program, where he managed to immunize more than 100 million people against swine flu.


An accomplished athlete, he competed at the national level into his early thirties. He was known for competing while wearing a white hospital shirt, gold-and-white suspenders, and gold swimming trunks. In 1971, he won the AAU Outdoor Track and Field Championship, and a year later, the AAU Indoor Track and Field Championship.  He was a top contender for the 1972 U.S. Olympic team as a 100-meter sprinter, before being sidelined with a knee injury.


Currently an emergency room physician Meriwether continues to support an array of service programs and training projects in rural South Africa, Zambia, Mozambique and Malawi.  He is also dedicated to improving human rights and access to health care services in Zimbabwe.



Ida Stephens Owens,Ph.D. ’67


Owens was the first black student to earn a Ph.D. from the Duke Graduate School. She received a degree in physiology.  A native of Whiteville, N.C., Owens graduated summa cum laude from North Carolina College, now North Carolina Central University.  In 1975, as a member of the Laboratory of Developmental Pharmacology in the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), Owens initiated a research program that is now recognized for its studies on the genetics of human diseases.  In 1981, this research program was extended and made into a permanent Section on Drug Biotransformation, and Owens was named chief. The NICHD  is part of the National Institutes of Health.


She also was first to determine genetic defects in children with Crigler-Najjar diseases.


Currently, she serves as the head of the Section on Genetic Disorders of Drug Metabolism in the Program on Developmental Endocrinology and Genetics (NICHD). Owens received the NIH-Director’s award in 1992, and is recognized throughout the world for her work on drug detoxifying enzymes.  She has been published in key scientific journals on the genetics and mechanisms controlling this enzyme system and has been spoken at many international scientific conferences in this field.  She is also a member of several leading scientific societies.



Anthony Oyewole, ’66, A.M. ’68, Ph.D. ’70


Oyewole was the first African student to enroll at Duke as an undergraduate, transferring from a Nigerian school in the fall of 1964. He has been a professor and head of political science departments at North Carolina Central University; Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, Nigeria; and Bennett College in Greensboro. He is the co-author of the “Historical Dictionary of Nigeria” and currently resides in Modakeke-Ife, Nigeria, where he teaches at a private university.



David Robinson II, J.D. ‘64


Robinson was one of the first two African Americans to earn law degrees from Duke. A Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude graduate of Howard University, Robinson worked for the Federal Reserve after graduating from Duke Law School. He then went to work for Xerox, where he rose to the position of Assistant General Counsel. After retiring from Xerox in 1988, he moved to Florida and became the first general counsel to the Eleventh Judicial Court of Florida.  He is a former member of the Duke Law Board of Visitors.



Dr. Jean Gaillard Spaulding , M.D. ’72


Spaulding completed her residency and fellowship in psychiatry at Duke, finishing her training in 1976.  Her professional accomplishments include service on The Duke University Board of Trustees, The Duke University Health System Board of Directors, the Durham County Hospital Corporation Board of Trustees and as Duke’s Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs.


Currently, she is a trustee of The Duke Endowment, a director of Cardinal Health Corporation, serves on the Josiah Charles Trent Memorial Foundation and on the Durham board of Wells Fargo Bank.  She has maintained a private psychiatry practice in Durham since 1977.



Catherine Gibson Taylor,M.A.T. ’67


Taylor graduated from Johnson C. Smith University and had already been teaching high school English for 15 years when she became the first African-American student to enroll in Duke’s masters of teaching program. She continued to teach English, and later journalism, for 34 years, before retiring.


Taylor also served on the Wilson County, N.C., school board for 16 years, including several stints as chair. She also served on the Wilson City planning and zoning board, and held leadership positions in the local chapter of the Democratic Party. She has been active with Delta Sigma Theta for more than 60 years on the local and national levels. A soprano, she has sung in church choirs since she was a child, and served as choir director for several churches.



Matthew Zimmerman, M.Div. ’65


Zimmerman was one of the first three African-American students to enroll at Duke Divinity School. He was ordained in the National Baptist Convention and worked for several years in academic communities as a campus minister. He earned a second master’s degree in guidance counseling.


He began serving in the U.S. Army in 1967 as a captain and clergyman. He served as the 18th Chief of Chaplains of the United States Army from 1990 to 1994.  From 1994 to 1998, he served as the director of chaplain services for the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.  He was the first African American to hold those positions.


Zimmerman has received numerous military and civilian honors, including a doctorate of humane letters degree from Benedict College and the Distinguished Alumni Award from the Duke Divinity School. In 1990, he was the recipient of the NAACP’s Roy Wilkins Meritorious Service Award.