Wayne Everett Crumwell '68, the first African-American to graduate from Davidson College, died on Sunday, Nov. 6.
Crumwell arrived at Davidson in the fall of 1964, a watershed year for the civil rights movement. That summer, three civil rights workers with the Freedom Summer voter registration campaign were murdered in Mississippi, sparking outrage and further straining racial tensions. Soon after, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin and ended racial segregation in schools, workplaces and public facilities, was enacted into law.
In the early 1960s, many predominately white and historically black colleges and universities initiated efforts to attract and enroll promising black students. Crumwell was one of two African-American students to enroll at Davidson that year–Leslie Brown received his degree in 1969. At the time of their enrollment, the college had only admitted two other black students, Congolese international students Benoit Nzengu '66 and Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja '67.
While students at Davidson, Crumwell and Brown saw a peaceful voting rights march in Selma, Alabama, turn violent on national television, followed only months later by the passage of the voting rights bill, which paved the way for banning of poll taxes in state elections (the 24th amendment made poll taxes illegal in federal elections).
In a reflection on his time at Davidson, titled "50+ Years of Integration," Brown wrote:
Coming to Davidson as one of the first black students in the time of the rapidly emerging and advancing civil rights movement, I saw myself as having assumed the mantel of "firstness." By that I mean, I had embarked on the migration* with a sense of mission, duty and responsibility because I felt that my successful migration had the potential to impact the nature and course of race relations and future opportunities for other blacks' relationship with Davidson College and the broader issue of integration and opportunities for blacks in higher education and other arenas. In that light, I saw the migration as much larger than just me and my educational goals. I carried with me not only my own hopes, dreams and expectations but also those of my family, my community and my people.
Crumwell and Brown bore the burden of "firstness" while navigating an environment where their presence was met with varying degrees of acceptance, and in a town where separate business hours were kept for white and black customers. When Crumwell returned to alma mater to help celebrate Black History Month in 1993, he told The Davidsonian of the difficulties he faced and remembered fondly Admissions Director H. Edmonds White, calling him Davidson's own secretary of Health, Education and Welfare.
Crumwell came to Davidson from Chesapeake, Virginia, the son of a city laborer and a domestic worker. He majored in English, and went on to earn an M.B.A. from the University of Wisconsin and his law degree from Duke University School of Law. He served his country during the Vietnam War and was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army having attained the rank of captain. He opened a law practice in Roxboro, North Carolina, and in 1978 moved it to Reidsville, North Carolina. He was active in civic and professional life: a professor at N.C. Central University, chairman of the Person County Heart Association, member of the N.C. National Guard JAG Corps and a director of the Management Improvement Corporation of America.
Crumwell's funeral was held on Sunday, Nov. 13, at the First Baptist Church of Reidsville. His obituary is available here.
*Brown likens his arrival at Davidson and the process of defining new roles, expectations and structures through integration to the process the communities underwent in the North, Midwest and on the West Coast when millions of African-Americans migrated from the Jim Crow South.