Joyner Library’s Special Collections Division has created this website to outline East Carolina University’s journey through southern desegregation.

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The Long Path to Desegregation


Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896): U.S. Supreme Court rules that laws permitting segregated facilities do not violate the Constitution.


1896 Supreme Court Justices. Courtesy of Library of Congress.


March 8, 1907: East Carolina Teachers Training School is chartered by the North Carolina General Assembly. The charter states that “the school shall be maintained by the State for the purpose of giving to young white men and women such education and training as shall fit and qualify them to teach in the public schools of North Carolina.”


Ground breaking for East Carolina Teachers Training School, 1908. East Carolina University Archives. 55-01-0004.


Hocutt v. Wilson: Thomas R. Hocutt, a student at North Carolina College for Negroes, is denied admission to the University of North Carolina’s School of Pharmacy. The North Carolina Superior Court dismissed the case based on technical grounds, making Hocutt v. Wilson one of the first cases involving segregation in higher education.


November 26, 1934: Dennis G. Brummitt, Attorney General of North Carolina, orders the president of East Carolina Teachers College to de-enroll a Croatan girl attending the college, citing the charter of the college.

East Carolina Teachers College Freshman Class, 1934. East Carolina University Archives.


President Harry Truman issues Executive Order 9981, which desegregated the armed forces.


President Harry Truman seated at desk. Courtesy of Library of Congress.


In 1946, Herman Sweatt is denied admission to the University of Texas School of Law on the basis of race. In 1950, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that a legal education must be “substantially equal.” The University of Texas’ separate law school did not meet this standard. African Americans, therefore, must be admitted to the white law school.


McLaurin v. Board of Regents of Oklahoma, 339 U.S. 631 (1950): In 1948, George McLaurin is admitted to the University of Oklahoma’s School of Education under Jim Crow arrangements. He is forced to sit separated from the rest of class, work in a segregated space in the library, and eat at a designated table in the university’s cafeteria. In 1950, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the segregation practiced by the University of Oklahoma’s Graduate School of Education violates the 14th Amendment; students in graduate schools of education must be treated equally, and separate seating cannot be assigned in classrooms, libraries, or other facilities.


Pamphlet of Segregation Cases from the NAACP records.
Courtesy of Library of Congress.


Fall 1951: Floyd McKissick is admitted to the University of North Carolina Law School after a court victory.


Floyd McKissick. Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley.


May 1952: East Carolina College President John Messick is asked to provide extension classes at the Marine Corps base at Cherry Point. This action would allow African American Marines to enroll. The ECC Board of Trustees denies the request citing the charter of the college.


John D. Messick, 1958. University Archives 55-01-1890.


African American graduate students, Robert Clemons and Hardy Liston, are admitted to the North Carolina State University School of Engineering.


Until the charter was changed in 1957, East Carolina only hired white faculty members and admitted white students, although many of the school's support staff were African American. The first African Americans were enrolled 1961. Very little documentation exists regarding the African American staff employed during the first fifty years of the college. What remains are reports of incidents such as an article in the student newspaper about a maid fired for stealing clothing, a report in the Board of Trustees minutes about increased insurance costs incurred after an African American driver was in an accident, and a page of staff photos in a yearbook with the statement “We couldn’t do without them.”

“ seems somewhat of a paradox that Louis Armstrong, who has toured the world as a good will ambassador and won many friends for our democratic way of life, was not allowed to perform here.”

Nancy Lilly and Margeart Geddie,

The East Carolinian, February 13, 1958.

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Dragging their Feet


Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954): U.S. Supreme Court overturns Plessy v. Ferguson, ruling that the doctrine of separate but equal violates the 14th Amendment. The ECC Board of Trustees responds to the May 17 ruling by agreeing that the college would continue to adhere to its charter “unless or until instructed by higher authority to do otherwise.”


Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. National Archives. Records of the Supreme Court of the United States, RG 267.


September 1955: Ralph Frasier, LeRoy Frasier, and John Brandon are admitted to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as undergraduates, following Frasier v. the Board of Trustees of the University of North Carolina (1955) which applied Brown v. Board of Education to undergraduate education. The decision is upheld on March 6, 1956.


Leroy Frasier, John Lewis Brandon, and Ralph Fraiser, on the steps of South Building, 1955. North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill.


February 22: The ECC Board of Trustees votes that athletics teams with African American members should not be entertained on the campus or engage in games at ECC.


East Carolina College Board of Trustees Minutes, February 22, 1956. East Carolina University Archives. 01-01-22February1956.


Fall 1956: African American undergraduates are admitted to North Carolina State University and Women’s College (later called UNC-G).


June 1957: The North Carolina House of Representatives approve a new charter for nine state-supported colleges including East Carolina College. The ECC Board of Trustees expresses regret to see the phrase “for young white men and women” omitted from the charter.

