The BRADLEY DEPARTMENT of ELECTRICAL and COMPUTER ENGINEERING

The Role of ECE in the Early Days of African Americans Joining Virginia Tech | ECE | Virginia Tech

ECE NEWS

The Role of ECE in the Early Days of African Americans Joining Virginia Tech

Irving L. Peddrew III
Irving L. Peddrew III

Irving L. Peddrew III, admitted in 1953, made Virginia Tech the first historically white, four-year, public university in the former Confederacy to admit a black undergraduate. He came to VT to study electrical engineering. During his first year, Peddrew was the only African American among 3,322 students. He felt isolated and left after his third year. In 2016, he was awarded an honorary degree in ECE. Peddrew-Yates Residence Hall is named after him and the late Charlie Yates, the first African American to receive a degree from the university.

James L. Whitehurst, Jr.
James L. Whitehurst, Jr.

James L. Whitehurst Jr. attended VT (1959-1963) and received his bachelor of science in electrical engineering (BSEE). He went on to be a member of the VT Board of Visitors.

Like his predecessors, Whitehurst had been admitted only to classes, not to the usual run of student activities and facilities. When he went to the snack bar in Squires Hall, he was asked to leave. He had been a football star in high school, but the Tech coach explained that he could not play in college or travel with the team to other southern schools. Though given a uniform, he watched practices from the sidelines for weeks before giving up the idea of playing.

Black cadets might be compelled to attend football games, but they were not permitted to play in them. Whitehurst had found something he couldn't change, so he left the goal of integrating athletics for later students.

After his sophomore year, Whitehurst demanded a room on campus -- and was given an entire bay of Lane Hall. In Cadet Whitehurst's junior year, he rebuffed President Newman's request that he not attend the ring dance, and he recalls that, when he stepped onto the dance floor with his date, his classmates cheered him. In his senior year he lived in the same residence hall as white men did and, unlike the first pioneers, could eat on campus.

Whitehurst pushed through many barriers. The school he graduated from in 1963 had changed since Irving Peddrew applied for admission 10 years earlier.

The pioneers had made a difference.

The above text is from: Higher Education and the Civil Rights Movement: White Supremacy, Black Southerners, and College Campuses (Southern Dissent)Paperback October 1, 2009 byPeter Wallenstein(Editor)