Duke University Alumni Magazine

Lasting Legacy to the Carolinas: The Duke Endowment, 1924-1994


By Robert F. Durden. Duke University Press, 1998. 404 pages. $55.95.


ames Buchanan Duke once told a friend that it was much easier to make his money than to figure out how to give it away. But the leading benefactor of Duke University was as innovative and effective in his approach toward philanthropy as he was in building a worldwide tobacco giant and organizing a vast network of electric power plants throughout the Carolinas. In his establishment of The Duke Endowment--by which the multi-millionaire capitalist "endeavored to make provision in some measure for the needs of mankind along physical, mental, and spiritual lines"--J.B. Duke went far beyond his family's long tradition of giving. In fact, he institutionalized it for posterity on a most princely scale.

Since its inception on December 11, 1924, The Duke Endowment has made grants close to $1.4 billion. Of that, Duke University, the prime beneficiary, has received more than a third, or $600 million. Roughly the same amount has been provided to numerous hospitals, orphanages, and other health-care and child-care organizations. Additional beneficiaries have included other colleges and universities (Davidson College, Furman University, and Johnson C. Smith), and Methodist churches and ministers throughout the Carolinas. Moreover, thanks to J.B. Duke--and the trustees and staff throughout the decades--the Endowment's largesse has gone far beyond the financial. It has grappled with some of the most intractable social problems of our century.

In Lasting Legacy to the Carolinas, Robert F. Durden, history professor emeritus at Duke, celebrates the seventy-fifth anniversary of The Duke Endowment with an exceptionally well-documented chronicle of its history. The author of The Dukes of Durham and The Launching of Duke University, Durden tracks the Endowment's role in the economic and social progress of the Carolinas in comprehensive and fascinating detail. While providing thorough research and factual analysis, the book also portrays the colorful individuals--J.B. Duke, William P. Few, Doris Duke, George Allen, and many others--who have made the Endowment, and Duke University, what they are today.

J.B. Duke's father, Washington Duke, lived and raised his family according to Methodist precepts of stewardship of wealth: that those who possessed wealth had the dual responsibility of both "using it and giving it wisely." Washington Duke had supported Trinity College since the late 1880s, at a time when it was almost bankrupt. Still, the real transformation of the small, Methodist Trinity College into Duke University began when J.B. Duke signed the indenture that created an endowment for the college to receive a significant portion of its annual income. J.B. authorized the Endowment's first trustees to distribute $6 million from the corpus of the trust to help expand Trinity into a major new university.

Durden dispels some of the myths that took root in that era and still flourish today. He explains that it was then-president William P. Few who had the idea to name the enlarged institution "Duke," although it has always been widely assumed Duke himself suggested it. Durden describes the relationship between J.B. Duke and Few as they planned and commenced construction of the new university, depicting its almost overwhelming magnitude. "It was a vast undertaking," Durden observes. "Only a few colleges or universities up to that time had ever had such a large part of their physical plants constructed at one time, much less with the architectural harmony that would characterize the buildings."

In fact, both Few and Duke significantly underestimated the amount of money actually needed to build a first-rate research university, according to Durden. He tells the story, perhaps apocryphal, that when J.B. Duke asked Few how much money would be required, Few replied: "About $100 million." J.B. Duke, taking Few's reply as a joke, is said to have laughed and, upon seeing Few subsequently, remarked teasingly, "Here comes the hundred-million-dollar man."

Since today's total Endowment support has already topped six times that amount, it was fortunate for Duke University that early Endowment trustees decided to shift the original focus of the trust from health care to education. Within a few years following J.B. Duke's death, they concluded that there was more income for hospitals than could be properly and wisely used in the Carolinas--and that it wasn't prudent to expand the hospital building program further nationally. Accordingly, they proceeded to make the four educational institutions, especially Duke University, the prime beneficiaries.

Durden makes it clear that this decision, and the significant support and funding that followed, played a critical role in the university's success in achieving the national leadership position it holds today. He maintains that the single most important concrete action in catapulting Duke into the top echelon of research universities was the Endowment's decision in the 1960s to make faculty compensation competitive with the best universities in the nation. At the same time, Durden demonstrates how the Endowment also has kept J.B. Duke's original commitment to the Carolinas. He cites the establishment of the Benjamin N. Duke Scholars program in the 1980s, which has been an important force in attracting North and South Carolina students to Duke.

