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Virginia Tech’s first black student reflects on his experiences

Published: Dec. 10, 2020 at 6:27 PM EST
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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - Let’s take a trip back to the 1950s, when Virginia Tech saw its first black student.

He sat down Thursday and reflected on his experiences with the university in a virtual conversation.

“You and the sacrifice and the struggle to come here as the first Black to come here, to come to Virginia Tech, and the first Black student and to enjoin to sacrifice, you know to make the pathway for others,” said Dr. Menah Pratt-Clarke, vice president for strategic affairs and diversity.

Irving Linwood Peddrew was the first Black student admitted to Virginia Tech, in 1953.

“I didn’t realize the full impact of me being there by myself,” said Irving Linwood Peddrew III.

He was open about how he was subject to exclusion and harassment during that era. But it did not stop him from attending.

“I didn’t think about it, sometimes with that I could go through it again knowing what I was about to do and about that experience,” said Peddrew.

He was the only Black student among 3,322 that year. He studied electrical engineering and was a member of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets. Prohibited from living and eating on campus, he lived with the Hoge family, a Black couple who lived a mile from campus.

“Not enough credit has been given to them,” said Peddrew.

Peddrew remembers having to walk to class every day and walk back for lunch and then walk back for more classes. He says it was hard, but it got easier when admissions gave him some good news his sophomore year.

“I want you to know that the only reason we admitted the three students from Booker T. Washington High in Norfolk was the positive situation that resulted in your being here the first year. He said if it hadn’t worked out as well, we would have not accepted the three students,” said Peddrew.

Peddrew studied three years at Virginia Tech before moving to California and didn’t have the chance to finish his degree. But in 2016, he received an honorary degree from Tech.

University officials say having conversations like this show how far the university has come. From admitting just one Black student, to welcoming nearly 571 in 2020.

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