The Early History of Affirmative Action
at Virginia Tech: An Historical Account

University News, Spring 1995, Vol. 1, No. 2

by James W. Dean
Former Vice President of Student Affairs and
Dean of Students at Virginia Tech

Dr. Dean resides in Blacksburg, Virginia.


When I joined Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1958, two(2) Black students were enrolled. The College's regulations at that time permitted enrollment of minority students (native American Blacks and foreign Blacks), but no minority students were permitted to live or eat on campus. Student Life Policies (1958-1959) stated that only white men and women resided on campus. At that time, civilian freshmen and sophomore men were not permitted to live on campus at the start of their Junior or Senior year. Members of the Corps of Cadets, which enrolled twenty-five hundred students, were required to reside on campus. If a cadet (male) married during the four-year enrollment without the permission of the Commandant of Cadets, Dean of Students and President, he was expelled from the Corps of Cadets and became a civilian student but was denied living on campus. The college enrolled one hundred and fourteen women (114), the maximum number that could live in Hillcrest Hall. Only graduate women students could live off campus.

In the Fall of 1960, Cadet James Whitehurst of Norfolk, Virginia, attempted to become a member of the VPI varsity football team. At first Cadet Whitehurst was denied the right (as a Black) to participate in football by Athletic Director and Football Coach Frank Moseley. Cadet Whitehurst appealed to Mr. Julius Goodman (now deceased), Commonwealth Attorney for Montgomery County. Mr. Goodman filed an injunction with President Walter S. Newman under the 1954 Civil Rights Act to show cause why Cadet Whitehurst could not play football. A decision was made by the President to the Dean of Students (James W. Dean), and Athletic Director Frank Mosely (now deceased) to permit Cadet Whitehurst to be a football candidate. Cadet Whitehurst could practice, but: a) he must dress in his athletic equipment at his residence at Lee Street, b) he could not shower after practice in the old War Memorial Gym, so he had to walk to and from Miles Stadium through town fully dressed in his football equipment.

Cadet Whitehurst was a daily visitor to the Office of the Dean of Students, where he objected to the treatment. Cadet Whitehurst advised the college he was quitting the football team in October and would file a grievance with the Civil Rights Office in Washington, DC.

In April 1961, a US Marshall and the Commonwealth Attorney (Goodman) filed an injunction with the Dean of Students to show: a) why Cadet Whitehurst could not actively participate in all activities scheduled on the VPI Campus, and b) why Cadet Whitehurst could not live and eat on the VPI Campus.

The issue was turned over to the President and Board of Visitors. During the summer of 1961, with aid of attorneys from Roanoke, a decision was made in behalf of Cadet Whitehurst. He was permitted under the jurisdiction of the Dean of Students to reside on campus starting in September of 1961. He was permitted to eat with the Corps of Cadets in Owens Dining Hall.

President Walter S. Newman advised the Dean of Students to do the following:

a) Permit Cadet Whitehurst to live in one end of Lane Hall in a room of his own. No other students, cadets or civilian, were to live in that part of Lane Hall.

b) I was to appoint a resident advisor to live in a room newt to Cadet Whitehurst and to eat daily with Cadet Whitehurst.

c) I was to devise a plan to tell the residents of Blacksburg of the college's plan to integrate the campus and the Town of Blacksburg.

Cadet Whitehurst and Mr. Raymond Thrift (a Corps graduate awaiting call to active duty) were assigned two adjoining rooms in Lane Hall for the Fall of 1961. They ate all three meals together during the 1961-62 academic year.

In March 1962, Cadet Whitehurst informed the Dean of Students he wished to attend and dance at the Junior Class Ring Dance in the War Memorial Gym. Cadet Whitehurst would bring a young lady (Black) from Radford, Virginia, as his guest. President Walter Newman and the Board of Visitors said "no" on the basis that there might be trouble and the integration of VPI did not include the Ring Dance.

