In 1976, a black student at Duke University named Michael Holyfield took his friend up on a dare and auditioned to be the next school mascot, the Blue Devil. The boys had seen the open audition in the newspaper and Holyfield knew he could get the job with his own charisma. Holyfield won the bet and became the school’s first black person to wear the Blue Devil mascot uniform.
Known as a great dancer with a lot of energy, people sometimes called him the Black Blue Devil. The Batman-like uniform only covered half of Holyfield’s face. Despite his energy and relationship with the crowds of students, Holyfield was not allowed at the University’s alumni activities and was not allowed to travel with the spirit squad.
Then when Karl James, the athletic director who hired Holyfield was fired abruptly, a new director named Tom Butters took over. The first indication of change was the uniform. After Butters took his position, the mascot uniform was fully covered from head to toe. It wasn’t long before Holyfield stopped receiving game notices. When the athletes had their annual banquet, Holyfield was not on the invite list.
This year, Duke University celebrated 50 years since its first black students entered the campus. This past weekend, in a special ceremony, Michael Holyfield was given a special honor and a Duke letterman’s jacket at halftime.
(Photo: Courtesy of Duke University Archives)