What Archival Silence Conceals—and Reveals: Recovering Princeton University’s 19th-Century African American Graduate Alumni

Archival silences distort the past, shaping our current and future self-understanding, so preserving Princeton’s history sometimes means attempting to correct the work of our predecessors. My struggle to bring 19th and early 20th-century African American graduate alumni to light illustrates one way white supremacy of that era continues to influence us today. It also supports the argument that archives are not neutral, so researchers and archival staff must pay close attention to the ways archival work reflects the values of those who did the preserving and discarding.

In our Graduate Alumni Records collection, I found files for Irwin William Langston Roundtree, George Shippen Stark, and Leonard Zechariah Johnson, African Americans previously known to have received masters degrees from Princeton. Contents were sparse. Stark’s and Johnson’s consisted primarily of the evidence that they had paid fees and earned course credit. Roundtree’s file had no information about the classes he took, but included an obituary that indicated he was a longtime resident of Trenton.

(Click to enlarge.) Academic record of Leonard Zachariah Johnson, graduate class of 1904. Graduate Alumni Records (AC105).

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This Week in Princeton History for November 27-December 3

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, undergraduates protest the presence of African Americans in chapel, a computer virus is spreading all over campus, and more.

November 28, 1868—Students at the College of New Jersey (Princeton) begin circulating a petition to ban African Americans from chapel exercises after James McCosh allows a black student from Princeton Theological Seminary to attend his lectures on the life of Jesus, but few faculty are willing to sign it and McCosh remains unmoved.

Clipping from New York Tribune, December 8, 1868. The relevant portion reads as follows: “A young man (colored), of fine abilities and address, a graduate of a Western college, and at present a student of the Theological Seminary of this place, has dared to present himself at the College Chapel on Sunday afternoon for the purpose of listening to the President’s [McCosh’s] lectures without the permission of the sympathizers of the ‘Lost Cause,’ who feeling themselves deeply injured are now circulating a protest, which being duly signed, will be presented to the Faculty protesting against the further privilege of colored men entering the Chapel during any Chapel exercise. Thus far no movement has been made by the more liberal minded against this pernicious protest, for they have confidence in the good sense of the Faculty, and believe that such an article will be treated by them with contempt.”

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This Week in Princeton History for August 7-13

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Chelsea Clinton visits the campus, a graduate wins an Olympic medal for soccer, and more.

August 7, 1996—As Chelsea Clinton considers potential colleges, she and First Lady Hillary Clinton visit Princeton.

Photo from Daily Princetonian.

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Lobby Exhibit Highlights Some of Princeton’s Connections to Slavery

A small exhibit currently on display in the lobby of Mudd Library contains archival material highlighting Princeton’s connections to slavery. The exhibit includes an offer of financial support on the condition that students be admitted “irrespective of Color” rejected by the Board of Trustees in 1835 and an 1861 note in a student’s autograph book signed “Though your deadly foe in public I am in private life your friend,” among other items.

Office of the President Records (AC117), Box 23, Folder 5.

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Tracing Princeton’s Connections to Slavery through Intentional Serendipity

The Princeton and Slavery Symposium, a presentation of several years of “scholarly investigation of Princeton University’s historical engagement with the institution of slavery,” is scheduled for November 17-18, 2017. As we lead up to that date, we will be blogging about Mudd’s involvement in this larger project.

Last November, the University of Houston-Downtown Archives wrote about their staff’s annoyance at headlines about items “Found Buried in the Archives!” Articles like these often rub staff in archives the wrong way, because they render their ongoing efforts (necessary for scholars to uncover such material) invisible. Working day-to-day in the archives of a university, we often know a lot more about our institutions than we’re ever able to share in writing, leaving it to the researchers who visit us to record most of the stories that the materials we show them reveal. It is sometimes our jobs to tell the stories of our schools, but not always; even when it is, there will never be enough time for us to write them all down. My multi-page list of blogs-in-progress attests to this.

Even so, there are still discoveries made on a daily basis, “buried” materials or not. Not everything is easily found. My work at Mudd often highlights our collections from new angles and/or reveals forgotten stories about Princeton’s past. In order to do this, I keep records of what I discover in the course of my workday. Themes sometimes emerge and eventually become social media posts, blogs, or exhibit fodder as I transform the messy notes in my legal pads and Word documents and the connections in my head into more coherent pieces for public consumption. I also recruit my student assistants to help in this endeavor. Just as I do, they sometimes intentionally set out to tell a specific story, but we also write the stories that find us rather than vice versa. Our discoveries about Princeton’s connections to slavery reflect this kind of intentional serendipity (not quite the oxymoron it seems). The work of Mudd’s Public Services is both visible and invisible to the patrons who use our library. In today’s blog, I will reveal some of the invisible work that we do to support Princeton’s educational mission.

