Duke University Honors Its First Black Students

Gene Kendall, Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke, and Nathaniel White Jr.

Duke University has announced that it is establishing a scholarship fund to honor the first five African American students to enter the university as undergraduates. The scholarships will be earmarked for students who will enhance diversity at the university.

The scholarship fund was established with a $1 million gift from Jack O. Bovender, a White classmate of the five Black students and current member of the Duke Board of Trustees. Bovender said of his classmates, “Their bravery changed Duke forever.”

Gene Kendall, Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke, and Nathaniel White Jr., the three surviving members of the initial group of Black students to desegregate the university’s undergraduate programs, were attending the Class of 1967 reunion on campus when the announcement was made.

Reuben-Cooke, a law professor and former member of the Duke Board of Trustees, stated, “I was completely taken by surprise. Little did I expect that President Brodhead would announce such a gift, made more special because it came from a classmate.”

Two members of the “First Five,” Mary Vashtie Mitchell Harris and Cassandra Smith Rush, have died.

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