“Celebrating the Past, Charting the future

Commemorating 50 Years of Black Students at Duke”



About Us

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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.

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

    Mitchell

    harris

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

    KENDALL

    kendall1

    The mechanical engineering degree candidate chose Duke because it offered a full scholarship.
  • WILHELMINA

    REUBEN-COOKE

    cooke

    Reuben-Cooke hesitated to attend the same school as her father, who was enrolled at the Divinity School.
  • CASSANDRA

    SMITH RUSH

    rush

    The zoology major applied to Duke twice. She was denied admission before the university desegregated.
  • NATHANIEL

    WHITE, JR.

    white

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


Black History

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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.

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.



Memory Wall

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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?



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