May 092013
 
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Jay Clark/ECU News Service<br /><br />
Laura Leary Elliott, ECU’s first African-American graduate, waves to the crowd as she rides along in the ECU 2012 homecoming parade.” src=”http://www.reflector.com/media/story_image/0509leary1.jpg” width=”246″ /></div>
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Jay Clark/ECU News Service Laura Leary Elliott, ECU’s first African-American graduate, waves to the crowd as she rides along in the ECU 2012 homecoming parade.

By Katherine Ayers

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Almost a half century after graduating from East Carolina University, Laura Marie Leary Elliott finally attended her first Pirate football game last fall.

Elliott, who died on Tuesday, was the first black student to attend ECU. The Class of 1966 graduate remembered her experience as “lonely” and “scary.”

“It was like I was in a robotic stage,” she said in a January ECU news story. “Like slow motion. Go here, do this. I didn’t feel like I belonged.”

As a result, she did not interact with the university community through athletics events or playing cards in the student union.

Elliott, who worked as an auditor for the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Treasury Department, said she did not think much about the university after she left.

“The experience wasn’t what I wanted but it didn’t break me,” she said. “It made me a stronger person. I’ve had a lot of challenges through my life and this…helped.”

Elliott returned to campus for the 2012 homecoming and attended the football game on Oct. 13. During halftime, she was recognized by Chancellor Steve Ballard and ECU Board of Trustees Chairman Bob Lucas.

During her visit, Elliot also spoke with other black alumni in the Ledonia Wright Cultural Center and participated in the annual Homecoming Parade.

Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Virginia Hardy organized the homecoming activities for Elliott but said she was not sure if Elliott would want to attend.

“We’re saddened by the news (of Elliot’s death), but we’re glad we got to spend time with her at homecoming and honor her in a fitting way,” Hardy said Wednesday.

As a result of Elliott’s enrollment at ECU, more black students followed — 16 in 1964, then 50 in 1966, including Paul Scott, the first black student to receive a football scholarship.

By 1970, black student enrollment was about 200 students, and, in 1974, the first black faculty members, including Ledonia Wright, arrived on campus. In 2012, there were 3,721 black students enrolled.

Elliott originally was from Vanceboro but was living close to Washington, D.C.

She married Allen Elliott and they had two children, Reginald Allen and Rachel Marie Elliott.

Funeral arrangements were not available, but Hardy said that at least some of the administration plan to attend.

Contact Katherine Ayers at kayers@reflector.com and 252-329-9567. Follow her on Twitter @KatieAyersGDR.

via The Daily Reflector.

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