|SMASHING PRINCETON’S COLOR BAR:
RACISM STYMIED BY 1940s STUDENTS
Donald L. Maggin ’48
|But for the efforts of a small group of activists,
it might have been otherwise.
Jadwin Gymnasium was festooned with huge black banners emblazoned in orange
with the numerals of the five-year classes 1923, 1928, and on to
1998 as 1,400 alumni and their families wearing orange and black
jackets, earrings, ties, blouses, socks, skirts, and probably underwear
ate cold chicken and cheered the 1998 Alumni Day prize winners. Alumni Association
president Brent L. Henry, who kicked off the affair, and one of the two
women sharing the top undergraduate prize, were black; the Universitys
president and the alumni honoree were Jewish.
would have been unimaginable during the early 1940s when Princeton was the
northernmost institution of the south, a racist all-male enclave that
rejected blacks and accepted very few Jews. At that time, an inspiring student
leader, Frank Broderick, and a small band of allies, became the progenitors
of the triumphantly democratic Princeton of 1998. Their demolition of the
color bar was the climactic event that began a steady and often painful
democratization of Princeton over the past six decades.
Francis L. Broderick 43
efforts of Broderick and his cohorts meant that the humiliation visited
upon a hopeful young man named Bruce Wright on a September morning in
1936 could never happen again. Wright and Broderick walked very different
paths to the campus. Wrights father was an itinerant baker; Brodericks
was a prosperous banker. Wright grew up in Harlem and attended public
schools; Broderick lived on Park Avenue and studied at elite prep schools.
was an unlikely candidate for civil rights leader. But he was strongly
influenced by his father, a devout Catholic committed to social justice,
and his inspiring instructors at Andover, whom he credited with teaching
me how to think. Wright is now eighty-four but looks fifteen years
younger, and still burns with energy. In 1994, after twenty-four years
as a New York State judge, Wright hung up his robe, but he didnt
retire. He still practices law and lectures in political science at Cooper
Union, and recently published his third volume of poetry.
September day in 1936 an apprehensive, hopeful seventeen year-old lined
up with the incoming freshmen to register at Princeton. Bruce Wright recalled
his joy at receiving a scholarship there, which his track coach, Irwin
Weiss, had wrangled for him on the basis of his exploits as the New Jersey
state champion in the mile run. It was like manna from heaven in
the midst of the Great Depression, Wright said. I had vowed
not to be like my father, always scrambling to keep us fed and clothed,
and I never doubted that those who made it to Princeton also made it in
the world and handsomely too.
upperclassman approached Wright and asked him to follow him to the office
of Radcliffe Heermance, the Dean of Admissions, he took the request casually.
He guessed that Heermance wanted to review the conditions of his scholarship.
Wright climbed the steps of Nassau Hall, entered Heermances third
floor office, sat down, and encountered a bluff, imposing official who
did not hide his disdain for the young black man before him.
the scene to me, echoing his statements in Princeton's 250th anniversary
film, Looking Back: Reflections of Black Princeton Alumni
(produced by Melvin McCray 74 and Calvin Norman 77 for the
Alumni Council and the Office of the 250th Anniversary, 1996):
The Dean confronted me, looking at me as though I was
a disgusting specimen under a microscope. I was in a state of concussive
shock when Heermance said, Mr. Weiss didnt tell us you were
colored. You cant come here. You would be going to a place where
you are not wanted. Because you slipped through, I had better see that
we add a question about race to our application form.
Heermance went on in the casual, slow drawl of one long accepted in
the best clubs, I am in favor of progress for your race and I
like your people. In fact, a colored cook lives under the same roof
with my family, and I had a colored orderly in the last war. But I cant
let you come here.
Heermance then sent Bruce over to talk with Robert Russell Wicks, a Presbyterian
clergyman and Dean of the Chapel.
Wicks ignored my badly frayed emotions and made it clear he didnt
have much time for me. He said brusquely: The race problem is
beyond solution in America. Dont waste your time fighting the
system here. You are butting your head against a stone wall. Then
he dismissed me.
Deeply hurt, Bruce pressed Dean Heermance for an explanation. Several
months later Heermance wrote him:
graduated in 1942 from Lincoln University, a predominantly black institution
in Pennsylvania; he fought in France and Germany during World War II,
where he was twice wounded; and he went on to a distinguished career in
the law and as a writer and teacher.
in the 1930s was alone among the eight Ivy League universities in barring
blacks. Yale, Harvard, Brown, Cornell, Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, and Columbia
set quotas, but all had begun accepting blacks during the 1870s. In its
first 150 years, Princeton admitted only one black student, John Chavis,
in 1792, a poor but pious Leslie Fund scholarship student
who left without a degree in 1794 and later became a Presbyterian minister.
