by Jackson Sveen

DAVIDSON – Davidson College is hosting its homecoming celebration Oct. 5 and 6, when the school welcomes back alumni and commemorates 50 years of student body integration.

In fall 1962, the Davidson’s Board of Trustees admitted their first African student, Dr. Benoit Nzengu.  Nzengu will be flying in from Paris to attend the commemoration and give a Friday evening keynote – “Alumni Reflections.” Leslie Brown, one of the first two African-American students to attend Davidson, will also be speaking Friday night.

“We are really interested in hearing about what the experience was like for students to first come in and integrate the school and the challenges they went through to make the campus the way it is today,” said Marya Howell, director of alumni. “It gives (students) some hope to go from one student to being 25 percent, but we still have a long way to go to make it truly integrated.”

Before Nzengu made his groundbreaking steps onto Davidson’s campus, the college had a long history regarding segregation, dating back to its 1837 founding. The documentary, Always Part of the Fabric, created by the E.H. Little Library Archives and Special Collections, reviews the college’s history of African-American contributions and segregation at the school.

The documentary points out, that while the college itself never owned slaves, several local families at the time, including the first Davidson College president, Robert Hall Morrison, did own slaves, who were used to build bricks and early campus buildings.

Davidson students weren’t allowed to interact with African-Americans in the early years of the college’s existence. Evidence suggests that their only interactions were on Sundays when the college chapel served as the local church where African-Americans attended.

Fast-forward over 100 years to 1954 with the case of Brown versus the Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court ruling that made it unconstitutional to separate public schools for black and white students.

As a private institution, Davidson took longer to adopt the ruling. The college trustees released a statement in 1959, stating, “In view of the request of the Education Committee with reference to the matter of the admission of Negroes, the college authorities responsible for admitting students be advised that it is the judgment of a majority of the Trustees that at this time the admission of Negroes is not in the best interest of the College, of the Church, of the Students, or of any Negroes who at this juncture would be admitted as students.”

The college accepted its first two African-American students in fall 1964 and its first African-American faculty member, Charles Dockery, was hired to teach French in 1974.

“They weren’t thinking of themselves as pioneers or revolutionaries. They just wanted to come to school and get a good education. The students see them as heroes,” Howell said.

Three public talks on Saturday morning in the Chambers Building will address the state of Davidson’s continuing efforts toward diversity and aspirations for the future.

• “Multicultural Affairs at Davidson” at 9 a.m. will be led by Tae-Sun Kim, director of multicultural affairs, and Sarbeth Felming, associate dean and director of multicultural admission. They will discuss demographic changes at Davidson over the years and initiatives by the college to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse community.

• “Faculty of Color and Curricular Diversity, Campus Climate and Tenure” at 10 a.m. in Chambers Building will be led by Helen Cho, associate professor of anthropology, and Hilton Kelly, assistant professor of education. They will speak about the role of faculty of color in supporting college diversity initiatives, as well as new projects and classes being offered in the Ethnic Studies Concentration.

• “The ACE Investment” at 11 a.m. in Chambers Building will explain this Davidson program to blend networking and career advice to help bring together alumni of color with distinct professional passions.