On May 1, 1962, a US Marshall and the Commonwealth Attorney placed an injunction with the Dean of Students to permit Cadet Whitehurst to attend and dance at the Ring Dance, May 7, 1962. President Newman and the Board of Visitors agreed providing:

a) Dr. and Mrs. Dean would accompany Cadet Whitehurst and date to and from the Ring Dance.

b) Cadet Whitehurst and Dr. and Mrs. dean were to sit apart from all others in the balcony of the War Memorial Gym.

c) The Dean of students and wife were to prohibit any problems, insults, or actions involving the student body and Cadet Whitehurst and date at the Ring Dance.

The Ring Dance was a success. When Cadet Whitehurst and date with Dr. and Mrs. Dean went on the floor to dance, all others stopped to watch and then applauded for several minutes.

Cadet James Whitehurst graduated, entered the US Air Force, became a pilot, and served for three tours in Germany. He left the US Air Force in 1972 (with the rank of Major) and attended Law School at the University of Richmond. In 1975 Attorney Whitehurst was the first Black to be appointed to the Board of Visitors; he served the Board until 1978. Mr. Whitehurst is now a successful attorney in Richmond, Virginia.

To integrate the Town of Blacksburg, even with the limited town boundaries and population in 1961-62, presents many obstacles. In addition to relating to an older citizen population, we had stores, food markets, a theater, a few restaurants, and a variety of services to advise about the college's integration system. The Dean of Students visited the Mayor of the Town of Blacksburg, Mr. John Barringer (a full professor at VPI, now retired). Mayor Barringer arranged with the Town Council to form a committee of citizens to discuss the arrangements. The town committee suggested:

a) Mr. John Hutchison (son of the former VPI president and local successful businessman) join with Dr. James W. Dean to detail plans for integration of the community.

b) Dr. James W. Dean (Dean of Students) would select to visit the citizens of Blacksburg in their homes in Blacksburg to ask for support for full integration.

c) Mr. John Hutchison and Dr. James W. Dean would personally visit all businesses, stores, theaters, etc. to alert them that Blacks and minorities would be recruited; would eat, live and participate on campus; and would be free of any harassment anywhere in the community.

From late 1961 until the Spring of 1963, the Dean of Students went door to door to each home in Blacksburg to talk to the home owners and citizens. The Dean of Students solicited the help of forty (40) approved student organizations for student volunteers. One approved group out of forty agreed to help - Alpha Phi Omega.

Three days a week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) and one Saturday morning per month, two to three Alpha Phi Omega students accompanied the Dean of Students in the door to door visits. It took nearly fifteen (15) months to complete the task and to assure everyone of the integration plans of VPI. We received mixed reactions but full support from the citizens of the Town.

Mr. Hutchison and Dr. Dean used Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays to visit with the merchants and businesses. There was strong opposition with the few eating establishments and one general store, but eventually we garnered the support of the merchants. The churches were the last groups contacted, and this, too, was an experience.

By the month of February 1963, the community was fully integrated VPI--with the help of the Mayor, Town Council, and key ministers and business persons --succeeded in a task that many had said was impossible. Alpha Phi Omega provided a steady stream of student volunteers to join in the house-to-house visitation in the Town of Blacksburg.

In a period from 1959 through 1962, a rural community and a state college met the challenge of racial equality and succeeded. The pattern used at that time has been successfully pursued to this day.


In 1964 VPI divorced its women's amalgamation with Radford College. In 1965 the Dean of Students, with superb support from Dr. Laura Jane Harper, Dean of the School of Home Economics, embarked on a program to enlarge and support women's programs at the college.

Special consideration to the project was offered by President T. Marshall Hahn and Vice President Warren W. Brandt. By making arrangements for housing on campus (faculty apartments) and the Price House for off campus, the college offered housing to forty-five (45) more women undergraduates.

In 1967 the first Dean of Women was employed (Dr. Martha Harder- still employed at Virginia Tech). In 1968 the first Dean of Men was appointed (Mr. J. Gordon Brown). In 1967 and 1968 President Hahn started to designate formerly men's residence halls for women undergraduates.

Student Life Policies were completely revised in 1968 to permit the identical freedom of rules for men and women and minorities.

From 1964 (with about 200 women students) until now (with more than 8,000 women enrolled), the Affirmative Action program has been forcefully projected on and off campus. In 1971-72 fraternities and sororities were approved, helping to create the cosmopolitan campus that Virginia Tech now enjoys.
Last updated August 5, 1998