by Dorielle Obanor
In February of my freshmen year at Duke, I had the pleasure of meeting Samuel DuBois Cook, the first black tenured professor at Duke University. I had wandered in to the Mary Lou Williams Center to finish up some last minute work, but my attention soon turned to the small group of students surrounding Mr. Cook in the center of the room. I sat and listened as Dr. Cook articulated the various challenges, experiences, and changes that arose after accepting a teaching position at Duke.
That day in the MLWC was my first exposure to the rich history of black integration at Duke University. I remember getting back to my dorm and trying to grapple with the idea that many of the stories I had heard that afternoon were merely 44 years removed from my current experience at Duke. As the university begins its commemoration and kickoff of the 50th anniversary of integration, I have truly begun to reflect on what this commemoration means to me as a women of color at Duke University.
When I consider the tremendous task that the first five black undergraduate students undertook as they integrated the all white campus of Duke 50 years ago, I am not only in awe of their courageous spirits but forever grateful for their trailblazing efforts. I could not imagine walking around the campus as one of only five black students at Duke, being forced to use separate “colored” entrances on campus, and having no professors that look like me. And though I often find myself being the only black student in many of my classes, I can’t deny the strong and supportive black community that exists at Duke today, and we owe that to the “First Five.”
The first five black students at Duke believed it was their responsibility. A responsibility they had for future students of color such as myself. Today, it is my responsibility and that of ALL students here at Duke, to carry on their legacy of courage, tolerance, proactiveness, and achievement. I’m excited to celebrate this great legacy and hope you all are too. Don’t forget to check out the website to learn more about the amazing events that will be hosted in commemoration of the first five! http://spotlight.duke.edu/50years/#about-us