he iconic photograph captures a moment when minds and history were changed: On the evening of March 26, 1969, a group of angry students surround President Leo Jenkins on the front porch of Dail House, their arms crossed, their faces intent. It was not a social call. Frustrated by lingering prejudice on campus, the students rose from a meeting and strode across Fifth Street to ask why, nearly seven years after the first black student enrolled at East Carolina, they still endured the playing of Dixie at football games. Why the Confederate battle flag appeared at sponsored events. Why there still were no black professors.
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The visitors felt campus desegregation had stalled, and they wanted Jenkins to take action. Because of Jenkins’ natural empathy for their cause, and the students’ own maturity, the face-off ended peacefully that night. The students went home with a promise the university would continue addressing their concerns, and Jenkins kept his word. That night marked an especially rocky stretch on East Carolina’s road to desegregation, which began in 1962 and perhaps culminated when the first group of African American faculty arrived in 1974. They were critical years for the university, marking its departure from provincialism
into the ways and values of a modern, multicultural university. Behind the transformation were leaders like Jenkins and the late Dr. Andrew A. Best, Greenville’s first African American physician. Together, they crafted a thoughtful path to desegregation— avoiding the courts, the National Guard and federal intervention. In the weeks after the front porch summit, Jenkins held several high-profile meetings with students. By the next year, no one heard Dixie at games and the battle flag was unwelcome. Though it would be years before African American faculty were hired in significant numbers, the university was on its way toward full desegregation. 23
Published on May 8, 2009