Last week, the NC State University community celebrated the dedication of Holmes Hall, a building named in honor of Irwin Holmes, the first African American student to receive an undergraduate degree from NC State.
On November 1, 2018, Chancellor Randy Woodson was joined by NCSU student speakers and administrators, including Director of Athletics Debbie Yow and Dean of Engineering Louis Martin-Vega, in a celebration to acknowledge the role Irwin Holmes played in opening doors to future generations of students at NC State. The newly dedicated Holmes Hall, previously known as the University College Commons, is home to Exploratory Studies, Study Abroad, and University Housing offices, as well as classroom spaces. The dedication ceremony featured photographs and artifacts from Holmes's time as a student, including his varsity letter jacket and tennis racket.
In the fall of 1956, Irwin Holmes, Walter Holmes, Ed Carson, and Manuel Crockett became the first African American undergraduate students to enroll at NC State, and in 1960 Irwin Holmes graduated with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering. During his time as a student, Holmes ran track, played on the tennis team, and was elected tennis co-captain in his senior year; by doing so, he broke racial boundaries in college athletics as the first African American athlete in the Atlantic Coast Conference, as well as at NC State's first African American athlete, varsity letter winner, and team co-captain.
In a 2014 oral history interview, available through the Special Collections Research Center's Unique & Rare Digital Collections site, Mr. Holmes was raised in a vibrant African American community in Durham, where he says, “I grew up seeing that black people can do whatever they want to.” Upon arriving at NC State, he was the only African American student in all of his courses, with professors who in some cases refused to teach him because of the color of his skin. In the interview, he describes his tennis coach John Kenfield as an ally and mentor to him during his time as a student, and tells the story of his teammates walking out of a Chapel Hill restaurant that refused to serve him because of his race.
Researchers can view the full video interview and read the transcript to learn more about Mr. Holmes's story, as well as the history of the African American community at NC State, by exploring our digitized collections, Historical State Timeline, and Mr. Holmes' interview online.