ABC was a place where we could go and it was us. We did have a kindred spirit. I mean because it was 98 black students, all of us knew each other. And even guys that you didn’t hang out with, at some point in time you might be in their dorm room.
—Ralph Austin ’73
In 2015, Brandon A. Holt ’15 conducted interviews with black activists from Association of Black Collegians (ABC) and other organizations at Princeton. The interviews, which include alumni from the classes of 1969-1981, address student participation in demonstrations, hate crimes on campus, and black solidarity. The transcripts of the Brandon D. Holt Collection of Oral History Interviews on Black Student Activism at Princeton are available freely online and provide an insider’s look into black student life.
Princeton’s black students experienced the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement as a reality of daily life, not just as stories they saw on the news. From low numbers of African American students to discrimination on campus, the black college experience at Princeton University had its share of adversity. During these tumultuous years, black Princetonians united across national, class, and gender lines to fight for inclusion and civil rights on campus as well as worldwide.
In the fall of 1748, Princeton University–then known as the College of New Jersey– held its first commencement. During this ceremony, six undergraduate students were graduated with Bachelor of Arts degrees and the administration conferred the honoris causa (honorary degree) upon Jonathan Belcher, the Governor of New Jersey. Thereafter, Princeton awarded honorary degrees to individuals who had made significant contributions in various sectors of society including religion, academics, arts and culture, politics, science, military, and finance, among other fields. However, it would not be until 1951 that Princeton would confer this honor upon an African American. Since then, more than forty African Americans have been honored in this way. This post focuses on some African American activists and public servants who have received an honorary degree from Princeton University.
Ralph Johnson Bunche
Diplomat and scholar-activist Ralph Johnson Bunche was the first African American awarded an honorary degree from Princeton in 1951, receiving a Doctor of Laws degree.
Citation read at Princeton’s 204th Commencement:
Citation read at Princeton’s 206th Commencement:
Whitney Moore Young, Jr.
Citation read at Princeton’s 220th Commencement:
Coretta Scott King
Citation read at Princeton’s 223rd Commencement:
Judge and civil rights litigator Constance Baker-Motley received the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws in 1989.
Dorothy Irene Height
Robert Parris Moses