Virginia Tech’s Early Black History

In 1890 Charles Owens began working Virginia Tech (VT) as a janitor in one of the barracks. Soon after, he joined band students as a large snare drummer. Floyd Mead was introduced into the Virginia Tech family when, after living with the Thomas Family, Thomas would bring Floyd to hang around the barracks as a young child. The cadets took quickly to Floyd and made him the mascot of the VT athletic teams. When he got a little bit older, he got a job working in the Mess Hall. He later handed down his mascot work to the turkey he trained to cheer for the football team as he paraded it on a leash.

The next black man to work at VT was John Sears in 1917; who came to be known as John the Barber, a nickname the cadets gave him as their favorite barber. Soon after in 1919 Pat mills became the janitor and a well liked debater. He even was awarded a win in a debate about Old-Time Negros.

In the 1950s desegregation came to VT’s Blacksburg Presbyterian Church. After desegregation, black students started attending Virginia Tech with Irving L. Peddrew III leading the way in 1953. That same year a group that later becomes the Council of Human Relations is created by Jerry Bonet. Fittingly, their meetings were held in the Blacksburg Presbyterian Church.

It was 15 years later when the first black student graduated from VT as he received a B.S. in mechanical engineering. This student was Charlie Yates who later served as one of Virginia Tech’s faculty members. A year later in 1959, Mr. Whitehurst became Virginia Tech’s first black member of the Board of Visitors. He was also the first black man to go to the Ring Dance.

While black men had previously matriculated through the college, black women didn’t show up at Virginia Tech until 1966. Now that blacks were gaining more privileges and winning more honors, scholarships soon followed. The first was an athletic scholarship, given to Jerry Gaines for running track. He was also the first black to be accepted into the Virginia Tech Hall of Fame.

In 1968, after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Virginia Tech students held a vigil in his honor. On a lighter note, in that same year, the first black woman was elected as homecoming princess. As the 60s come to a close, more and more black students are playing and starting on athletic teams at VT. This is just a small look into the accomplishments and achievements of black members of the VT family.