Some of the liveliest aspects of the book cover the complex relationship between the trustees of The Duke Endowment and those of Duke University. By granting Endowment trustees the power to withhold payments to the university under certain conditions, J.B. Duke's original indenture gave them significant influence over the university's operations. Durden details the inevitable tensions that often resulted and how they were eventually resolved.

Many observers mistakenly assume that Duke University has been its only beneficiary. The book outlines the Endowment's important contributions to other colleges and universities--especially in the areas of faculty salaries, library resources, and student scholarships. Endowment aid helped build both Davidson College and Furman University into leading liberal-arts colleges. The Endowment gave Johnson C. Smith what few, if any, voluntarily supported colleges and universities for African Americans in the early part of the century could claim: a dependable source of a significant amount of unrestricted income. When the college experienced unexpected deficits in the late 1960s, the Endowment came forth with the funds need to cover operating expenses. Stated Smith's grateful officers in a subsequent memorandum: "Needless to say that without the strong arm of financial support of the Endowment, Smith would have probably joined the scrap heap or funeral pyre of more than 200 other traditionally Negro colleges within the last hundred years."

Equally enlightening is Durden's description of the trailblazing contributions the Endowment has made in hospitals, health-care organizations, orphanages, and churches. Beginning in the late 1920s, the Endowment built and equipped community hospital facilities, provided aid toward the cost of hospitalization for the Carolinas' poor, and raised standards and improved efficiencies throughout the health-care system. Field staff representatives entered into an ongoing relationship with the beneficiary hospitals, assisting with record keeping, lending a hand with applications for assistance, helping train bookkeepers. Perhaps most importantly, the Endowment established new uniform systems to obtain and store financial and clinical records, which enabled hospitals to collect and share a rich variety of important data. The Charlotte office became a clearinghouse on health and hospital matters not only for the Carolinas but the nation.

One of most interesting themes of the book is role of the Duke Endowment vis-ˆ-vis the federal government. J.B.Duke's original vision was that the Endowment would own virtually all the securities of and ultimately control Duke Power Company (now Duke Energy), which in turn would supply most of the Endowment's income. In fact, Durden says, "because of his solicitude for Duke Power, J.B. had mandated a highly restrictive perpetual investment policy"--one that often denied the trustees the ability to adapt to changing economic and political conditions.

In the 1960s and 1970s, powerful individuals in the government began to attack this tight, interlocking relationship between the Endowment and Duke Power. Wright Patman, a Texas Democrat, launched an all-out crusade against alleged abuses of tax-exempt foundations in general. His efforts culminated in the Tax Reform Act of 1969, which required the Endowment to reduce its percentage of ownership in the common stock of Duke Power to no more than 25 percent by 1979 and prevented it from purchasing any more stock.

In the early 1970s, following the mandates of the 1969 Tax Reform Act, the trustees gained legal permission at least to modify the investment provision of the indenture. It was not until after the 1993 death of Doris Duke (J.B. Duke's daughter and the sole trustee who refused to allow the Endowment to sell any Duke Power stock), however, that the trustees were able to sell a large block of stock and significantly diversify the investment portfolio, reducing the concentration in Duke Power from 77.5 percent to 30.8 percent.

"The trustees of the Endowment had both faithfully and imaginatively continued for seventy years to do precisely those things that J.B. Duke wanted done. After 1994, however, they would do them with drastically less of the total income being derived from stock in his cherished Duke Power Company," concludes Durden. "The Endowment's annual assistance to beneficiaries went on, in ever increasing amounts and in more imaginative ways than ever, but an important part of James B. Duke's Grand Design was gone forever."

What Durden's book captures for us is the ultimate and ongoing good that Duke's grand design set in motion. Besides tracing the impact of one man's innovative charitable intentions, the book is a testament to the many trustees and staff members who have invested their own time, energy, and creativity in "giving wealth wisely" throughout much of this century.

--Sarah Hardesty Bray

Bray '72 is a senior editor at The Chronicle of Higher Education and a member of Duke Magazine's Editorial Advisory Board.

Rocking My Life Away: Writing About Music and Other Matters


By Anthony DeCurtis. Duke University Press, 1998. 360 pages. $24.95.


n an interview with music critic Anthony DeCurtis, R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck notes that critics trained in English departments sometimes find meanings in lyrics even when they aren't there. "English majors tend to think everything means something," Buck observes, and he and DeCurtis shake their heads over such text-exploring rock-and-roll reviewers.