East Carolina College Board of Trustees Minutes, May 1957. East Carolina University Archives. 01-01-01-1957.


November 1957: An African American man requests an application to East Carolina College. The ECC Board of Trustees instructs the president not to send the application. The Board further requires that before any permission is given to an African American to enter the college, a meeting of the full Board must be called.


February 1958: The Dave Brubeck Quartet performs on campus. African American bass player, Eugene Wright, is asked to perform from off stage. Students protest and petition the Board of Trustees for the right to choose their entertainment regardless of race. The Board grants that right.


Leo Jenkins with the Dave Brubeck Quartet. East Carolina University Archives. 55-01-5833.


Summer 1958: The Cavaliers are the first all-black band to perform on campus.

Cavalier to Perform. East Carolina University Archives. 50-05-1958-10.


January 1959: East Carolina College begins offering classes at Cherry Point and Camp Lejeune.


May 1959: Joe Louis Gray applies to East Carolina College. The ECC Board of Trustees disqualifies his admission.


December 1959: John Messick resigns as president of East Carolina College. He is replaced by Leo Jenkins.


John Messick and Leo Jenkins, 1954. Daily Reflector Negative Collection, East Carolina Manuscript Collection. 741.5.b.47.


Throughout the 1950s, the ECC Board of Trustees continued to deny desegregation requests, including those from Korean students or African American marines participating in extension classes at Camp Lejeune. The Board repeatedly cited the college’s charter as reason for denying such requests. In 1957, the school’s charter was rewritten removing the phrase “young white men and women,” eliminating the greatest obstacle to desegregation.

“The consensus among board members with whom I have spoken … seems to be that the only thing we can do is to admit them without a lot of fanfare, making the procedure as routine as possible and explain to the students that their cooperation will be needed.””

President Leo Jenkins

to Board of Trustees Member, May 3, 1961

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The First Step


February 1, 1960: Four students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro sit at the lunch counter in Woolworth’s, an area reserved for whites. The protest continues for five months until Woolworth’s agrees to serve African American customers at its lunch counter.

Greensboro, NC Woolworths Sit-In. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.


April 1960: The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) is founded at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina.


May 1961: The East Carolina Board of Trustees meets to discuss the integration of East Carolina College. President Leo Jenkins proposes admitting qualified applicants without fanfare or publicity before the issue ends up with the courts.


Elizabeth Bennett Letter. From the Leo Jenkins Collection, UA90-06.


Summer 1961: African American teachers attend a two-week graduate seminar under the direction of Professor James L. White. African American students are also enrolled in ECC off-campus extension classes at Camp Lejeune.


1961 Summer Catalog. UA50-02-1961.


Fall 1962: Laura Marie Leary of Vanceboro, North Carolina, enrolls at East Carolina College. She is the first African American undergraduate to enroll full-time in the regular school year. President Leo Jenkins and Dr. Andrew A. Best, of the Greenville Human Relations Council, work with Ms. Leary’s parents to facilitate her enrollment. She is unaware that she will be attending ECC until a few weeks before classes begin.


Laura Marie Leary image from 1965 yearbook. UA50-01-1965.


September 29, 1962: President John F. Kennedy federalizes Mississippi National Guard troops to enforce a federal court order allowing James Meredith, a student at Jackson State College, to enroll at the University of Mississippi.

James Meredith enrolls in the University of Mississippi. Courtesy of Library of Congress.


October 1: Upon the arrival of James Meredith at the University of Mississippi, students riot and federal troops are deployed to calm the campus. Two people are killed.


Summer 1962: African American students attend summer sessions on the ECC main campus as full-time students.


When the Board of Trustees met in May 1961, President Leo Jenkins expressed two options he had shared with some Board members: admit a few highly qualified African American students without any fanfare or allow the integration of the college to go to the courts with the accompanying publicity and subsequent loss. Records of the May 27th Board of Trustees meeting are not available, but African American students attend extension classes in Goldsboro and Greenville that summer. African American teachers participated in a two-week graduate seminar on campus that summer. The following year, African American students attended the summer session on campus as full-time students.

“It is not a fight song. It reminds me of a heritage which he wants to recapture. It brings up sentiment of racism. It’s not the song, it’s the effect the song has.”

Charles Davis

spokesman for the Negro Students’ Grievance Committee, February 1968

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Picking Up the Pace


Fall 1963: Bennie E. Teel, Lillian T. Jones, and Nellie R. Ross enroll at East Carolina College. Bennie Teel is chosen editor of the school newspaper in 1966.


Bennie Teel, 1966. East Carolina University Archives. 50-01-1966-74.

Nellie R. Ross, 1967. East Carolina University Archives. 50-01-1967.

