This Week in Princeton History for March 27-April 2

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, eastern colleges convene to discuss the future of African Americans, a new invention draws interest, and more.

March 27, 1972—A petition to end coeducation is circulating among undergraduates, the Daily Princetonian reports, quoting one student: “I think college should be an ivory tower, and adding girls isn’t necessary.”

March 28, 1871—After one student is diagnosed with smallpox, panic on campus and among parents of current students prompts College of New Jersey (Princeton) president James McCosh to end the term two weeks early. He sends the students home.

March 30, 1967—150 delegates representing 65 Eastern colleges convene at Princeton University for the first conference of its kind to discuss “The Future of the Negro Undergraduate.”

Robert F. Goheen (center) with student attendees of “The Future of the Negro Undergraduate” conference, March 30, 1967. Office of the President Records (AC193), Box 456, Folder 7.

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Integrating Princeton University: Robert Joseph Rivers ’53

As we have previously pointed out, Princeton’s first African American undergraduates were not purposefully admitted: they were instead brought as part of a Navy training program during World War II. In 1945, Trustee Laurence G. Payson wrote to fellow member of the Class of 1916 John McFerran Barr to explain the presence of black students in response to apparent objections. “When the personnel [for the Navy unit] arrived its members included, unbeknownst to us in advance, four negroes.” Meanwhile, a law requiring tax-exempt institutions not to discriminate on the basis of race had recently passed in New Jersey. “If Princeton were to stand against the negroes who were admitted under the Navy War-time ROTC the Trustees would be in a very difficult spot.” He explained that future African American applications for admission would be evaluated by administrators at Nassau Hall (i.e., the Office of the President) rather than by the Office of Admission, then headed by Dean Radcliffe Heermance. (Heermance had revoked one black student’s offer of admission in the 1930s when he showed up to register for classes and his race became apparent.) In spite of Princeton’s wariness of challenge to its traditions, one young local African American resident found the presence of black students at the prestigious university inspirational in its seeming promise of new possibilities.

James Everett Ward ’47 and Arthur Jewell Wilson ’47 outside Laughlin Hall, 1946. Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box MP215, Image No. 5644.

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This Week in Princeton History for October 17-23

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a junior is arrested for anti-censorship activism in South Africa, the school celebrates the 150th anniversary of its founding, and more.

October 17, 1967—Bob Durkee ’69’s in-depth award-winning article, “A New Era for the Negro at Princeton,” first appears in the Daily Princetonian.

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Clipping from the Daily Princetonian.

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William Taylor’s “Doggie Wagon”

Searching for materials in archival collections means, at times, trying to figure out how the people of the past would have labeled their photos, named their articles, or categorized their artifacts. They didn’t always use the same terms we would now. For this Black History Month, we examine William Taylor and how he illustrates the challenges we sometimes face when we’re trying to research the experiences of prior generations.
A tradition of longstanding at Princeton University ended in 1949. Last year, we told you about James “Jimmy Stink” Collins Johnson, a fugitive slave who went into business for himself on the College of New Jersey (Princeton) campus after abolitionist-minded townspeople and students helped him buy his freedom. Johnson sold snacks and drinks from a cart he pushed around campus. In his later years, Johnson took an apprentice named Spader, who sold peanuts from a large bag while wearing a top hat, an ascot, and a cutaway jacket. As the third and last African American campus vendor among the salesmen who have pushed carts around Princeton, William Taylor had the longest tenure, from 1904-1949. Taylor’s death on March 26, 1949 was a blow to the community. A local newspaper, Town Topics, wrote that “When he went, Princeton became a smaller town.”
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William Taylor, undated. Historical Photograph Collection, Individuals Series (AC067), Box LP1, Image No. 294.

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This Week in Princeton History for October 26-November 1

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the campus suspends mail delivery due to fears of contamination, Coretta Scott King speaks to an audience of more than 500, and more.

October 26, 1963—An undetermined number of Princeton undergraduates join an estimated 4,000 participants in a civil rights “March on Trenton for Jobs and Freedom.” It is the first statewide civil rights demonstration in the United States, having been modeled on the March on Washington the previous August 28.

