Duke University Alumni Magazine

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I read with a great amount of interest the recent article "Undaunted by Disabilities." Times have changed since I began at Duke almost forty years ago. I can recall at that time only two students who had a (physical) disability (Was learning disability in the vocabulary then?), and I was one of them. Of course, there could have been others whom I don't recall or wasn't aware of, but certainly there was only a handful.

Today, with federal laws and regulations dealing with the disabled, someone who has a disability can make a reasonable request for accommodation and know that the request will be taken seriously, and hopefully done sympathetically and with an understanding of the need for the accommodation. As I see it, the one big advantage that a student has now is that there is one person responsible for coordinating accommodations for the disabled. However, my experience is that there is no substitute for common sense and empathy when working with a disabled person. If an accommodation is granted "just because you have to," the whole point of granting the request rings hollow.

When I was at Duke, there was no one person charged with the responsibility and accountability for the needs of the disabled. What was present were staff and faculty who had the ability to offer assistance in an unobtrusive manner when they felt it was needed. I was fortunate enough never to have to ask for special assistance because of my disability (and I was too proud to ask anyhow), but the "accommodations" I did receive I know were from the heart. Because of this, the persons who intervened when I needed assistance have a very special meaning to me, and they contributed to my sense of worth as an individual.

I feel honored since graduating from Duke to have participated in the White House Conference for the Handicapped, to have been a founding member of the board of the South Carolina Protection and Advocacy System, to have been a member of the South Carolina Disabilities Council, and to have served as a chairman and member of my college's Program Accessibility Committee. Much progress has been made in dealing with issues facing the disabled through the years, but if we replace respect and empathy for the individual with an adversarial position by either the disabled person or the entity being asked to provide access, the victory will be shallow and incomplete.

Name withheld by request


I need to voice my response to the January-February issue, which contained articles

featuring Will Grimsley ["Breaking Down Barriers"] and Professor Thomas McCollough ["What Was the Question Again?"], along with [student] David Tonini's slice-of-life piece, "Swimming Uphill."

If Tonini and his father think that they're tough because they're super-competitive, let them sit in wheel chairs and follow Grimsley, or Reynolds Price, around the campus for a day. If they think that they will prevail because they have the grit to compete successfully, let them contemplate the superior value, at least in Grimsley's life, of others' determination to be cooperative instead of competitive. If they think that their single-minded devotion to achieving success in swimming counts for something, let them attend the celebration of McCollough's teaching career and discover, in his students' experiences, what really counts in life.

As the father of two U.S.A. Swimming-registered swimmers for ten years now, I am familiar with the grueling regimen of daily practices, all year long--even during lousy weather most of the winter. My daughters are tough and know how to compete; and in their swimming they are learning that there is a difference between athletic endeavor and a purposeful life. Swimming, or playing any sport, cannot be the way of life, except for a self-absorbed person.

From Tonini's report, I get the impression that he has yet to learn this. I hope that he will figure out how to make life meaningful and useful after his graduation from Duke. Spending a little time with Will Grimsley and Professor McCollough before leaving probably would help. I'll bet he would begin to wonder, reveling in competition, whether at the end of the ultimate race, he will be happy to be standing alone.

Brian Vaughn J.D. '71
Oakland, California



I was intrigued by the "Quad Quotes" quotation ["Heard Around Campus," March-April 1998] of Tom Leyden, the former white racist who had been in the Army. He noted that while in the Army he had a copy of Mein Kampf and that the Army was aware of his racist beliefs, but no mention of them was placed in his files.

I suppose he wants us all to shake our heads in shock and think "how awful" that the Army would permit such things. But what would he have the Army do? Censor soldiers' reading material? Ban books? Start keeping records of soldiers' political beliefs and entering them into their official files?

It seems to me that such alternatives are far worse than allowing soldiers the same freedom of reading and thought that all the rest of us have, and military personnel have traditionally enjoyed in the U.S. armed services.

Terence Hines '73
Chappaqua, New York



Even if "Remembering the Silent Vigil" [March-April 1998] author Bridget Booher had actually sat on the quad with us herself in April 1968--at about age eight, presumably--it's hard to see how she could have evoked that group secular epiphany more compellingly. Among much else, she conveyed the useful summation of former Duke professor and trustee Samuel DuBois Cook, the college friend and civil rights colleague of the Reverend King, who recalls the Vigil as "a noble event and a sacred or divine experience," a "transcendent" and "redemptive" moment he has "profoundly and intensely cherished," as he will continue "deeply and poignantly" to do until he dies.

Thanks, Professor Cook. Thanks, Ms. Booher. And after thirty years, thanks to the Vigil originals and leaders who transformed the event into a gentle demonstration that nearly perfectly matched the university community's moral energies, thereby drawing in many of us not just for a few days, but for life.

