New Information on the First Black Graduates of the University of Notre Dame

Several years ago The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education conducted research to determine the first black graduates of the nation’s highest-ranked universities. At that time we reported that the first black graduate of the University of Notre Dame was Frazier L. Thompson. He arrived on the Notre Dame campus in July 1944 as a member of a naval officers’ training program. When the war ended, he stayed on at the school and earned a varsity letter as a sprinter on the track team in both 1945 and 1946. Unable to find a job as an engineer, after graduation Thompson worked for the Postal Service. In 1955 he finally landed an engineering position with International Resistor Corporation. He later tested space suits for a NASA contractor.

Thompson was the first black student on campus, but university records now show that a second black student also received a bachelor’s degree on the same day in 1947 that Thompson graduated. Carl Richard Coggins enrolled at Notre Dame in February 1945, also as a member of the naval officers’ training program. He was called to active duty in July 1946. However, Coggins was awarded a bachelor’s degree at the June 1947 commencement ceremony. Records do not indicate how Coggins completed his degree requirements spending only 17 months on the Notre Dame campus, but university officials believe he probably arrived at the university with a significant number of college credits.

After completing his service in the Navy, Coggins returned to Notre Dame to earn a master’s degree in civil engineering in 1952. The university has no records about what happened to Coggins after he left Notre Dame. However, federal government records show that he died in 1984.