Nathaniel “Nat” B. White Jr., one of the first five Black undergraduate students at Duke University, has died, Duke Today reported. He was 75.
White died March 19 in Atlanta. His cause of death was not disclosed.
White along with Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke, Gene Kendall, Mary Mitchell Harris, and Cassandra Smith Rush were the original five undergraduates to attend Duke in 1963. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1967. With White’s death, Kendall is the last surviving member, Duke Today reported.
Born and raised in Durham, White originally wanted to attend Hampton Institute, his father’s alma mater. But a guidance counselor at Hillside High School encouraged White, the school’s highest-ranked academic male student, and valedictorian Mary Mitchell to consider Duke, and they both followed her advice. A week after attending the March on Washington in August 1963, White enrolled at Duke, according to the school’s publication.
Theodore D. Segal, author of Point of Reckoning: The Fight For Racial Justice At Duke University, wrote that when White and his fellow Black freshmen entered Duke in the fall of 1963, “it represented a profound change for the university.”
Segal wrote the trailblazing students were called the ‘chosen few’ by some members of Durham’s Black community.
According to his Facebook page, White revealed that he had been given an African name “Olamini Adenijii,” decades before.
“Olamini (wealth is yours) Adeniji (the throne awaits) was the name chosen when I was not sure about this new FB thing,” White posted in October. “I had received the african name from the Yoruba village near Beaufort SC in the 1970s. My wife Sylvia received the name Nzingha and our children Angela/Imani and Natalie/Maia attended Ujamaa Schule in Washington DC along with Charlie Kofi Breece son of Janet Octavia Knight aka Ajekemi. Those were the days!”
Duke Today reported that following his graduation in 1967, White enrolled in graduate studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he studied statistics and took courses at UNC’s School of Public Health.
White had a long career in public health beginning in 1969, when he became a commissioned officer in the U.S. Public Health Service. He worked in epidemiology with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and later with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Duke Today reported.
The publication added that while working as a consulting statistician, White monitored clinical trials, reviewed research grants, and was section chief for a computer division that supported activities in epidemiology.
From 1993 to 2007, he served as director of the Public Health Sciences Institute and director of the Office of Sponsored Research at Morehouse College.
White is survived by his daughter, Natalie White; his grandchildren Victoria White, Jazmine White, Robin Mason, Christian Thomas; and great-grandchildren Malichi Watkins and Imani Watkins.
Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.