Laura Marie Leary (Elliott) was the first Black student to attend East Carolina University in 1962. She graduated in 1966.
Part of East Carolina University’s mission is “to serve as a national model for public service and regional transformation by: Providing cultural enrichment and powerful inspiration as we work to sustain and improve quality of life …”
Founded in 1907 as a teacher training school, East Carolina University was segregated until 1962. Laura Marie Leary Elliott, ECU’s first African-American student and graduate (class of ’66), said “it was publically smooth but, privately, we were hurting.”
Elliott, originally from Vanceboro, N.C., set out in 1962 to do nothing more than simply further her education. “I was a 17-year-old kid. I wanted to make my parents proud,” she said.
Unbeknownst to her, that first step has opened a door through which thousands of African-Americans have walked.
The road to desegregation was swifter and quieter than in many schools across the South. In 1964, two years after Laura Marie Leary enrolled, 16 African-American students enrolled. In 1966, approximately 50 African-Americans chose to matriculate at ECU, among them Paul D. Scott, the first Black student to receive a football scholarship, and Vincent Colbert and Marvin Simpson, the first Black players on the basketball team.