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First black cadets at VMI share experiences of integration in 1968

LEXINGTON, Va.- – It's the first time in nearly 50 years four men are back together in the same room after they entered Virginia Military Institute in the fall of 1968. Though not their first time back, they were invited for reunion weekend for the class of 1969 to share their experiences on a panel of racial integrating VMI.

In 1968, the country was in the middle of the Vietnam War and Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated.

It was also the year the first five black cadets at Virginia Military Institute was admitted, the first being Harry Gore Jr.

"I hated VMI for three years," said Gore. 

The young man from Hampton says he didn't know what to expect. 

"Holy cow what did I get myself in to," said Gore. 

 Gore, Phil Wilkerson, Adam Randolph, Richard Valentine and Larry Foster were the class of 1972.

"They treated us the first year equally badly. And I say that in a good way," said Gore.

VMI was the last of the four year public colleges in Virginia to racially integrate. 

"Until we came up on the bus trip I didn't even realize that VMI did not have other black cadets," said Wilkerson. Wilkerson achieved the rank of company commander while at VMI, followed by a career as a U.S. Army officer. 

Richard Valentine came to VMI to study electrical engineering. He was also a football player for all four years.

"I can see opportunities opening up and coming here allowed me to pursue that dream," said Valentine. 

Gore said he learned how to get along with people from different backgrounds at the institute. And there was no time to think about race.

"There was no white and black. We were just RATS going through the same thing," said Gore.

Gore went on to visit every continent except Antarctica as an Air Force pilot. 

The fifth cadet, Larry Foster was not able to attend the panel. He died in an accident not long after going to college. A chair was left empty on stage in his memory. 


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