“You couldn’t vote in Mississippi in those days,” Duke says. “Most of it was survival. When I was a young kid, we wouldn’t even think of voting.”
In 1962, the father paid his son’s way to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (A&T), a historically black college in Greensboro.
Duke arrived just two years after four A&T students sat down at a local Woolworths counter and asked to be served. The protest – which grew to hundreds of people and lasted six months – electrified nearby colleges and launched other civil rights protests across the Old South.
“It was an exciting time,” says Duke, who says he knew the four activists – Ezell Blair Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), David Richmond, Joseph McNeil, and Franklin McCain at the university. Still, he wasn’t moved to cast a vote. That, he now says, was a mistake.
“When I was a young kid, I wasn’t thinking about voting. But as I got older and when Martin [Luther King Jr.] came through and started fighting for freedom, everything started going into perspective, but I just didn’t get out and vote,” he says. “Basically, I wasn’t thinking about it. I was a lone wolf.”
President Kennedy’s assassination during Duke’s second year in college was also a blow to whatever interest he had in politics. Kennedy brought the races together, he says. “He pulled them in close. When Kennedy got shot, everything started falling apart.”