On March 8, 1961, the Board of Trustees voted to desegregate Duke University’s graduate and professional schools, thereby allowing the first black students to enroll in the Law School that year and in the Divinity and Graduate Schools the year after. In their first days at Duke, these students would walk upon a campus tainted with segregated restrooms and designated entrances. Nevertheless, the very few black students who attended Duke’s graduate schools were received with vast acceptance, despite the widespread disapproval of the Board’s decision.
Only weeks after the Law School was desegregated, the brothers of Delta Theta Phi—a professional law fraternity—agreed to pledge one of their black peers. The national fraternity later would respond that “the application in question has been rejected.” Over 70 members would leave the fraternity in protest, thus compelling the Law School’s faculty to bar the organization from campus. At the School of Medicine, on the other hand, virologist Dr. Joseph Beard largely funded a research center—the Bell Building—with segregated bathroom facilities. Dr. William S. Lynn Jr., a fellow researcher, chose to remove the “whites only” designations from these bathroom facilities to increase accessibility for black staff members. Beard would replace the designations the following day, but Lynn proceeded to remove them that very evening. Eventually, Beard gave up, and the Bell Building was the first at the University to desegregate its bathroom facilities. The hospital would soon desegregate its patient areas, and separate cafeterias for black and white staff would be joined only years later.
Despite these significant advancements, Duke was one of the last major universities to desegregate its undergraduate population. In May of 1962, however, the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees considered a resolution passed by the Undergraduate Faculty Council which recommended an extension of the University’s policy of desegregation to the undergraduate colleges, thereby provoking many to walk out of the meeting. At the next meeting, though, a recently appointed Trustee, Charles Rhyne, moved to adopt the resolution yet again. This time, the resolution passed overwhelmingly. Consequently, the first five black undergraduates enrolled at Duke in the fall of 1963, thus paving the way for racial acceptance during a period of dire misunderstanding. For a while, there was surely much to celebrate. At the same time, however, there was much to lament.
Even years after integration, blacks were required to utilize specified seating on campus; the University’s faculty members remained segregated. The athletic department refused to recruit any black players, and Asians, Latinos, Catholics and Jews were being discriminated against in admissions. Additionally, despite numerous requests by students to invite Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak on campus, the Duke Student Union was resilient in its opposition. It wasn’t until King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 that efforts to bring him to campus succeeded. Yet, regardless of the desegregation that occurred a year before, King was denied the opportunity to speak in the Duke Chapel and was instead directed to Page Auditorium.
In April 1968—only days after King’s assassination, students who had previously been protesting in front of President Douglas Knight’s home organized a silent vigil in which to honor the legacy of Dr. King and demand that the president meet the federal minimum wage for Duke employees. Ultimately, the Board of Trustee’s Chairman, Wright Tisdale, pledged to meet the demand and joined the demonstrators to honor King with a rendition of “We Shall Overcome.”
In light of all this, one can easily say that our University has evolved and met its commitment to racial diversity. The slogan for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of integration at Duke is “celebrating the past, charting the future.”
Nonetheless, it took President Brodhead eight years into his term to appoint black professors and faculty to his leadership, with Dr. Luke Powery and Paula McClain appointed as the first black Dean of the Chapel and first black dean of the Graduate School, respectively. Rev. William C. Turner remarked on this at the recent sermon in honor of Dr. King’s birthday when he called for President Brodhead to “proceed with a vision of diversity, as a necessary and positive good, not only in the student body, but in the faculty and administration, lower and upper.” Additionally, our administration has yet to inform us about the amount of money being raised through Duke Forward that will endow need-blind admissions—a basic necessity for diversity at this institution. Turner also referred to this with his plea to “proceed with development, not only in building and naming buildings, but in generating scholarship and financial aid resources, so youngsters can follow their heart.” What’s more, the provost’s report on racial diversity in our faculty shows fewer black, Asian and Latino faculty members than three years ago, despite the fact that peer institutions have increased diversity in their faculty.
As Dr. King proclaimed while standing before our fellow students years ago, “it may well be that we will have to repent in this generation, not merely for the vitriolic words and defiling actions of the bad people who will bomb a church in Birmingham, Ala., but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people, who sit around and say ‘wait on time.’”
Dr. King is right: We have waited on time for too long. Now is when we ought to actually chart the future of our great University.
Mousa Alshanteer is a Trinity sophomore and the editorial page managing editor. His biweekly column is part of the weekly Editor’s Note feature and will run on alternate Thursdays. Send Mousa a message on Twitter @mousaalshanteer.