Duke honors first African-American students

October 4, 2013 9:00:00 PM PDT
Duke University celebrated five trailblazers who changed the course of the school's history Saturday.

Fifty years ago, they became Duke's first African-American undergraduate students, and on Saturday, a special town hall meeting was held to honor them.

The town hall meeting commemorated the integration of Duke University in 1963 and gave past and present students a chance to hear about a campus without racial diversity.

"For many years, Duke was a school that did not admit black students, did not recruit black faculty. It had black workers but did not open its more prestigious ranks to black people," said Duke University President Richard Brodhead.

Half a century later, those restrictions are a memory.

Pioneers who broke Duke's color line talked about support they found from the community in the early years of social change at the university.

"People on the ground in Durham, people who worked on the campus, who were just like the people who raised us at home, took us in, embraced us and prayed for us. And there's a whole list of those names," said Reverend Dr. William Turner, Class of 1970.

"We got the signal from the cafeteria workers, from the maids at the time. We did have maids, which was unusual for us! But always silently encouraging us, and not so silently, to be and to do, and you can and you will," added Nathaniel "Nat" White, Class of 1967.

Those five students paved the way for all African-Americans and can now provide inspiration for today's students earning degrees at Duke. It is still a tough and competitive university, but it is now open to all who have what it takes to make it there.

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