October 29, 1951—Princeton junior James G. Hiering ’53’s hiccups cause his roommate to call the infirmary in desperation in the middle of the night. The infirmary sends two uniformed campus proctors to escort Hiering to them for treatment. Hiering, not knowing anything about his roommate’s call, is so surprised to see the officers that his hiccups are instantly cured.

October 31, 2001—The New York Times reports that Princeton University has suspended campus mail delivery in the wake of the discovery that a nearby mailbox in Palmer Square has tested positive for anthrax spores. With the campus pharmacy running low on Cipro, the antibiotic used to treat anthrax, the nationwide concerns about contaminated mail are verging on panic on campus. The anthrax attacks in the fall of 2001 (“Amerithrax”) will ultimately kill five people and infect 17 others in a wide geographic area.

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Editorial cartoon depicting “love in the age of anthrax” from the October 24, 2001 issue of the Daily Princetonian.

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This Week in Princeton History for October 12-18

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, graduates get high praise for writing skills, influenza severely disrupts life on campus, and more.

October 13, 1748—The Trustees of the College of New Jersey send an effusive letter of thanks to Governor Jonathan Belcher for granting the institution’s second charter, “not doubting but by the Smiles of Heaven, under your Protection, it may prove a flourishing Seminary of Piety and good Literature” and “a lasting Foundation for the future Prosperity of Church and State.”

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Pennsylvania Gazette, November 3, 1748. Princeton University Publications Collection (AC364), Box 36.

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African Americans and Princeton University

Dear Mr. Mudd:

Q. What information do you have about African Americans and Princeton University?

A. Until the twentieth century, Princeton’s history has mostly been dominated by white men, typically from prosperous backgrounds. Though decidedly pro-Union during the Civil War, the campus had strong Southern influences, and its reputation as the “northernmost university town of the [segregated] south” was not undeserved. Yet that is not to say that Princeton’s story can only be told in terms of its loudest voices. Here, we give a brief overview of some of the ways African Americans fit into Princeton’s past.

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Princeton University cheerleaders, 1995. Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box SP9, Image No. 2484.

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“Princeton College Bought Me”: The Life of a Fugitive Slave in Princeton

Many nearly-forgotten legends surround James “Jimmy Stink” Collins Johnson, who lived in Princeton for most of his life after escaping from slavery in Maryland. Today it is impossible to completely separate fact from fiction, but this is our best reconstruction:

The sources tell us that two slaves in Easton, Maryland, welcomed a baby on October 2, 1816. Early in his childhood, their mistress gave the boy, James Collins, to their master’s son, Teakle Wallace, who was only a month older than James. James married a freedwoman in Church Hill, several miles away, in 1836. Frustrated with captivity, James began planning an escape. When Wallace gave James five dollars for some reason, James seized the opportunity and left Easton on foot at midnight on August 8, 1839, never to return. After stopping to say good-bye to his wife and promise he would send for her when he could, he continued walking to Wilmington, Delaware, where a portion of his money bought him fare on a riverboat to Philadelphia. At this point, he changed his name to James Johnson. In Philadelphia, he bought a train ticket to Trenton. Legend has it that he had just fifty cents left when he arrived in Trenton, which he spent on train fare to carry him as far north as possible. His destination was Princeton, New Jersey, where he arrived on August 10.

In Princeton, Johnson found work at the College of New Jersey, colloquially called “Princeton College,” as a janitor in Nassau Hall. A few years later, Simon Weeks (Class of 1838), a student at Princeton Theological Seminary and a friend of the Wallaces, saw and recognized Johnson and wrote back to Maryland to report on this. Some weeks passed. Then, as Andrew Clerk Imbrie later wrote for the Nassau Lit, Johnson’s master confronted him at the local post office. Johnson “stood quaking before young Teakle Wallace a picture of abject misery. Visions of the old days came back to him … he had tasted liberty since then, and his whole nature revolted at the idea of going back to once more become a slave.”

