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Professor Raymond Gavins dies Sunday

Gavins helped launch Duke's oral history program and was a scholar of the Civil Rights movement

<p>History professor Raymond Gavins, who passed away Sunday, was the first African American to join the Duke history faculty.</p>

History professor Raymond Gavins, who passed away Sunday, was the first African American to join the Duke history faculty.

History professor Raymond Gavins passed away Sunday, the University announced in a Duke Today release Monday.

Gavins was the first African-American to join Duke's history faculty in 1970, specializing in African-American and American history. He also helped launch the history department's oral history program at Duke and has focused his scholarship on the Civil Rights movement. The University lowered its flags Monday, the release said. 

“Ray played a key role in the oral history program, the Center for the Study of Civil Rights and Race Relations and the Behind the Veil Project of the Center for Documentary Studies,"  John Martin, former history department chair, said in the release.

Gavins has written two books and published more than 70 scholarly articles, book chapters, essay and reviews. Last February, he published "The Cambridge Guide to African-American History," which examined how African-Americans have attempted to gain recognition as full citizens of the United States. 

During his time teaching at Duke, Gavins was known for his mentorship of numerous students. 

“Ray served as a mentor to countless graduate and undergraduate students alike in a career that has spanned 45 years at Duke," Martin said in the release.

Gavins has also received several awards for his work, including the 1996 Oral History Association Distinguished Oral History Project Award, the 2002 Southern Regional Council Lillian Smith Book Award and the 2008 Southern Historical Association John W. Blassingame Award.

Last Spring, Gavins taught courses on the Civil Rights Movement and a capstone seminar on post-Civil Rights America. He was scheduled to teach courses on the movement as well as a capstone seminar on the Jim Crow era this Fall. 

Most recently, Gavins worked on the Behind the Veil project, which uses oral history interviews to discover how African-Americans attempted to achieve promises made to them during the Reconstruction period. The project has recorded more than 1,350 interviews so far, providing data on life during the Jim Crow era. 

Gavins has faced civil rights struggles in his own life as well, having been the first African-American to graduate from the University of Virginia's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 1970 before coming to Duke. In prior interviews, Gavins noted that he persevered despite these difficulties. 

“I knew that I would get stares, isolation, loneliness. I think that I was remarkably well prepared for that,” Gavins said in an article for the University of Virginia. "What I recalled a lot was certainly being alone a lot, in the dining halls and the libraries. No one bothered me.”

Gavins' funeral will be held will be held 11 a.m. this Friday at Mount Level Missionary Baptist Church, 316 Hebron Road in Durham. 


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