Steven T. Corneliussen '70
Poquoson, Virginia


Your decision to reprise the 1968 Duke Vigil was courageous, given the disinclination of most Americans to recall the tumult of 1968. Your coverage inspires all of us who were there to relive the event and reevaluate our responses to it.

In 1968 I was a young (age thirty-five) law professor at Duke. I believed that World War II had been a just war and that the Korean "police action" had alerted America to the need to contain an American-style democracy in what was then known as South Vietnam. After the Kennedy assassination, President Johnson decided in 1964 to escalate American involvement in Vietnam. Long before the Tet Offensive in early 1968, many Americans (and I) had begun to ask some hard questions: Why aren't these people willing to fight the Communists themselves? Why are their leaders so corrupt? What are we doing out there?

My increasing skepticism about Vietnam policy coincided with growing admiration for Martin Luther King and the movement he (and Rosa Parks and the Freedom Riders) personified. While LBJ committed ever-increasing human and economic resources to the Vietnam War, King spoke out strongly against his policies and priorities, advocating the same Ghandian tactics of nonviolent opposition that he had championed so successfully in the early years of the civil rights movement.

In April 1968, King was killed. This shocking event outraged decent Americans and caused people who respected King's moral authority to align themselves even more strongly with the civil rights and anti-war movements. Many Duke students and faculty needed only a spark to set their activist impulses into motion. The Local 77 labor dispute was the spark that begot the Vigil.

Your picture of Duke trustees and administrators linking hands with the Vigil demonstrators and singing "We Shall Overcome" is priceless! Here we see comfortably situated white males facing a situation they had never imagined possible: By nonviolent protest action, the kids (students) had actually forced the adults (themselves) to confront basic questions about the nature of a university and its role in society.

Randy May perceptively points out that disruptive activities like the Vigil are antithetical to the concept that our universities should be places where ideas are debated in an atmosphere free from intimidation. In 1968, the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement were the most important issues facing the nation. Institutionally, Duke largely ignored those issues. If it had provided meaningful student input on related issues of university governance, the Vigil would not have been necessary.

The Vigil changed Duke in many ways, of which student trustees are only one manifestation. Nothing similar to the Vigil has since occurred. Apparently, Duke's faculty and the administrators got the message. I'm as proud of that as I am of the Vigil itself. Kudos for the students who conducted themselves so admirably during those tense times, reminding all of us citizens that our very souls are at risk whenever we relax our vigilance.

John D. Johnston Jr. '54, LL.B. '56
Asheville, North Carolina


The Vigil was significant in its nonviolence. The administration building takeover at Columbia had gotten pretty ugly; hence, the comment by Roger Mudd (then at CBS, I believe), "Call me when you get some violence." This was whispered to Pete Seeger as he performed. He passed it on to us and was "hot" about it. His next song seemed driven.

On the evening of the Vigil's end, a remarkable person, Bill Lowry, thought there should be a coda. Bill was many things--an accomplished organist, for one--to many people. Somehow, he was able to get a key to the gargantuan chapel organ. The doors were propped open and Bill spilled "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "Hallejuah Chorus" out onto the pounded grasses of the quad and under every door and window of the rocky cross.

Bill Lowry '70 died January 27, 1998, at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill of respiratory disease.

Dan Walter '70
Urbana, Ohio


For the record, I am not the David Henderson on page 6 of the March-April issue. I am, at eighty-three, a long-standing Terry Sanford, anti-Nixon Democrat, and retired lawyer after fifty-three years of practice. This gives me credentials to decry the radicalism of the "Vigil," particularly as it instigated and condoned the trespass in the president's home. This was not civil disobedience, but crass criminal trespass, and should have been treated accordingly.

Note: The light gray print following the names of the characters in the Vigil article

is extremely hard to read. The tendency of graphics people to use this for contrast should be resisted.

Dave Henderson '35, J.D. '37
Charlotte, North Carolina


Thank you for doing a piece on the Vigil. Whenever I read events of those years in other alumni magazines, I thought of your silence. Perhaps your piece signals the Duke's many constituencies are beginning to reach a consensus that, yes, the Vigil was of some significance.

May I make some observations as one who was in the trenches every moment, but was only interested in "putting my body on the line"? Most of us were devastated by the death of Dr. King and were terrified that Duke risked arson. Possibly any effort toward reconciliation would be useless, but we had to try. To be idle was to be part of the problem and would ignore an opportunity for mediation. We all loved Duke.

President Knight was thought of as a kindly, avuncular man, and a rather ineffective administrator, out of touch with the affairs of the day. When we reached his house, it was dusk and he couldn't see the crowd. The news that he had invited us into his house went like lightning to the back of the line. We couldn't believe our luck, but President Knight's beginning road to hell was paved with his good intentions. By the time I entered his house, Knight, standing at the door, was in a state of near catatonic immobility.

