Duke Vigil collection, 1968 - 1988

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Duke University. University Archives
The Duke Vigil was a silent demonstration at Duke University, April 5-11, 1968, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The collection features announcements, flyers, publications, handouts, correspondence, reports, ephemera, press releases, clippings, a diary, sound recordings and WDBS broadcasts, and photographs. Individuals prominent within the collection include John Blackburn, Kenneth Clark, John Strange, David Henderson, Duke President Douglas Knight, Samuel DuBois Cook, and Wright Tisdale. Major subjects include student demonstrations, race relations, Duke University employee wages and labor union, and the anniversary and reunion of the Vigil in 1988. Materials range in date from 1968 to 1988. English.
2 Linear Feet
1,500 Items
Collection ID:
University Archives Record Group:
01 -- General Information and University History
01 -- General Information and University History > 10 -- African American History at Duke


Scope and content:

The collection features a variety of materials documenting the Vigil at Duke University from April 5-11, 1968. These materials originate from numerous sources and were compiled by University Archives staff for teaching and research. The first series, Subject files, contains primary documents, including announcements, flyers, publications, handouts, correspondence, reports, and ephemera; media coverage including press releases and clippings; personal papers and a diary about the Vigil from John Blackburn, Kenneth Clark, John Strange, and David Henderson; and analyses and materials relating to the anniversary and reunion of the Vigil in 1988.

The Sound recordings series features five audiotapes made by a Duke student during the Vigil. Additional sound recordings can be found in the Related collections series. These collections include the WDBS broadcast recordings and the University Archives Photograph Collection, and they provide further audio and visual documentation of the Vigil. The WDBS records feature eleven audiotapes of radio broadcasts on events during the Vigil. The Photograph Collection includes over twenty black and white photographs of the Vigil, one color photograph, and numerous negatives, contact prints, and slides.

Biographical / historical:

Sparked by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968, Duke University students organized a peaceful protest for racial equality that left few students, faculty, administrators or employees unaffected. Up to 1,400 students slept on the Chapel Quad, food services and housekeeping employees went on strike, and most students boycotted the dining halls in support of the employees.

The protest began Friday evening, April 5, when 450 students marched three miles to University President Douglas Knight's House with the following four demands:

  • That he sign an advertisement to be published in the Durham Morning Herald calling for a day of mourning;
  • That he press for the $1.60 wage for University employees;
  • That he resign from the then-segregated Hope Valley Country Club;
  • That he appoint a committee of students, faculty and workers to make recommendations concerning collective bargaining and union recognition at Duke.

Knight met the students and faculty members on his front lawn, and the group entered his house. While Knight negotiated with the group's leaders, the rest of the students sat in the hallway and sang protest songs. The students spent the night in the president's house at his invitation. Saturday afternoon, Knight attended and spoke at a memorial service for King in Duke Chapel. Following the service, 350 students and faculty marched to Knight's home to support the students still inside the house. Knight promised to release an official statement within 72 hours, but Vice President for Student Affairs William Griffith and Knight's physician William Anlyan told the group the president was about to collapse from exhaustion and could no longer participate in the negotiations.

The Duke Vigil officially began the next morning, Sunday, April 7, as protesters moved onto Chapel Quad. Coordinators demanded strict adherence to a set of rules for the demonstration. In their straight rows of 50 people, the students were not allowed to talk to each other or the press. Rigidly ordered, the quad protest was meant to symbolize the non-violent intentions of the group. The leaders continued their discussions with administrators, and Sunday night 546 people slept on the quad. Boycotts continued, and by Tuesday night more than 1,400 demonstrators assembled for the Vigil. Folk singer Joan Baez spoke to the rally, and Senator Robert Kennedy sent a telegram of support to the students.

The next day, Wednesday, professor Samuel DuBois Cook addressed the students, and then Wright Tisdale, chair of the Board of Trustees, told the crowd the trustees and students shared the same concerns. He said the University would begin paying a $1.60 minimum wage and mentioned Knight's proposed committee to examine racial concerns. Following his remarks, Tisdale linked hands with the student protesters and joined in the singing of "We Shall Overcome." The demonstrators filed into Page Auditorium, where professors read an Academic Council resolution and tried to persuade the students to end the protest since the Board of Trustees had met the major part of their demands. The students agreed to drop their insistence on Knight's Durham Morning Herald advertisement and resignation from Hope Valley Country Club. After midnight on Thursday, April 11, 1968, the students decided to continue their boycott of the dining halls and pledged to support the workers' union, as they brought the demonstration to an end.

[Portions of this text from "'Profound History': Students answered violence with the Silent Vigil" by Laura Trivers, published in The Chronicle, April 4, 1988.]

Acquisition information:
The Duke Vigil Collection was received by the University Archives as a transfer in 1968-1971.
Processing information:

Processed by University Archives staff, completed December 1989.

Encoded by Jill Katte, February 2004

Updated by Molly Bragg, July 2011

Physical location:
For current information on the location of these materials, please consult University Archives, Duke University.
Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard


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Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

Portions of these materials are restricted by donor request.

Terms of access:

Copyright for Official University records is held by Duke University; all other copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Duke Vigil Collection, Duke University Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.