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Black History Timeline: 1950s

Irving L. Preddrew
Irving L. Peddrew, III, poses for his high school graduation picture.
(Hampton, Virginia, 1953)
(Photo reproduced by Mr. Reuben Burrell, University Photographer, Hampton, Virginia.)


Desegregation of the Blacksburg Presbyterian Church. An oral history interview with Ellison A. Smyth, church pastor for 21 years, is available. This interview by Dr. Michael A. Cooke is from the Black Appalachian Oral History Project, Ms. 91-019, which is housed in Special Collections of the University Libraries.
Irving Linwood Peddrew, III was the first black student admitted to Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

Oral History Interview with Irving Linwood Peddrew, III

"Virginia Tech Admits First Negro, Student from Hampton," Roanoke Times, September 11, 1953

Irving Peddrew's letter to the Virginia Tech about his decision not to attend Ring Dance.

Jerry Bonet starts the group (c1953-54) that would evolve into the Council of Human Relations. Among those attending the early meetings were Irving Peddrew III, Ellison Smyth, Maryanne Matus, John Sears, and several white students. Early meetings were held at the old Presbyterian Manse and the old Presbyterian Church. See interview by Michael A. Cooke with Ellison A. Smyth.
Charlie Yates, Floyd Wilson, and Lindsay Cherry matriculate to VPI.

Oral History Interview with Lindsay Cherry (including additional images)
Matthew Winston (class of 1959) is the fifth black male student admitted to Virginia Tech. After graduating, Mr. Winston had a distinguished career as a researcher for NASA, serving over 35 years. He was awarded an agency medal for his contributions to equal opportunity employment within NASA.
Essex Finney of Powhatan admitted to Virginia Tech. After completing his degree in Agricultural Engineering in 1959, he earned his master's from Penn State and his doctorate from Michigan State. Dr. Finney was a Princeton Fellow in Public Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University in 1973-74. He served from July 1980 to June 1981 in the Office of the Science Advisor to the President in Washington, D. C., in the administrations of both Jimmy Carter and Ronald Regan. In 1985 the College of Engineering of Pennsylvania State presented Dr. Finney with an Outstanding Engineering Alumnus Award in recognition of "his expertise in agricultural research, for his contributions to enhancing the quality of our nation's food and agricultural products, and for his invaluable activity within professional agricultural organizations." Dr. Finney worked for many years in the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) of the United States Department of Agriculture. In 1993 he ws appointed Acting ARS Administrator.

Oral History Interview with Dr. Essex E. Finney
Charlie L. Yates was the first black graduate, receiving a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering. Dr. Yates served on the faculty of Tech for four years in the Department of Mechanical Engineering (1979-83). He left Tech in 1983 to head the Engineering Program at Hampton University, and later he was a visiting associate professor at Old Dominion University. During this period away from Tech, he served on the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors. Dr. Yates returned to Tech in July 1987 as an associate professor in the Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering.

Oral History Interview with Dr. Charlie Yates

"VPI's First Negro Graduate Would 'Do It All Again,'" Norfolk Virginian Pilot, June 10, 1958
James Whitehurst and Robert G. Wells admitted to VPI. Mr. Whitehurst graduated with a degree in electrical engineering; Mr. Wells graduated with a degree in metallurgical engineering.

Mr. Whitehurst later became the first black member of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors, as well as being the first black male to attend the Ring Dance.

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