All of us considered the president's house to be part of the university's physical plant. We were completely unmoved by statements that we were a home-invading rabble.

The Vigil received no press--local, state, or national. Some of us had been participating in a weekly peaceful silent vigil in front of the Durham post office protesting the federal presence in Vietnam, and that had received far more coverage than the Duke Vigil. We presumed that the trustees and The Duke Endowment were able to throttle the press. The idea that such power could be used and could be effective in 1968 was the most frightening aspect of the whole week. At times, some of us felt as if we had gone back in time to the decades of the Twenties and Thirties.

Throughout the week of the Vigil, a feeling grew among us that we were doing something that Dr. King would have been proud of. That was the reason we, in some small way, prevailed and were able to be at peace. That was the reality for us.

Eventually, conciliation prevailed. A small overlapping interest developed between the trustees and the striking students and was agreed upon. Those of us seniors who participated in the Vigil were the most favored. We graduated on a note of success and left Dodge City. Those who stayed on to learn, to teach, to work, or to manage within an atmosphere of lost innocence were less fortunate.

Serendipitous events like the Vigil force institutions like Duke to define itself for years afterward. Duke's current trustees, always maintaining a sense of humility, a commitment for openness and reconciliation, and trepidation toward the unforeseen, might consider what they would have done during the Vigil, and how they will be remembered.

Peter Neumann '68
Arcadia, California

Other responses, from the Duke Magazine Web Edition's chat area (www.adm.duke.edu/alumni), in which readers were asked to discuss the issues surrounding the Silent Vigil:


This article was the first I've devoured in a long time from the alumni magazine. It was wonderful to hear about old friends and where they are now, and to get the thoughtful reconsiderations of that time.

I graduated in 1967, but was still in town, working for the North Carolina Fund, and wound up baby-sitting for John Strange while he and Diana went to the meetings and the Vigil. I particularly like the emphasis on the role our deep spiritual beliefs had in it. The UCM and YM/YWCA were critical in helping us try to live our faith. Mine has wobbled at times since then, for sure. But this article brought back the serenity of it.

The whole year, 1968, changed my life totally, probably for a lot of us. It sent me back to graduate school in political science at UNC-Chapel Hill, and on into my life

Pat Maloney Alt '67
Baltimore, Maryland


I was a senior that year, 1968. I had never been a particularly activist student. My heart was with them, but I was painfully shy and tended to support from the sidelines, a lurker before my time!

I came to Duke from a wildly conservative, Republican, military family. At the time of the Vigil, my oldest brother was stationed in Vietnam as an intelligence officer. I was the sole liberal Democrat among them -- and suspiciously viewed as a dangerous radical by them. My coming to political consciousness had begun with the presidential campaign in 1960, when I was fourteen years old and reacted to the anti-Catholic slurs made so easily by my parents' friends.

I loved my years at Duke. Despite having gone there because a boy I had a crush on had chosen Duke, I ended up at the perfect university for me. I stretched my intellectual legs, falling in defeat to physics and then soaring in psychology. I loved my classes, the students, the basketball games, all of it. Except for one thing: I was deeply troubled by the people who served us as if we were privileged gentry. I was at Duke on financial aid. I felt awkward and uncomfortable when I watched Lawrence (I think I never knew his last name) mop the halls of the dorm I lived in or Pearl clean the bathroom. Something about all of that felt really off.

I thrilled to Martin Luther King's Page Auditorium speech. I tutored black kids in Edgemont. I cried when one of the kids I worked with touched my hair and told me I had good hair.

Then came the assassination. I wept. I was afraid. I was not one of the original protesters who occupied Dr. Knight's house. I was not on the quad the first day. I got up the second day and went over to West Campus; and I looked and I knew I would never forgive myself if I did not join the students there, if I did not take that risk and represent my beliefs. So I joined in.

I did feel a pang of guilt because I had a campus job and so benefited from the pay raise, which went from $.85 an hour (then the North Carolina minimum wage) to $1.25 an hour (the federal minimum wage). But my financial well-being was not why I was there.

I was hot and wet and cold and tired and hungry and worried because I knew some professors might be punitive to participants. And I cried. I cried every time we all stood and sang. I cried when I listened to the silence. We were so young. We were privileged. We were innocents. And we were willing to sacrifice some part of our lives for something we believed in.

I don't know if the changes we wrought would have occurred eventually anyway. I suspect they would have. But I feel that in our silence and non-violence, we did service to Martin Luther King, and maybe we moved the mountain just a bit.

Today, thirty years later, the Vigil still stands as my proudest moment in college. I spent a long time last week talking with friends and my children, who are in college now, about what we did and how it changed my life.

Cheryl Fuller '68
Portland, Maine

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