Sixty years ago in September 1953, Irving Linwood Peddrew, III was the first black student admitted to Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VPI). Everett Pierce Ramey applied to VPI in 1951, but his application was refused because he wished to study business. Black students were considered for admission only if they wished to pursue a curriculum, such as engineering, that was not offered at Virginia State, the black land-grant state school near Petersburg. Once admitted, a black student was not permitted to change his major from engineering to another course of study.
In November 2002, Peddrew did an oral history interview with Tamara Kennelly, University Archivist, in which he spoke of the loneliness of desegregating Virginia Tech. Just this year he released the interview to the public. The interview is available at http://spec.lib.vt.edu/archives/blackhistory/oralhistory/peddrew/
Peddrew was not permitted to live on campus or eat in the cafeteria with the other cadets. He boarded with the Mr. and Mrs. Hoge about a mile away from campus. He had to lug his cadet gear back and forth each day and change in another cadet’s room to be prepared for the meticulousness of military bearing. Several students requested him as a roommate the following year, but that was not permitted.
In the fall of 1954, three more black students entered Virginia Tech: Lindsay Cherry, Floyd Wilson, and Charlie Yates. They too had to live and eat their meals off campus. In 1958 Yates became the first black student to graduate from Virginia Tech. Yates earned his doctorate from Johns Hopkins. He later returned to Virginia Tech and taught first in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and then in the Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering. For more interviews, images, and information about the first and early black students at Virginia Tech, visit http://spec.lib.vt.edu/archives/blackhistory/
In 2003 New Residence Hall West, which was built in 1998, was renamed Peddrew-Yates Hall to honor Irving Linwood Peddrew, III (on the right) and Charlie Yates.