Thus, when Bruce collided with the color bar in 1936, it had been in place
for more than 140 years.
segregationist policies found sustenance in a large contingent of vocal
southern alumni, a self-perpetuating Board of Trustees, and the pervasive
influence of the Virginian Woodrow Wilson. An educational visionary, Wilson
was also a racist who came to maturity at a time when Virginia whites
were stripping blacks of the rights they had enjoyed under Reconstruction.
On the one hand, Woodrow Wilson almost single-handedly transformed Princeton
into a modern university by reshaping its curriculum, ethos, and teaching
methods. On the other hand, his racism influenced the school for decades
opposed the admission of black students at Princeton and later pushed
a racist agenda when he became President of the United States. He segregated
the previously integrated departments of the Treasury, the Postal Service,
and the Bureau of Printing and Engraving, and he downgraded and dismissed
many black employees with civil service status.
racist culture in the 1940s was transformed only by persistent pressure
from Frank Broderick and other student idealists over a period of several
years. Frank led the way when he became editor-in-chief of The Daily
Princetonian in 1942, less than a month after Pearl Harbor. His main
aides were Phil Quigg and Powell Whitehead, both class of 43. Quigg,
whose subsequent career included the managing editorship of Foreign
Affairs, did considerable writing for The Prince while Whitehead
concentrated on editing.
their tenure they saw the University transformed with whirlwind speed from
a quiet academe to a virtual assembly line turning out officers for the
Navy and the Army. World War II touched upon almost everything they wrote.
At the same time, on The Princes normally quiescent editorial
page, Broderick and Quigg championed a number of controversial causes. They
opposed the internment of Japanese-American citizens in concentration camps
(CITIZENS OF THE UNITED STATES); Henry Luces American
Century imperialism (LUCES NOOSE); anti-Jewish articles
in The Saturday Evening Post (AMERICAS DER STUERMER);
and the British desire to hold on to India after victory in the war (CURFEW
they were just warming up for the main event, a series of three editorials
entitled White Supremacy at Princeton, which ran during the
week of September 28, 1942. Their demand? Admit qualified black students
Quigg, who lives in retirement
in Connecticut, remembers:
Frank had the ideas, the convictions, and the energy, and I believe
it all came from his religious beliefs. He was brought up with a very
strong Catholic conscience. I went along with increasing enthusiasm,
particularly on the Negro question. The racial situation at Princeton
was outrageous. We had a lot of long sessions about it and we criticized
each others writing. He did the first editorial; I believe I did
the second. He did the third.
Thirteen million colored Americans wonder.
Thirteen million colored Americans are asking today if the American
democracy for which they are fighting will return after the war to the
caste system which deifies the white man and condemns the black man
to the indignities of segregation and discrimination...
The second focused on the situation at Princeton:
In its continued exclusion of the Negro
and in its insistence on the principle of white supremacy, the University
belies the democratic faith which it purports to teach and denies the
fundamental proposition of democratic thought, the equality under God
of all men....
Princeton is the last of the leading institutions
outside the deep south which still adheres to this faith in racial superiority.
Conversion of Princeton and the admission of Negro students will mean
that Princeton is returning to its rightful place in American progress....
It is time for Princeton to put up or shut up.
The final editorial summed things up:
The Negro has no right to be admitted to Princeton. But he has
a right to expect that a University which professes its devotion to
democracy and which aspires to liberal leadership should regard him
as an individual. This is the real issue, beside which all others are
The Daily Princetonian, October 3, 1942, editorial
and letter from a student.
student body responded swiftly. On October 1, between the appearance of
the second and third editorials, and at the invitation of Whig-Clio, Broderick
and Whitehead engaged in formal debate with students of contrary views about
black admissions. The audience of 600 was largely hostile towards the integrationists.
A Whig-Clio writer described the scene:
Probably never before in the 178 years of our history has such a crowd
filled the auditorium for so long a time. For two hot, smoky hours,
men and women colored and white, pro and con filled every
seat, sat on the floor, stood in the rear, packed the balcony, and literally
hung from the rafters of Whig auditorium. The auditorium rocked with
cheers and boos with each new verbal tilt. Every conceivable shade of
opinion was aired. The tension was terrific, a little hysterical. Eloquent
speeches came from people not accustomed even to public speaking, much
less to eloquence.
they believed they had earned the respect of the antagonistic crowd, Broderick
and Whitehead felt relief that the debate ground rules precluded a vote
on the admissions issue. Quigg recalls, The issue taxed friendships
to the limit and nearly tore the undergraduate leadership apart. The student
governing body, the Undergraduate Council, wanted to duck the question,
but Franks eloquence forced them to face it.