But DeCurtis himself, a contributing editor to Rolling Stone and correspondent for the cable music channel VH-1, has a Ph.D. in English. And while he may be right in saying that Bob Dylan is not James Joyce, this new collection of his critiques shows that he has a firm grasp of what means what--and that he puts his English-major background to good use to express that grasp clearly and acutely.

Rock and roll and its creators are DeCurtis' principal subject, but his range and interests are broad and diverse--from blues artist John Lee Hooker to Wall of Sound creator Phil Spector to rapper Ice-T. Some of his freshest observations are of country singers Johnny Cash and Garth Brooks. His brief item on Brooks praises the artist's skill at incorporating rock elements into his country base, and commends his generosity to live audiences to today's often spoiled rock stars.

Many of the book's critiques are quite short--750 words or less. Others reach five times that length, and these longer pieces are better. DeCurtis' strength is intelligent explication of various elements of popular culture; fuller treatment of such subjects as Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, or the Department of Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University allows him to develop a premise to greater depth. For instance, in that Peter Buck interview (and elsewhere), DeCurtis points out that rock music is an authentic expression of important forces in modern society -- but it may or may not be art, and critics should avoid portraying it as something it's not. Popular music is at its best, he says, when it gives a voice to "outsiders"--those on the outskirts of our business-oriented civilization.

DeCurtis takes a palpable pleasure in popular music. He tells how, more than once, rock helped him find his way through an urban, working-class youth in ways more formal schooling did not--ways he could readily understand. Rock also led him to appreciate the power words have to shape emotions and ideas. He is grateful for the help.

Largely absent from DeCurtis' appreciations, however, is the historical context that informs much of the best writing on popular culture. Significantly, Rolling Stone has published a superb history of rock and roll, Rock of Ages, which locates the origins of rock in social protest and stresses its continuing (if sometimes elusive) links to that past. Why so little historical perspective in Rocking My Life Away? Admittedly, the brevity of many of his critiques allows little room for deep background. Still, in the longer pieces he largely eschews historical references, even in those that seem to demand them--a piece on the Irish group U2 in Sarajevo or a 1990 encounter with Russian anarchy. Clearly a person of DeCurtis' intelligence can read and grasp history--proven by a fine essay.

I suspect he avoids historical background because he is so engaged by the moment, by what is right in front of him, and is less concerned with analyzing that moment than displaying it. He chooses more often to be witness than interpreter. The choice might be driven by the visual plenty of popular culture--music videos on MTV and VH-1, top-notch photography in Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair, dozens of motion pictures. It might spring from what DeCurtis himself says: "There are too many things to know and too many ways of knowing." It might be all these things and more--but no matter the reason, I do believe the lack of background to be a conscious choice rather than an oversight. And in large part, he succeeds.

One of my favorite pieces is "Village Idiots," originally published in Village Voice in 1993. In it, DeCurtis considers two documentaries: the Bob Dylan film Don't Look Back, from 1966, and Madonna's 1991 release Truth or Dare. The most telling difference between the two is that Dylan keeps his personal life private but shows his manager squeezing promoters for money, while Madonna flaunts her sex life but refuses to let the camera follow her into a business meeting. DeCurtis observes that "though money is a far greater factor in the creation of music than it was twenty-five years ago, its influence, while much more apparent on the gritty surface, is also much more concealed." An insightful, useful observation--though it would have been made even stronger with a historical nod toward some of the seismic cultural shifts that occurred between 1966 and 1991.

Rocking My Life Away is worth reading. As with any collection of journalistic pieces, there are some misses among the hits, but DeCurtis is a clear-eyed observer throughout. His best essays show a deep sympathy for most of his subjects, and nothing else conveys the native intelligence of Sting or The Artist (formerly known as Prince) as do DeCurtis' portraits. That he can write penetratingly about bluegrass legend Bill Monroe in one place and rap group Wu-Tang Clan in another demonstrates not just virtuosity but a generous curiosity.

Does his passion for popular culture matter? Here is DeCurtis' own answer: "Anyone who wants to figure out what's been going on in this society in the past thirty years simply must take television, the movies, and pop music into account." He's right.

--William Price


Price '63 is a professor of history at Meredith College in Raleigh, where he uses rock and roll in his "History of the South" course. He retired from the North Carolina Division of Archives and History in 1995.




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