Honored: Gene Kendall, Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke, and Nathaniel "Nat" White, the three surviving members of the first five undergraduates to integrate Duke in 1963. [Credit: Les Todd]
Honored: Gene Kendall, Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke, and Nathaniel "Nat" White, the three surviving members of the first five undergraduates to integrate Duke in 1963. [Credit: Les Todd]

Legacy of Five

Gift, scholarship honor Duke's first African-American students.
August 8, 2012

 

When Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke ’67, Gene Kendall ’67, and Nathaniel White ’67 arrived at Page Auditorium on Reunions Weekend in April, they assumed they would be watching the usual presentation of class gifts. But the three surviving members of Duke’s first cohort of African-American undergraduate students were in for a surprise.

After acknowledging the annual fund gift from the Class of 1967, President Richard H. Brodhead paused to make another announcement. He told the audience that Duke trustee and fellow member of the Class of 1967 Jack Bovender Jr. ’67, M.H.A. ’69 and his wife, Barbara, would fund a $1 million scholarship in honor of Duke’s first five African-American undergraduates.

Bovender says those five—Reuben-Cooke, Kendall, White, Mary Vashtie Mitchell Harris ’67, and Cassandra Smith Rush ’67—“changed Duke forever” with their bravery, adding he was pleased to make the announcement on the occasion of their 45th class reunion. 

Kendall, a retired rear admiral in the U.S. Navy, says he was “floored” by the announcement. “The applause from the group and subsequent tumult probably saved me from showing the tears that welled in my eyes,” he says.

Duke will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the students’ 1963 enrollment formally with a series of events beginning in January 2013.