University Dedicates Residence Hall Named For Its African American Pioneers
April 14, 2003
More than 500 people attended the ceremony to dedicate Peddrew-Yates Residence Hall on the Virginia Tech campus recently. The building, which is the first at the university to be named for African Americans, honors Irving L. Peddrew III, the university's first black student, and Charlie L. Yates, its first black graduate.
Naming the building after these two pioneers of desegregation was approved by the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors in mid 2002. Formerly known as New Residence Hall West, the building opened in the fall 1998 and currently accommodates 219 students who participate in the Residential Leadership Community, one of Tech's 10 theme housing programs.
"I cannot comprehend the monumental obstacles faced by Mr. Peddrew and Dr. Yates when they were students at Virginia Tech. What I do know, however, is that their sacrifices some 50 years ago have made it possible for African-American students today to not be faced with those same obstacles," said Charles W. Steger, university president, during the dedication ceremony.
Peddrew enrolled in September 1953 in electrical engineering and was the only black student on campus during his first year. He left Tech at the end of his junior year and took courses at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles Community College, and Santa Monica City College. He is a graduate of the Columbia School of Broadcasting.
Peddrew worked in the aerospace and fruit industries, for Newport New Shipbuilding, and at Hampton University before his retirement in 1994. A professional musician, he continues to sing under the stage name Ronny Dru.
"When I enrolled in Virginia Polytechnic Institute 50 years ago, I never imagined that some day Virginia Tech would name a building for me, and particularly a residence hall. Back then, I wasn't even allowed to live on campus. So while this is an ironic honor, it is still a great honor and one that my family and I will cherish," Peddrew said during the dedication ceremony. The first African-American students were required to live and eat off campus.
Yates enrolled a year after Peddrew and completed his undergraduate studies in mechanical engineering in 1958. He graduated with honors and proceeded to Cal Tech, where he earned a master's degree. He later received a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University.
Yates worked at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which conducted research and development work for the U. S. Navy, for 19 years and then returned to his alma mater as an associate professor of mechanical engineering. He left after four years to teach in eastern Virginia but maintained his association with Tech by serving on its board of visitors. He returned to Tech in 1987 as associate professor of aerospace and ocean engineering and retired in 2000. He currently holds the title of professor emeritus of aerospace and ocean engineering.
The building dedication ceremony was one of the highlights of a year-long series of events marking the 50th anniversary of Peddrew's enrollment. Another highlight was a black alumni reunion, which was held the same weekend as the building dedication, and attracted more than 300 alumni and spouses.