Vanderbilt Lawyer - Volume 36, Number 1

A Memorable Year

In the 19th century, Vanderbilt Law School had begun to enroll Native American students, and a small number of international students from Asia. In the early 20th century, students with Latino names, such as Octavio Acevedo, Xavier Christ and Joseph Rodriguez, were registered. Breaking such racial and ethnic barriers took place, apparently without incident. But this prior experience did nothing to prepare the school, the university and the alumni for the admission of African-American students in the mid-1950s.
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A Learning Experience

Melvin Porter and Fred Work, standing on the steps to Kirkland Hall

Melvin Porter and Fred Work, standing on the steps to Kirkland Hall

One evening in the fall of 1956, Fred Work received a warning phone call from his classmate, Melvin Porter. Work and Porter had just become the first two African-American students admitted to Vanderbilt's law school, and their reception hadn't been entirely friendly. En route from the parking lot to the law school the first day of class, the two had encountered white sheets of paper covered with black dots, affixed to every tree leading to Kirkland Hall, where the law school was then located. "One thing we were certain of," Work recalls. "This was not a sign of welcome."
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