This is the second post in a two-part series examining Princeton University’s debates over admitting African Americans in the 1940s. These debates began in earnest due to the dedication of one undergraduate in the Class of 1943, Francis Lyons “Frank” Broderick, whose efforts were the focus of the first post in this series. Here, I examine what our holdings reveal about Broderick’s legacy on campus toward the end of World War II and in the early postwar period.
By April C. Armstrong *14
To my teachers and friends on the Princeton faculty
my colleagues on the Daily Princetonian
who are fighting against white supremacy at Princeton
–Francis Broderick’s senior thesis dedication page, 1943
As his senior thesis suggests, Frank Broderick wasn’t alone in his fight to transform what it meant to be a Princetonian. After his graduation from Princeton, discussion of race on campus continued in his absence throughout World War II and beyond. Others made arguments similar to the ones Broderick had made about the conflicts between the ideals Americans were fighting for abroad and their own practices at home. These students also met resistance from fellow Princetonians, but in the process, changed opinions. They weren’t content to simply make arguments, however. They took action and set Princeton on a new trajectory.
A few students wrote editorials in Princeton’s Roundtable News in 1944. Like Broderick had before them in the Daily Princetonian, which largely suspended publication 1943-1945, they pushed readers to make connections between the war abroad and domestic policy. In the March 23, 1944, issue of Roundtable, John Kemeny ’47 *49 accused Princetonians of “copying the Nazi party” in their “hysterical” responses to the admission of African American naval officers in 1943. Kemeny referred to having heard students “talk about forming lynching parties” after their arrival. Edward Kessler ’44 called for an end to discriminatory policies in the April 27, 1944 issue, asking, “How can we fight a world war to destroy the race theory and propagate the very same theory at home?” Thomas J. Wertenbaker, Jr. ’43 responded that he was “astonished” that Kemeny and others made these arguments, and that racial prejudice was no greater threat to democracy than lust or egotism. Debates continued, but a catalyst for tangible change didn’t arrive until after the war’s end.
John Bunzel ’46, whose education had been interrupted by his service in World War II, returned to campus in 1946 to finish his final two years of college. He later said his time in the Army had sparked a passion for civil rights. He led Princeton University students who shared Broderick’s commitments to form the Liberal Union in 1946 and served as its president until his graduation in 1948. Continue reading