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Barnes carried torch as first black student

By Nick Phillips

March 29, 2012

Photo courtesy of Indianhead yearbook
Graduate Larry Barnes' 1969 yearbook portrait. Barnes was the
University's first African-American graduate in 1971.

When Larry Barnes stepped onto the then-Pembroke State College campus in 1967, he paid no attention to his race or that of those around him.

"At the time, it was an opportunity that came up, and I took advantage of it," Barnes said.

Barnes was the Univer- sity's first African-American student in 1967, and he recalled an entirely different campus during his collegiate years than the current outlook that's celebrating its 125th anniversary.

The Board of Trustees approved the admission of white students up to 40 percent of the total enrollment in 1953 and, following the Supreme Court's school desegregation decision, opened the college to all qualified applicants without regard to race in 1954.

Despite an enrollment growth of over 500 percent during the next eight years, it was 13 years before Barnes became a torch-bearer.

Barnes credits Dr. Les Murray and Dr. James B. Chavis, who was the President of the University at the time, as playing important roles in helping him come to UNCP. Steven Roberts Original Desserts donated the biggest cake in UNCP history that was served for everyone in attendance.

"I came here as the first African-American and the second year, coach (Larry) Rodgers came. I always felt at home here," Barnes said. Barnes also played soccer for UNCP, while Rodgers starred in track for the Braves before returning in 1981-82 and leading the program for 30 years before his retirement prior to this school year.

Barnes said that the growth and changes the University has gone through since his time as a student is huge.

"Different is an under-statement," he said.

"I could tell you the name of every student on campus in 1967. The school was in a growth period at that time and has been growing ever since," he added.

Barnes graduated from Pembroke State College in 1971, and said he still comes to campus about three or four times a year.

"The school has brought the community together in a lot of different ways," Barnes said.

Due to its history, the University and the community will forever be intertwined, and Barnes historic step will forever be linked as part of the journey.

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Updated: Tuesday, April 10, 2012
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