Class of 1960 Returns for Reunion Weekend

April 29, 2010
By Cherry Crayton
Irwin Holmes '60 played on NC State's tennis team, making it the first integrated team in the ACC. (Photo courtesy of Special Collections, NCSU Libraries)

Irwin Holmes '60 played on NC State's tennis team, making it the first integrated team in the ACC. (Photo courtesy of Special Collections, NCSU Libraries)

The Class of 1960 returns to campus Friday and Saturday for its 50-year reunion. Classmates will join the Forever Club, which consists of NC State alumni who graduated at least 50 years ago, to reconnect, tour the campus and sit in on “Classes without Quizzes.” Special programming includes a banquet featuring Chancellor Randy Woodson. Bobby Purcell ’77, executive director of the Wolfpack Club and a member of our Board of Directors, will speak at a luncheon for the Class of 1960, and the Forever Club will be treated to a luncheon with NC State women’s basketball coach Kellie Harper. (See a list of all the activities here.)

Among the graduates returning is Irwin Holmes ’60 (photographed above). He was one of four black students who integrated the 1956 freshman class, and he earned a spot on NC State’s tennis team in fall 1956, becoming the first black student-athlete to compete for the college and later the first African American to win a varsity letter in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He went on to earn a master’s in electrical engineering from Drexel University and worked at IBM from 1969 to 1988. In our Autumn 2006 cover story, NC State magazine wrote about his experiences at NC State. After the jump, read an excerpt from the story:

On a sun-soaked afternoon in September 1956, a group of NC State freshmen assembled for a three-day orientation sponsored by the campus YMCA. About 150 students were there—all young men, all with short hair and shirts tucked into belted pants. They attended a picnic, nightly sing-alongs and a series of talks on wholesome topics such as “Growing Religiously in a Technical College.” They sized up one another, hoping to make new friends to help them find their footing.

Like most NC State students, Irwin Holmes ’60 was a North Carolina native who hadn’t traveled far to attend college. Still, he was excited and nervous, and not just because he was starting a new school. He’d grown up in Durham, where he’d attended an all-black high school and rarely had cause to interact with white people. He was the only black student in the crowd, and he was acutely aware that the white students there had grown up on the other side of segregation. He wasn’t entirely sure what they’d make of him, and he didn’t know yet what to make of them. . . .

So Holmes was relieved when another student struck up a conversation at orientation. They chatted, learning each other’s names and discussing their hometowns and prospective majors. That simple exchange was the longest conversation he’d ever had with a white person, and he was surprised at how comfortable it felt. He scanned the crowd at subsequent sessions, searching for the affable young man he’d spoken to before. “I couldn’t find him because they all looked alike to me.”

Later, Holmes would read what happened at other Southern campuses as they integrated. At the University of Mississippi, where James Meredith enrolled in 1962, there were death threats and jeering mobs. Riots left two people dead. Holmes felt lucky: Most students at NC State had been content to ignore him, and some had been kind.

Read the full story here. Here are some of the other big developments during the Class of 1960’s time at State College:

  • NC State dedicates its new $2 million dormitory in memory of the late Churchill Bragaw ’38, manager of Orton Plantation. Bragaw houses 816 students, making it the largest such structure in North Carolina.
  • John T. Caldwell, president of the University of Arkansas and professor of political science, becomes the chancellor of NC State, replacing the retiring Carey Bostian.
  • The Board of Trustees names a round building, still in the planning stages, after former Chancellor John W. Harrelson.
  • The General Assembly authorizes the creation of a stadium committee to explore building a new facility for home football games and converting Riddick Stadium into space for other campus functions.
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