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James Johnson and unknown young man, ca. 1890, Historical Photograph Collection, Individuals Series (AC67), Box MP4.

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“Princeton University Does Not Discriminate…”: African American Exclusion at Princeton

Bruce Wright applied for admission to Princeton University in the 1930s, having spent some of his childhood living in its shadow in Princeton, New Jersey. He was excited to be awarded a scholarship, and showed up in the fall ready to start as a freshman. So far as the Dean of Admissions was concerned, however, there was just one problem: Wright was black, and the Admissions Office hadn’t known that when they offered him a place among white Princetonians. Though many students who stood in line to register with Wright were not at all resistant to having him there, Dean Radcliffe Heermance (Graduate Class of 1909) decided that Princeton would not accept him as one of its own. In a later interview, Wright recalled, Heermance had told him: “If you’re trying to come here, you’re going someplace where you’re not wanted.” With no other recourse he could see, Wright went outside, sat down on his suitcase, and waited for his father to drive down from New York to pick him up.

The words lingered in Wright’s mind. “I was shattered, and I became more so as time went on,” Wright said. “For some reason I persisted in writing to Heermance to demand to know why. Was I a danger, a menace to a great university?”

This was Heermance’s answer:

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Princeton and Apartheid: The 1978 Nassau Hall Sit-In

Princeton di-vest!
Oh yeah

Just like the rest!
Oh yeah

And if you don’t!
Oh yeah

We will not rest!
Oh yeah

We gonna fight
And fight

And keep on fightin’ some more
Princeton di-vest!

(Student protest chant, quoted in Princeton Alumni Weekly 24 April 1978)

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Protest Signs, April 1978, Princeton Alumni Weekly Photograph Collection (AC126), Box 33.

Following the recent “Coming Back: Reconnecting Princeton’s Black Alumni” conference, we wanted to take a closer look an issue that involved Princeton’s Association of Black Collegians: policies on South African investment during apartheid. Relatively recent events in the University’s history often challenge researchers, since many of our archival records related to the history of Princeton are initially restricted (most commonly for a period of 40 years). Yet we can still learn a great deal about how Princetonians addressed apartheid’s moral questions through our open collections.

Princeton first articulated its stand on this issue in 1969, partly in response to a February 26 student rally sponsored by a coalition of black and white student groups at Princeton, The United Front on South Africa. They asked Princeton to divest stock in 39 companies. On March 4, University President Robert F. Goheen publicly outlined University policy on investment in companies doing business in South Africa and presented six steps Princeton was willing to take in response to these concerns. Although Goheen promised that Princeton would let these companies know their feelings about apartheid, he said that Princeton should not fully divest. In his statement, Goheen reasoned that these companies “derive on average less than one percent of their sales and profits from southern Africa” and that divesting would not have a “substantial prospect” of meaningful impact on apartheid. Meanwhile, he argued, Princeton would suffer the loss of $3.5 million in income, which would hinder its ability to carry out its educational mission. Far from satisfying the United Front, Princeton’s stated policies provoked the Association of Black Collegians to stage a sit-in at New South Hall, which then held the University’s administrative offices. Students for a Democratic Society, a predominantly white student group, also participated. (See Office of the Provost Records (AC195), Box 23, Folder 3).

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Cannon Green protest, April 1978, Princeton Alumni Weekly Photograph Collection (AC126), Box 33.

Such protests became relatively common throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and in January 1977, a new student group, the People’s Front for the Liberation of South Africa, took the lead in organizing them. After 32 consecutive days of picketing in front of Nassau Hall in March and April 1978, the students entered the building and stayed there. Some students kept vigil outside, while the others organized themselves into “cells” of 4-5 students inside. Spending the night under a half-moon while the bronze tigers flanking the steps held candles in their paws that cast somber shadows on their faces, one student said, “Somehow…I don’t think this building will ever seem the same to any one of us again.” (Princeton Alumni Weekly, 24 April 1978)

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Nassau Hall protest, ca. 1978, Princeton Alumni Weekly Photograph Collection (AC126), Box 33.

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