Lillian T. Jones, 1967. East Carolina University Archives. 50-01-1967.


July 2, 1964: President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Act prohibits discrimination of all kinds based on race, color, religion, or national origin. The law also provides the federal government with the powers to enforce desegregation.


President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.


Fall 1965: African American student Hubert Everett Walters graduates from East Carolina College with a Master’s Degree in Music Education.


East Carolina Commencement Bulletin, 1966. East Carolina University Archives. 50.06.1966.


Fall 1966: African American student, Paul D. Scott becomes the first African American student to receive a football scholarship to East Carolina.

East Carolina Freshman Football Team, 1967. East Carolina University Archives. 50-01-1967-135.


Fall 1966: Laura Marie Leary graduates with a B.S. in business administration.


Fall 1966: Vincent Colbert and Marvin Simpson join the East Carolina College basketball team.

East Carolina Basketball Team, 1967. Daily Reflector Negative Collection. East Carolina Manuscript Collection. 741.44.a.28.


April 1967: African American students from Florida A&M University and North Carolina College walk out of the Model United Nations General Assembly held at East Carolina College citing racial discrimination on campus.


East Carolinian, January 11, 1968. East Carolina University Archives. 50-05-03.


Fall 1967: Dennis E. Chestnut is selected for the SGA Judiciary Board. Chestnut will eventually graduate and return to ECU as a professor of psychology.


Men’s Residence Council, 1968. East Carolina University Archives. 50-01-1968-211.


Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, “Dixie” was performed at many East Carolina events, most notably at football games. In January of 1968, a group of African American students formed the Negro Students’ Grievance Committee in order “to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination to the extent that we are students at East Carolina University and not Negro students.” The Negro Students’ Grievance Committee submitted a list of general grievances to President Leo Jenkins and the Student Government Association. The list mentioned disapproval over the frequent display of the Confederate flag and the playing of “Dixie” at university sanctioned events. Their demands were largely ignored by campus administrators.
The banning of “Dixie” would be raised again in the 1969 after appearing on a list of demands presented by black students to school officials. On March 31, 1969, a campus-wide special referendum was held to determine whether the playing of “Dixie” at university sponsored events would be banned. Despite President Jenkins’ prediction that students would “overwhelmingly vote for continuing the playing of this song,” the students did the opposite, as they voted overwhelmingly to ban “Dixie.”

“We assure black students of our support for the general trend of their demands, which points to the arrival of a new day in relations between the black and white elements of our academic community. These demands … seem to us to be in the interest of the entire university, and contributory to its stated aims of furthering knowledge and understanding in a free society.”

Faculty response to the demands, April 14, 1969

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Forging the Trail


January 1968: The Negro Students’ Grievance Committee is formed with the purpose “to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination to the extent that we are students at East Carolina University and not Negro students.” Issues raised by the committee include the use of the confederate flag and the playing of “Dixie” at football games. The Student Government Association approves the formation of a Student Race Relations Board the same month.


February 1968: Dr. Andrew Best, Chairman of the Pitt County Interracial Committee, moderates a discussion between the Negro Students’ Grievance Committee and the Student Government Association.


March 3, 1969: African American students at East Carolina University present a list of ten demands to President Leo Jenkins. The demands include hiring black instructors, creating a black studies program, recruiting black students, banning “Dixie,” and discontinuation of all negative racial practices on campus. The demands are printed in the March 14 issue of the Fountainhead, ECU’s student newspaper.


List of Demands, 1969. East Carolina University Archives. 02-06-16-26.


March 20, 1969: Black students meet with President Leo Jenkins and other administrative officials for the third time. Students leave the meeting dissatisfied after they are told that a committee headed by school officials will be formed. On the issue of banning “Dixie,” President Jenkins advises the students to follow SGA channels, a method, he indicates in a letter to campus faculty, would likely prove unsuccessful.

William Lowe presents demands, 1969. East Carolina University Archives. 50-01-1970-65.


March 26, 1969: Following a meeting of SOULS, Society of United Liberal Students, more than one hundred students march to Leo Jenkins’ home to press him for a response to the list of demands. When asked if he supported the demands, President Jenkins promises a convocation to address the issues.


Leo Jenkins meeting with student protesters, March 1969. East Carolina University Archives. 55-01-0685.


March 31, 1969: President Leo Jenkins calls a convocation of all students and faculty to address the demands presented by the African American students. President Jenkins speaks of the necessity to maintain the established procedures for university governance. The African American students and their supporters walk out in the middle of the speech. Following the convocation, a campus wide special referendum was held to determine whether or not the playing of “Dixie” by university sponsored organizations would be banned. Students vote overwhelmingly to ban “Dixie.”

Leo Jenkins meeting with student protesters, March 1969. East Carolina University Archives. 55-01-0685.


