50th Anniversary of Duke desegregation marked

January 24, 2013 2:45:15 PM PST
Thursday, students who bravely made the journey of desegregation at Duke talked about the experience and the lasting lessons for students today.

Gene Kendall, Wilhelminia Reuben-Cooke and Nathaniel White Jr. are names that will forever be remembered in the pages of Duke University's history.

"It's not that we were special. It was just the time," said Reuben-Cooke. "There are a lot of people who could've come to Duke, who were brighter, smarter, but we happened to be the ones who were here."

All three are among the first five black undergraduates admitted to Duke in 1963. It would prove to be a challenging time, but one loaded with life lessons.

Now through October, the university is remembering its 50 years of black students and honoring their brave walk down the road of desegregation.

"It was assumed that we were the ones who would benefit from being in this environment, but it's very much a two-way street," said White.

White, who is a Durham native, said that is a lasting lesson for higher education even today. Diversity, he said, is critical along with mentoring future generations.

"You can do anything that you want to do if you are willing to put forth the effort and try," said Kendall, a Navy retiree.

And try they did. All five of Duke's first black students have left a lasting impression..

"It's not because you're so deserving," said Reuben-Cooke. "It's that now you deserve to make a difference. "

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