Book cover of Point of Reckoning by Theodore D. Segal

The photographs on the cover of POINT OF RECKONING: The Fight for Racial Justice at Duke University, designed by Matt Tauch, track the arc of desegregation and Black student activism at the school during the Sixties. The cover uses historical images from the Duke Archives that center on the events at Duke University but does so with an immediacy that links the book – and the story it tells – to the present moment. Point of Reckoning illuminates conflicts and challenges that continue to resonate at Duke, within higher education North and South, and throughout the country to the present day.

Lower Right: Three of the “first five” Black undergraduates at Duke in 1963, Wilhelmina Reuben[-Cooke], Nathaniel White Jr., and Mary Mitchell [Harris] (l-r) were the first three Black students to graduate from the university. The early years of desegregation were ones of relative calm at the university. The Black students initially “did not raise a lot of questions,” Dean William Griffith recalled. These years were the “easiest as far as not being challenged by any problems,” Griffin said.

First three African American Duke graduates, 1967 (Duke University Archives)

First three African American Duke graduates, 1967 (Duke University Archives).

Upper Right: By 1967, the Afro-American Society had been formed and Duke’s Black students began to press the university to change its stance on racial matters. The first protest, pictured here, was a “study-in” outside of the president’s office to force Duke to ban the use of segregated off-campus facilities by university groups. The study-in – a well-organized and peaceful protest during which students actually studied – was intended to be non-threatening to the administration. “To ‘study-in,’” Armstrong explained, “meant in the process of us getting our education we were also trying to be heard. It was an acceptable thing because Duke students ought to be studying.”

Black students hold a “study-in” in the anteroom outside President Knight’s office on November 13, 1967 (Duke University Archives)

Black students hold a “study-in” in the anteroom outside President Knight’s office on November 13, 1967 (Duke University Archives).

Upper Left and (Orange) Center: The occupation of Duke’s main administration building, the Allen Building, on February 13, 1969 ended after 10 hours when the members of the Afro-American Society exited the building. By that point, 1,500 students, faculty, and members of the Durham Black community had gathered on the quad and police had been summoned to campus. Although the Black student protest had ended, the police determined that it was necessary to clear the quad. A riot ensued. “It was like a war broke out on the quad,” one student recounted. “Tear gas was flying everywhere.” Another student reported seeing police “striking anything in their path.” Almost 20 people were treated at Duke hospital for injuries suffered in the melee. “Kent State could very well have happened at Duke,” one Black student leader thought later. “I think the potential was there.”

The Allen Building takeover, February 13, 1969 (Duke University Archives).

The Allen Building takeover, February 13, 1969 (Duke University Archives).

Policeman approaching unidentified student (Duke University Archives)

Policeman approaching unidentified student, February 13, 1969 (Duke University Archives).

Students on Quad after Allen Building takeover being teargassed, February 13, 1969 (Duke University Archives)

Students on Quad after Allen Building takeover being teargassed, February 13, 1969 (Duke University Archives).

Theodore D. Segal is the author of the forthcoming book, Point of Reckoning: The Fight for Racial Justice at Duke University (Duke University Press, Feb. 2021). You can find him on Twitter at @TheodoreSegal.

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