At the start of the Spring semester, Duke will kick off its a year-long celebration of the University’s 50th anniversary of student integration.
Duke will host a series of events—“Celebrating the Past, Charting the Future: Commemorating 50 Years of Black Students at Duke University”—remembering the desegregation and matriculation of the first five black undergraduate students in 1963. Although still in the planning stages, programming will include artistic, intellectual and service-oriented events. The celebration’s organizers hope that the series will call on members of the Duke community to reflect on Duke’s past, present and future.
“The entire community should be excited about the 50th anniversary because it is an opportunity to reflect on the challenges of the past and plan for the challenges of the future,” said Black Student Alliance President Marcus Benning, a junior. “It marks the moment when Duke decided to say ‘no’ to hatred and exclusion and began to say ‘yes’ to diversity and inclusion.”
The events, coordinated by University administrators, faculty, students and alumni, will initiate with a reception at the Nasher Museum of Art late January, wrote Zoila Airall, assistant vice president of student affairs for campus life and member of the celebration’s advisory committee, in an email. The three surviving members of the University’s first class of black undergraduates—Gene Kendall, Engineering ’67, Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke, Woman’s College ’67, and Nathaniel White, Trinity ’67—will attend the reception at the Nasher and participate in additional events.
The year when the first five black undergraduates arrived, there were three black graduate students who had enrolled the year before—following the Board of Trustees’ decision to desegregate the graduate and professional schools on March 8, 1961. They came to a campus with two black professors, no black administrators and segregated restrooms.
Benning noted that BSA will unofficially serve as a liaison between students and the executive committee of administrators coordinating the celebration. BSA, he added, hopes to contribute mainly through their annual Black Student Alliance Invitational recruitment weekend in held in March.
“References to the 50th anniversary will be made throughout the entire weekend and all of our events will be 50th-themed,” Benning said.
He added that BSA is teaming up with the Alumni Association, the Office of Student Affairs and the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture to increase donations from black alumni.
Additional programs beyond the reception include a Duke-Durham civil rights event, a music festival and alumni events around the country, according to an October Duke news release. The celebration will conclude with a Founders’ Day weekend ceremony Fall 2013.
In early October, the department of African and African-American studies will also host an academic symposium, designed by Bayo Holsey, associate professor of African and African-American Studies.
Keith Daniel, staff director for the commemoration and former director of community and campus engagement for the Duke Chapel, wrote in an email that the Nasher will work with the North Carolina Central University Art Museum on an exhibition featuring the work of the Kenyan-American artist Wangechi Mutu for the celebration. He added that the event will be an ideal opportunity to incorporate the entire student body in the commemoration.