James Leslie Whitehurst, Jr

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James Leslie Whitehurst, Jr.
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BornFebruary 23, 1940
Portsmouth, Virginia
DiedFebruary 7, 2013
Hopewell, Virginia
CitizenshipUnited States of America
EducationVirginia Tech (B.S, 1963) University of Virginia (J.D, 1975)
Known forFirst black student to live on-campus at Virginia Tech

James Leslie Whitehurst, Jr. (February 23, 1940 February 7, 2013) was an American Lawyer and fighter pilot most notable for becoming the first black student to reside on-campus at Virginia Tech.

Early Life

Whitehurst was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, in 1940, the son of James Leslie Whitehurst, Sr. and Fannie B. Faulkins Whitehurst. He graduated from I. C. Norcom High School in Portsmouth, where he played football.[1] After his high school graduation, Whitehurst sought to attend Virginia Tech, hoping to pursue a degree in physics.[2]

Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech remained an all-white institution until 1953, when it enrolled its first black student. Even after admitting its first black students, the school remained heavily segregated, with black students barred from eating or living on Campus of Virginia Tech or participating in extracurricular activities.[2] Further, black students were only allowed to study engineering, because their admission was contingent on "separate but equal" laws. No black public college or university in Virginia offered an engineering program at the time, enabling black students to enroll in the engineering program. It was under these conditions that Whitehurst was admitted in 1959.[1] Despite originally hoping to study physics, Whitehurst decided to pursue an electrical engineering degree in order to be admitted under the "separate but equal" laws.[2]

Whitehurst also hoped to play football while at Virginia Tech. He filed a legal injunction allowing him to practice with the Virginia Tech Hokies football, but was still not allowed to use team facilities. This meant he was often required to walk from his off-campus housing to campus in full football equipment to attend practice. Giving the difficulty of simply attending practice, Whitehurst abandoned his goal of joining the football team (John Dobbins became the school's first black football player in 1969).[1]

In 1960, Whitehurst decided he wanted to live on-campus, like most white students, and filed another injunction against the school. The school responded by allowing him to live in Lane Hall, making him the first black student to live on-campus. He also became the first black attendee of Virginia Tech's ring dance that same year.[2]

Whitehurst graduated from Virginia Tech in 1963 with a B.S in Electrical Engineering.[3] In 1970, he broke another color barrier at his alma mater by becoming the first black member of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors, holding that role until 1974.[1]

In August 2020, Virginia Tech's Barringer Hall was renamed Whitehurst Hall in Whitehurst's honor.[4]

Later Life

After graduating from Virginia Tech, Whitehurst joined the United States Air Force, serving in the Vietnam War as a fighter pilot. He also served in the Air National Guard and achieved the rank of major in the Virginia Air Force Reserve.[5] Whitehurst received his law degree from the University of Virginia in 1975, and opened his own law firm in Richmond, Virginia. He had three children, and served on his church's board of directors. Whitehurst died in Hopewell, Virginia in 2013.[3]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "Whitehurst left a legacy of firsts for Black students". vtx.vt.edu. Retrieved 2022-02-03.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Clayton, Ashley B.; Peters, Brian A. (2019). "The Desegregation of Land-grant Institutions in the 1950s: The First African American Students at NC State University and Virginia Tech". The Journal of Negro Education. 88 (1): 75–92. doi:10.7709/jnegroeducation.88.1.0075. ISSN 0022-2984.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Obituary for Attorney James Leslie Whitehurst at J.L. Dodson & Sons Funeral Establishment - Petersburg". www.jldodsonandsons.com. Retrieved 2022-02-03.
  4. Todd, Sara Grace (2020-08-13). "Virginia Tech renames dorms honoring men with white supremacist ties". WSET. Retrieved 2022-02-03.
  5. "Whitehurst Hall". vt.edu. Retrieved 2022-02-03.

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