April 1, 1969: Four students, Donnie Draughon, Joe Taylor, James Whittington, and Tom Enoch, are arrested while participating in a demonstration in support of the ten demands. The students are charged with violation of N.C. General Statue 14-273 “Disturbing schools and scientific and temperance meetings; injuring property of schools and temperance societies.” The four students also receive hearings before the newly formed University Judicial Council beginning on April 17 on charges of “conduct unbecoming an ECU student,” beginning on April 17.


Students listen to speaker, 1970. East Carolina University Archives. 50-01-1970-507.


On March 3, 1969, a group of black students confronted President Leo Jenkins with a list of ten demands. The purpose of the demands was to create a better racial atmosphere on campus, to change obsolete university policies, and to present improvements that needed to be made for black students and ECU. Over the next three weeks, the students met with President Jenkins three times and also presented their list to the Student Government Association. On March 26, feeling that the university administration was responding too slowly, more than one hundred students gathered at President Jenkins’ home on 5th Street in an effort to force a response.

Two days later, President Jenkins held convocation in order to address the demands. On March 31, members of the East Carolina community gathered and listened as Jenkins called for restraint and moderation. He further stated that all changes would occur through established university channels. The black students and their supporters walked out of the convocation when Jenkins raised the issue of the amount of financial aid granted to the students making the demands, which many took as a threat to their continued ability to pursue a degree.

“The University does not advocate or condone discrimination; however, Black students in the past have experienced racial discrimination in and out of the classroom.”

From Black Students Ask!

A brochure published in 1970 to recruit black high school students

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Finding the Way


The United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) begins to enforce the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by requesting each state to a devise plan that would dismantle established systems of desegregation in higher education institutions.


Representatives from HEW visit East Carolina. Recommendations made by HEW focuses on the university's policies including placing a statement of equal educational opportunity on all publications and ensuring that off-campus housing options do not discriminate.


The Student Government Association establishes the Office of Minority Affairs to give African American students a voice in student affairs.


The Admissions Office asks the newly formed Office of Minority Affairs to write a recruitment brochure aimed at African American high school students. The resulting brochure is considered brutally honest about racial relations on campus.


Black Students Ask Brochure, 1973. East Carolina University Archives. CH1050.


The Eta Nu chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha national fraternity is chartered, becoming East Carolina’s first black fraternity.

Alpha Phi Alpha, 1972. East Carolina University Archives. 50-01-1972-344.


Linda McLamb is elected Black Homecoming Queen. Between 1971 and 1976 there were separate white and black homecoming queens.


Linda McLamb, 1972. East Carolina University Archives. 50-01-1972-71.


Julia Fields is hired to teach Black Literature at East Carolina College.


Alpha Kappa Alpha forms as East Carolina’s first historically black sorority.


Alpha Kappa Alpha, 1976. East Carolina University Archives. 50-01-1976-252.


Black Arts Festival begins as “Black Week” in 1972, eventually transforming into a festival that included lectures, workshops, a film festival, and a sing-in. The event is sponsored by SOULS, the Office of Minority Affairs, the Student Union, and the Student Government Association.

SOULS members at Black Week, 1972. East Carolina University Archives. 50-01-1972-312.


The former “Y” Hut on campus is converted into the Afro-American Cultural Center, later renamed the Ledonia S. Wright Afro-American Cultural Center. Ledonia Wright was hired as Professor of Community Health in 1974 and served as the advisor to SOULS until her death in 1976.


Y Hut, former Ledonia Wright Cultural Center. East Carolina University Archives. 55-01-0948.


The Ebony Herald is founded to apprise the university community of events and topics of particular relevance to black students and other minority groups. The Herald is published monthly between 1975 and 1984.

Ebony Herald Staff, 1975. East Carolina University Archives. 50-01-1975-180.


Jeri Barnes is elected Homecoming Queen in 1976. After elimination of the Miss Black ECU contest, Jeri Barnes represents SOULS in the contest and is selected as the first black Homecoming Queen representing all of ECU.


Jeri Barnes, 1976. East Carolina University Archives. 50-01-1976-53.


In 1980, African-American student enrollment climbs to 1,329, making up 10% of the student body.


Although conflict continued in the ten years following the 1969 demands made by black students, some improvements were made at East Carolina. The Student Government Association established the Office of Minority Affairs and black faculty members were hired. Courses were added to the curriculum in art, English, history, political science, geography, and anthropology to better meet the needs of integrated education. Black fraternities and sororities were established and black students founded their own newspaper, The Ebony Herald.

Beginning with a single enrollee in 1962, nearly 130 African American students were registered by 1969. A decade later, in 1980, 1,329 African American students comprised 10.1% of the total student body, which numbered 13,264.