I got into a small war about polls with my roommate; he edited an
opposing campus magazine whose poll at showed a student margin of 14%
against Negro admissions; we at The Prince
had a poll which favored integration by 2%. Of course, the results differed
because the polling questions had been worded differently. Fortunately
my roommate and I made peace before we graduated.
to The Prince ran almost three to
one against Brodericks position. Here are three such opinions:
Ever since slavery days the Negro has lacked
initiative. If this were not so, there would be no problem today.
The admission of Negroes to the suffrage, or to white universities,
is further to degrade the body of electors to the level of the Negro.
I hate to see some of the so-called Yankees use the war as an
excuse for greater equality among the Negro and the white.
received a boost on October 11 when the American Federation of Teachers
representing Princeton faculty unanimously approved The
Princes position. On the same day, the Undergraduate Council
announced that it would vote on the issue on October 21.
before the vote, Charles Edison, New Jerseys Governor and a Princeton
Trustee, told a Prince reporter that
Princetons conspicuous position in the American democracy imposed
important obligations on it. Among them was the duty to open the Universitys
gates to Negroes who are as much citizens of America as we are.
camp knew that an affirmative Undergraduate Council vote was crucial to
its campaign. Quigg remembers:
We hoped that a yes vote by the Council would
put a fire under the University Trustees, who alone had the power to
dismantle the color bar. And, except for Governor Edison, they had maintained
a stony silence. If we couldn't sway our peers, we didnt stand
a chance in hell with the Trustees. They represented the conservative
generations of our fathers and grandfathers.
voted 7-6 against admitting blacks, and the Trustees, at their autumn
meeting the next day, were relieved to sidestep the issue.
had undergone a conversion since he had hastily scorned Bruce Wrights
aspirations six years before, and he became the only University officer
to take a stand; in his sermon the Sunday following the vote, he excoriated
racial discrimination and praised Brodericks campaign. That put
a coda to the struggles of 1942. Frank graduated four months later. The
fight against racism at Princeton would not be revived until he returned
from war service in September 1945.
THE NAVY BILLET
1945, the U. S. Navy sent four black sailors as members of a larger contingent
to its officer-training program at Princeton. The Navy assigned them to
the billet as it would to a battleship or a submarine, and Radcliffe Heermance
and the University Administration which then depended on the armed
forces for more than half of its revenues had no say in the matter.
1945, Laurence G. Payson 16, a life member of the alumni governing
board and a former University Trustee, was called upon to write a prominent
Kentucky alumnus (of the class of 1917) who had concerns about the presence
of some negro boys on the campus.
Paysons letter explains that, after accepting the Navy training
program as part of the war effort, the Trustees felt powerless when the
Navy sent the blacks to the campus without advance notice. But now they
found themselves in a very difficult spot because New Jerseys
anti-discrimination laws appeared to favor allowing the blacks to stay
on campus. He summed up:
Our troubles of the moment lie in the aftermath of our having admitted,
because of the war, certain members of a unit who are eligible to stay
in Princeton so long as they can meet the academic and financial requirements.
resolved our troubles of the moment by allowing all Navy men,
including the four blacks, to return as civilians and continue their studies.
Three of the four students chose this route; they worked diligently through
the 1945-1946 academic year, which was marred by only a handful of racial
incidents. The most blatant involved Arthur J. (Pete) Wilson, captain
of the basketball team. His election by his fellow undergraduates to Tiger
Inn was vetoed by the club's alumni board because of his race.
Broderick also donned civilian clothes in the autumn of 1945, returning
to Princeton as a graduate fellow in History after flying 60 Pacific bombing
missions as the navigator of a B-24. Frank was appointed in late 1945
to the directorship of one of the Universitys most conspicuous charities,
Blairstown, a summer camp for underprivileged boys all white
near the Delaware Water Gap in Blairstown, New Jersey. True to form, he
began agitating for the admission of blacks. After a difficult struggle,
he won a concession from the camp's board: During the fourth and last
two-week period of the 1946 summer program, eight black boys between the
ages of 12 and 15 would be enrolled on an experimental basis.
the camp that summer, and his inter-racial experiment was
so successful that black campers became a permanent fixture at Blairstown
thereafter. In September, he moved on to Harvard to complete his graduate
departed Princeton in the summer of 1946, but he knew that his fight against
racism was in good hands. During the 1945-46 academic year, he had become
a source of advice and inspiration to a group of feisty post-war undergraduates
who wanted a color-blind university. Their leader was Jack Bunzel. Like
Broderick, Bunzel was a product of New York city and a prep school, Kent.
