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Gala to End Anniversary Celebration

Commemoration of the 50th anniversary of black students concludes Oct. 3-6

Plus: The First Black 'Blue Devil'
Duke alumni and friends honor the Duke "firsts" at an earlier DC gala for the 50th anniversary.

Duke University's nine-month commemoration of the 50th anniversary of when black undergraduate students first enrolled at the school will conclude Oct. 3-6 with an event-filled weekend.

The commemoration, "Celebrating the Past, Charting the Future," was launched in January to honor the first five undergraduates to desegregate the student body in 1963. Inspired by their courage, the university has hosted dozens of events across campus and in Durham focused on issues of race, diversity, inclusion and civil rights.

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One of the highlights of the culminating weekend is a program in Page Auditorium on Saturday evening. Following the program, shuttle buses will bring attendees to a reception at the Washington Duke Inn. The event is free, but registration is required:

"As we close out our commemoration I hope that alumni far and near will sense a deeper connection to Duke through the inspiration of our esteemed ‘firsts' and all who followed," said Keith Daniel, '90, M.Div '05, the 50th anniversary program coordinator. "I hope that current students, regardless of race or ethnicity, will feel the same tremendous pride and eagerness the alumni feel about Duke today."

The weekend, which coincides with the university's Founders' Day Weekend, will highlight the role the city of Durham has played in Duke's institutional evolution. A public town hall meeting at 1:15 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5, at the Durham Performing Arts Center, will serve as an opportunity to discuss the historical relationship between Duke and Durham. Tickets are free for students, $5 for adults and can be purchased at the venue.

"A lot of care, thought and planning went into the weekend, with the hopes that students will have a growing appreciation for the struggle and sacrifices that black students endured to make Duke's campus diverse," Daniel said.

The first black undergraduates to integrate Duke's campus -- Mary Mitchell Harris, Gene Kendall, Wilhelmina Reuben-Cook, Cassandra Smith Rush and Nathaniel White -- have been honored throughout the commemoration along with the first black students to integrate Duke's graduate and professional schools.

Many of the "firsts" returned to campus last April for Reunion Weekend. Duke alumnus Sen. William "Mo" Cowan (D-Mass.) provided a keynote speech giving historical context to their struggle and experience, highlighting the importance of higher education in the black community.

In 2012, before the commemoration began, Jack O. Bovender Jr. T'67, MHA'69, a member of Duke's Board of Trustees and a classmate of the "first five," funded a $1 million scholarship named in their honor.

Duke Performances commissioned the Grammy-winning jazz artist Billy Childs to write "Enlightened Souls," a song cycle that he will perform with his Jazz Chamber Ensemble featuring Dianne Reeves on Friday, Oct. 4, at the newly renovated Baldwin Auditorium. Tickets are required for the 8 p.m. concert.

Over the past nine months a giving campaign has solicited alumni support for educational and cultural opportunities such as the Reginaldo Howard and Dean Martina J. Bryant scholarships and the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture.

In addition, many alumni have re-engaged with the university through a series of regional events in cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

"The past nine months have been incredible. We cannot underestimate the impact. We've engaged more than 1,100 alumni," said Sterly Wilder, the associate vice president for alumni affairs. "Alumni have been appreciative of the programs and the opportunities to re-engage with Duke. We are seeing it through phone calls, thank-you notes and emails. Now we're in the process of building on that momentum, not just with African-American alumni, but all alumni.

"We hope this impact will last long down the road as we look at the next 50 years," said Wilder, who is also co-chair of the 50th anniversary executive committee.

The following are highlighted events open to the Duke community:

Thursday, Oct. 3

6:30 p.m. Welcome Reception hosted by 50th Commemoration of Black Students at Duke Executive Committee

Forlines House (614 Chapel Drive)


Friday, Oct. 4

9:00 -- 10:15 a.m. Our New Day Begun: The Faith of Duke's First Black Voices

Duke Chapel

This panel discussion, moderated by Duke Chapel Dean Luke Powery will be an opportunity to hear from some of the black trailblazers who helped integrate Duke over the last 50 years, including the role that religious faith played in their Duke experience.

11:00 a.m. -- 4:30 p.m. Race, Scholarship, and the Disciplines: A Symposium Honoring 50 Years of Black Students at Duke

Friedl Building, Jameson Gallery on East Campus

5:30 p.m. Founders' Day Convocation Ceremony

Duke Chapel Featured Speaker: State Sen. Daniel Terry Blue Jr. JD'73, P'95, P'98, P'00

8 p.m. Billy Childs Jazz Chamber Ensemble Featuring Dianne Reeves

Baldwin Auditorium Tickets required

Duke Performances presents the world premiere of a newly commissioned work, "Enlightened Souls," by three-time Grammy-winning jazz composer, bandleader and pianist Billy Childs, which celebrates the enrollment of black students at Duke and across the South during that era.


Saturday, Oct. 5

1:15 p.m. Duke & Durham at 50: Town Hall Meeting

$5 tickets for general public; free for students

The celebration will include civil and human rights exhibits, inspirational music and a town hall discussion moderated by Duke professor Mark Anthony Neal. Mayor Bill Bell, Congressman G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) and Duke President Richard H. Brodhead will bring greetings.

6 p.m. Culminating Program at Page Auditorium with reception at Washington Duke Inn

Free; registration required

The program is a multimedia stage production highlighting the most significant moments and figures representing black life and experience at Duke. It will incorporate theater, video and artistic performance into a historic re-telling of the past 50 years, followed by a thoughtful envisioning of the next 50 years. The program will include remarks by President Richard H. Brodhead and others. Complimentary shuttle service to and from Washington Duke Inn will be provided.

The event is sponsored by BAE Systems.


Sunday, Oct. 6

10:55 a.m. Worship Service in Duke Chapel

Sermon by Dean Luke Powery

To see the complete schedule, visit For more information about the 50th Anniversary of Black Students, go to