This Week in Princeton History for December 13-19

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, an NAACP official’s lecture meets with a polarized reception, Jean Shepherd first appears on campus, and more.

December 13, 1813—John Randolph (Class of 1791) accuses John Witherspoon of having embezzled money from him when he was a student and derides the education he was given at Princeton: “burning with the thirst of knowledge (which I was not permitted to slake at the fountain of Nassau)… I can truly say, that except from my mother, who taught me to read, I never learned any thing [sic] from one of my preceptors.”

December 16, 1948—NAACP secretary Walter White lectures to about 400 Princeton students on the detrimental effect of racial segregation and discrimination. Opponents to the efforts of Princeton’s Liberal Union, who sponsored the talk, throw snowballs with rocks through the windows. White will later write about the audience: “There was a sternness on their faces which was stirring to see. What had been for some of them an abstract principle of academic democracy had been jelled by the puerile act of a few into a holy crusade.”

December 17, 1956—Nationally-known humorist disc jockey Jean Shepherd speaks to his followers in McCosh 46, further inspiring the fledgling “Milling Movement,” supported by a group of fans who refer to themselves as the “Night People.” This is Shepherd’s first performance in Princeton, but will not be his last: he will appear more than 30 times over the next 40 years.

Jean Shepherd and Frank King ’71, WPRB, April 3, 1970. WPRB Records (AC306), Box 10.

December 19, 1967—Princeton politics professor William W. Lockwood makes waves along with 13 other eminent scholars who issue a statement on this day printed in newspapers from the New York Times to the San Francisco Examiner asserting that their support of the Vietnam War represents “the moderate segment of the academic community” who “must now be heard, lest other voices be mistaken for majority sentiment.”

For the previous installment in this series, click here.

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Debating Race at Princeton in the 1940s, Part II: Roundtable News and the Liberal Union

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.

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.

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