He spoke recently about how the war transformed him:
I was aware of Franks anti-racist campaign when
I was a freshman in 1942, but I didnt pay much attention; I was
pretty apolitical. I served in the Army from the winter of 1943 until
the winter of 1946, and I came back a changed man. The returning GIs,
myself included, were a new stand of timber. We didnt just march
lock-step from prep school onto the campus. We were older. More independent.
Seasoned. And we were in the majority.
of Bunzel, now a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University,
rose with vigor when he spoke of his convictions more than fifty years
Many of us had seen a lot in the war death, blood,
and destruction. Some of us had fought alongside blacks. We believed
that Princeton ought not be simply a place for white rich kids from
the south or from anyplace else. It was time Princeton opened its doors
particularly after what the war stood for and promised.
flood of ex-GIs insured that Princeton would be a more welcoming place
for liberal views then the institution which rejected Frank Brodericks
initiative in 1942. As a Princeton Alumni Weekly correspondent
wrote on March 12, 1948, many of the veterans embodied the currents of
change then coursing through American society:
It appears that the war is not yet over for Princeton,
that the spirit of hyper-critical judgment and anti-regimentation has
made the renascence of the undergraduate tradition impossible... Princeton
cannot dissociate itself from the feeling of crisis and change that
is uprooting greater things than collegiate mores.
they returned from summer vacation, they were encouraged by a September,
1946 poll that showed 56% of the undergraduates favoring the admission
of blacks. But an ominous November 1, 1946, article by Heermance in the
Alumni Weekly in which he used italics
to state, ...there has been no significant
change of admission policy for 20 years, convinced the Liberal
Union people that they could not relax. They quickly moved into high gear.
The Prince and The
Alumni Weekly to print their platform, which called for the admission
of blacks in its first paragraph, and they engaged in persistent letter-writing
campaigns in both publications. They also created a quarterly magazine,
The New Century, to push their views,
and invited liberal leaders such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Senator Claude
Pepper, and NAACP chief Walter White to the campus where they spoke to
largely enthusiastic audiences. And finally, they encouraged prominent
faculty members and alumni to lobby the Trustees.
the three black ex-sailors, John Howard, paid little attention to this
politicking as he worked hard toward admission to medical school. He became
Princetons first graduate of color when he received his degree in
February 1947, 201 years after the Universitys founding. He is now
an orthopedic surgeon in Los Angeles. The other members of the Navy trio,
Pete Wilson and James Ward, graduated in June 1947 and June 1948, respectively.
campaign by The Liberal Union and its allies achieved an historic victory
on May 8, 1947, when the University made a bombshell announcement in a
most casual manner. In a discussion following a speech about minorities
delivered by the visiting president of Oberlin College, Princetons
Dean of Students, Francis Godolphin, said that he favored the color-blind
admission of students. He added that two young black men were being considered
for entry in the incoming freshman class.
Moss in September 1947 became the first black student since John Chavis
in 1792 to be chosen voluntarily by the University for admission. As Moss
pursued his studies during the 1947-48 college year, the elation of the
Liberal Union people turned to disappointment. It had become obvious that
the University was making no real effort to recruit blacks; by springtime,
the official word was that none would be admitted in the autumn of 1948.
The Liberal Union cried foul and labeled Moss a token.
responses were contradictory. On one hand, it claimed: We've opened
our doors, but no qualified blacks are applying. On the other, Heermance
threatened Liberal Union members with suspension when they actively recruited
blacks in high schools; he accused them of sabotaging his time-tested
headed for graduation in June 1948, was filled with anger at what he believed
was stonewalling by the Dodds Administration. He and the newly elected
leader of The Liberal Union, Warren Deem, made the recruitment of blacks
the organizations top priority for the coming academic year.
In the fall
of 48, my senior year, Deem created an Inter-Racial Committee to
accomplish this. Risking Heermances wrath, its members mounted an energetic
national campaign. Working with a cadre of black and white ministers,
a group of committed alumni, and the United Negro College Fund, they contacted
officials at more than 1,000 high schools and found at least twenty qualified
Committee felt confident of victory when a political event beyond its
control tipped the balance irrevocably in its favor. New Jerseys
legislature passed a law that specifically banned racial discrimination
in admitting students to universities. Princeton had lobbied strongly
against the bill, claiming it was coercive and unworkable.
of 1949, President Dodds informed the Trustees that the racist game was
over, and in the autumn three blacks matriculated in the freshman class.
Two of the three, Royce Vaughn and Grady Smith, were recruited by The
Liberal Union. The third, Bob Rivers who went on to Harvard Medical
School, became a surgeon, and served as a Princeton Trustee from 1969
to 1978 was a Frank Broderick man.
dream of a Princeton education began the day he became one of the eight
black kids who integrated the Princeton summer camp at Blairstown under
Franks aegis in 1946.