This Week in Princeton History for October 10-16

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, Princeton has begun actively seeking Black applicants, a soldier reflects on the American Revolution, and more.

October 10, 1964—The Chicago Defender expresses curiosity about what made Princeton University suddenly change course and begin actively recruiting Black students, noting its most recent report to secondary schools includes a new section under the header, “Search for Negro Applicants.”

October 13, 2014—Professor emeritus Cornel West *80 is arrested in Ferguson, Missouri, during a “Moral Monday” march, part of ongoing protests of the police killing of Michael Brown. West explains that it is his intention to be arrested: “It’s a beautiful thing to see people on fire for justice, but I didn’t come here to give a speech; I came here to go to jail.”

October 14, 1831—A former soldier recalls the Battle of Princeton in the columns of Maine’s Eastern Argus:

The British were unable to resist this attack, and retreated into the College, where they considered themselves safe. Our army was there in an instant, and cannon were planted before the door, and after two or three discharges, a white flag appeared at a window when the British surrendered.

Afterward, however, surveying the battlefield left a deeper impression. “The ground was frozen, and all the blood which was shed, remained on the surface, which added to the horror of this scene of carnage.”

James Peale’s “Battle of Princeton,” ca. 1782. Courtesy Princeton University Art Museum.

October 16, 1980—Because Florida has recently raised the legal drinking age to 19, local Florida youths are urging college students everywhere—including at Princeton—to boycott Florida beaches in protest this season.

For the previous installment in this series, click here.

Fact check: We always strive for accuracy, but if you believe you see an error, please contact us.

This Week in Princeton History for February 11-17

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, African American women express their views of campus, police are on the lookout for stolen silverware, and more.

February 11, 1994—A group of students responds to an editorial cartoon with pleas for greater thoughtfulness about the use of imagery and language on campus, saying the cartoon’s portrayal of Cornel West *80 played to a variety of offensive stereotypes. Discussions continue throughout the week.

A follow up set of editorial cartoons from the Daily Princetonian.

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Black alumni looking back, 1996

Harvard offered its first degree to an African American student in 1870, with Yale following in 1874. At Princeton, however, the first two black students graduated only in 1947 and 1948, after arriving on campus as members of the Navy’s wartime V-12 program. Historically the “Ivy League school for Southern gentlemen,” Princeton was a little “tardy,” according to Cornel West (then director of the Center for African American Studies) in the documentary featured here (32:01). In the words of Shearwood McClelland ’69: “If you had a segregationist attitude or would like to cherish that attitude a little longer before real life hit you after you graduated, this was the place to come to.” (31:35).

The first two black graduates, John Howard ’47 and James Ward ’48, are among the 35 alumni who were interviewed for the documentary Looking Back: Reflections of Black Princeton Alumni, which was written and directed by Melvin McCray ’74 and produced by McCray and Calvin Norman ’77 on the occasion of Princeton’s 250th anniversary in 1996. Most of the alumni interviewed are from the 1960s and 1970s, when the administration started to make diversification of the student body a priority. In the documentary Robert F. Goheen, president between 1957 and 1972, explains how the racial riots of 1963 in the South made him realize that Princeton, which counted only seven African American undergraduates in 1962, should provide more educational opportunities to qualified blacks (20:52). Goheen’s successors William G. Bowen (President 1972-1988) and Harold T. Shapiro (President 1988-2001) are also interviewed, as well as Carl Fields (Assistant Director of Student Aid 1964-68 and Assistant Dean of the College 1968-1972), and the aforementioned Franklin Moore.

The 75 minute documentary, in which alumni describe contrasting experiences and feelings, is divided into several chapters: “The early history” (2:59), “Inclusion” (20:46), “Diverse backgrounds” (25:59), “First impressions” (28:44), “A matter of race” (31:57), “Academics” (43:51), “Nassau Hall Protest” (detailing the protest of April 14, 1978 over Princeton’s investments in South Africa, 56:40), “Graduation” (1:01:35), “One Word” (1:04:20), and “Parting thoughts” (1:05:20). In the first chapter Woodrow Wilson’s racism is discussed (6:16). The introduction of coeducation in 1969 is discussed at 48:43.

In addition to the interviews, the producers use historical footage and photographs (including materials from Mudd Manuscript Library and private sources) and renderings of “Old Nassau and “Going Back” by the a capella group “The Persuasions.” The documentary was produced under the auspices of the Steering Committee for Princeton’s 250th Anniversary, in conjunction with the Association of Black Princeton Alumni (ABPA) and the Alumni Council. It won a Bronze Medal from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (1998).

This VHS video is part of the University Archives’ Historical Audiovisual Collection (item no. 1361).

Update: Thanks to Martin Shell ’74 for letting us know about a quote that had been erroneously attributed.