In 1963, the first five Black undergraduates enrolled at Duke. At that time, the university had no Black faculty, administrators or trustees. These pioneering students encountered culture shock as they forever changed the fabric of the university. Together, these students set the university on a path toward becoming a diverse, global institution over the past half century and, in the years since graduation, they have made far-reaching contributions to their communities and the nation.

Mary Mitchell Harris, T ‘67

Harris was valedictorian of her senior class at Durham’s Hillside High School and a pre-med student at Duke. She worked as a performance counselor at Georgia Tech University for many years and was the president of education consulting for Harris Learning Solutions before she passed away in 2002.

Gene Kendall, E ‘67

Kendall served in the Navy for 35 years, rising to the rank of Rear Admiral. Although he left Duke after his sophomore year, he earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering physics, a master of engineering degree and completed Nuclear Power Training after transferring to the University of Kansas. There, he was integral in establishing minority and diversity programs at the engineering school.

As director of the U.S. Naval Academy’s Division of Mathematics and Science, he was the first African-American and first non-Naval Academy graduate to lead a major academic division. His personal awards include two Legions of Merit and three Meritorious Service Medals, among others. 

Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke, T ’67

As a student, Reuben-Cooke, also known as “Mimi,” was involved with a number of organizations, including the YWCA and the Freshman Advisory Council. She was elected May Queen by earning the most write-in votes of any female student in her class. She is an emerita member of Duke’s Board of Trustees and was the 2011 winner of the Distinguished Alumni Award.

For many years, Reuben-Cooke served as a professor at the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law. Before joining the law faculty, she was the university’s provost and vice president for academic affairs. Earlier, she was a professor and associate dean for academic affairs at Syracuse University College of Law and directed its academic program. She was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and served on a number of boards, including that of The Duke Endowment. She passed away in 2019.

Cassandra Smith Rush, T ’67

As a student, Rush became active in the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and was arrested, along with her fellow CORE members, during a sit-in protest in Chapel Hill in 1964. She left Duke at the end of the first semester of her junior year, and worked in Washington, D.C., for the federal government and, later, the Navy.  While working at the Federal Reserve, she was granted an employee scholarship to continue her studies. She earned her bachelor’s degree in economics from Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill College in 1979 and worked for Southern New England Telephone in New Haven, Conn. Rush died in 1996.

Nathaniel B. White, Jr., T ‘67

White is a native of Durham, where he attended Hillside High School. After Duke, he earned a master’s of philosophy in mathematical statistics and probability from George Washington University. He has a wide range of professional experience in strategic planning, statistical analysis, research design and evaluation, sponsored program development, community economic development, and grant acquisition. He is principal of the Formation Consulting Group, past president of the Hayti Development Corporation, and former director of Morehouse College’s Office of Sponsored Research and Programs in Atlanta.

This article adapted from the website of the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the First Five.