The first such item I want to highlight is one I uncovered in the course of collecting items for the weekly blog feature, “This Week in Princeton History.” The notice of a slave sale held on the Princeton campus in 1766 was worth including in this weekly roundup of events in mid-August 2015 in part because I had talked with students in the “Princeton and Slavery” course about their research and knew it was of interest to the public we serve. The professor for the course, Martha A. Sandweiss, referred to the slave sale in an article about her class that appeared in The Nation a few months later.

Clip from the Philadelphia Journal, August 14, 1766.

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This Week in Princeton History for July 11-17

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the logistics of emancipation are debated, plans for a School of Science are approved, and more.

July 11, 1944—Robert S. Ward ’42, a forward artillery observer, is killed in action in France.

July 12, 1968—The Committee on the Education of Women at Princeton gives its final report to the Board of Trustees, urging that the University “move as quickly as possible to implement coeducation…”

July 13, 1792—Students at the College of New Jersey (Princeton) debate this question: “Is not the emancipation of slaves, without preparing them by proper education to be good citizens[,] inconsistent with humanity & sound policy?” (Source)

July 15, 1864—In recognition of the changing needs of the student body, the Board of Trustees of the College of New Jersey (Princeton) approve a plan to establish a second course of study at Princeton within a special School of Science. This marks the first time that undergraduate education at Princeton will not require the same coursework of all students regardless of their future careers.

School_of_Science_Interior_1881_AC111_Box_MP81_No._3283

Interior of the School of Science, 1881. Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box MP81, Image No. 3283.

For last week’s 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 August 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 prisoner of war says he deserves credit for independent study while held captive, the U-Store breaks ground on a new home, and more.

August 18, 1944—Lt. Nicholas Katzenbach ’43 writes to the War Service Bureau that he has been studying 8 hours per day in a German prison camp and feels he has completed the requirements for his A.B. despite missing the final three semesters with his class at Princeton. After submitting a thesis and passing a series of exams given by Princeton faculty the following year, he will be given given credit for ten courses and awarded his degree with honors in October 1945. Katzenbach will ultimately achieve his greatest fame as the U.S. Attorney General who will confront segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace in an incident that will be known as the “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door.”

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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.”

James_Johnson_AC67_BoxMP4

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

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Mudd in Print

Have you ever wondered what our researchers are up to in the reading room? Many of them are working fervently towards producing highly esteemed, ground-breaking, and sometimes award-winning books.

This entry features a sample of recent publications, each developed through extensive research at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library. Drawing from material found in the Princeton University Archives, as well as the Public Policy Papers, these works demonstrate the varied research potential of the collections housed in our library. (All descriptions from Amazon.com.)

Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities by Craig Steven Wilder

Ebony and Ivy

In Ebony and Ivy, Craig Steven Wilder, a rising star in the profession of history, lays bare uncomfortable truths about race, slavery, and the American academy.

The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War by Stephen Kinzer

TheBrothers
A joint biography of John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles, who led the United States into an unseen war that decisively shaped today’s world.

Wilson by A. Scott Berg

Wilson

From Pulitzer Prize–winning, #1 New York Times–bestselling author A. Scott Berg comes the definitive—and revelatory—biography of one of the great American figures of modern times.

George F. Kennan: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis

kennan

Three decades in the making, the definitive, authorized biography of one of Cold War America’s most prominent and most troubled grand strategists.

Princeton: America’s Campus by W. Barksdale Maynard

americascampus

Neither a straightforward architectural history nor a simple guidebook, it weaves social history and the built fabric into a biography of a great American place.

These books are also on display in the lobby case at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library.

by: Amanda Pike

 

 

Nineteenth-century letters move into 21st century

A collection of John Maclean’s papers are now available online. Maclean, the 10th president of Princeton University, served from 1854-1868 when the institution was known as the College of New Jersey. The letters, acquired last year, were scanned and loaded as PDFs and linked to the collection’s finding aid via its folder list. These letters to and from John Maclean document the history of the College of New Jersey as well as family matters. Maclean was the son of Princeton’s first chemistry professor, and the papers include the 1814 inventory of the estate of his father, John Maclean, Sr. One of the more interesting documents provides evidence of New Jersey’s connections to slavery. See the last two entries of p. 3 of this inventory, found in Box 4, Folder 11.