the broader history of Blacks in America."
Throughout the 180-page paperback, incisive articles on topics ranging from an account of Harvard-trained journalist W. Monroe Trotter's trip to the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 to an account of 1920s Black-power activist Marcus Garvey's visit to Harvard create a vivid history of Harvard through the eyes of its Black graduates.
Autobiographical essays, like the one by fiction writer Marita O. Bonner, "On Being Young and Colored," reveal a special and personal insight into the evolving Black experience across the barriers of time and prejudice.
Up From Slavery
Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges have granted approximately 2600 degrees to Black men and women, and since 1899, there have been only three graduating classes without Black members. Since 1969, the year following the assassination of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., more than 100 Black students have entered Harvard and Radcliffe each year.
But the first Blacks at Harvard did not come to Cambridge for the education. They were slaves. Early Presidents Increase Mather (1685-1701) and Benjamin Wadsworth (1725-1737) both held Black slaves in their households. Black servants continued in the employ of wealthier students as personal valets during most of the 19th century.
Richard T. Greener entered this atmosphere of wealthy white society and in 1870 received the first A.B. granted by the College to a Black student. "Rumors inevitably sprang up among his classmates as to his background; he was variously represented as an escaped slave, a genius who had come straight from the cotton field to the College, as a scout in the Union Army, as the son of a rebel general, and so on," the book quotes a Harvard Harvard Alumni Bulletin of 1964. Radcliffe did not grant its first B.A. to a Black woman until 1898, when Alberta V. Scott graduated.
The Ragtime Era
While Harvard during the late 19th century may have been a playground for Boston's elite, Black undergraduates not only faced the problems of prejudice, but also de facto segregation from the white community at large.
Despite this lack of integration, Black students from Harvard and surrounding institutions formed an active community. Dubois, who in 1895 became the first Black man granted a Harvard Ph.D., wrote of an active "company who met and ate, danced and argued, and planned a new world." Dubois' active social life did not go unnoticed. It "attracted attention and the Crimson noted my girl friends."
Dubois later became a major spokesman for the Black movement in the early 20th century, sharing much of the spotlight with another recipient of a Harvard degree. In 1896, Booker T. Washington was the first Black man awarded an honorary degree by Harvard. His distinguished career as a spokesman for Black equality later prompted Harvard's Phi Beta Kappa chapter to elect him as its first Black honorary member.
Alain Locke, who received a Harvard Ph.D. in 1918, did not become a major political spokesman like Dubois or Washington--instead he directed his energies toward developing a Black cultural and artistic identity. Regarded as an important figure in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. Locke felt that Black art, music and literature were evidence that "Negro thoughts now wear the uniform of the age."
These three men are only a small part of what seems to be an emerging Harvard tradition of leadership in the Black community. Such a tradition continues today in a broader sense, says Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III, who contributed an introduction to the reprinted of a speech delivered by Malcolm X at the Law School.
"You would find Black Harvard graduates of distinction in almost every walk of life. The tradition of leadership has been more varied since after World War II," he says, citing posts ranging from federal judges to Washington Post journalists currently held by Black alumni.
"In terms of range and scale, Black alumni leadership presence in both national and Black ethnic leadership structures dwarfs what it once was," says noted Black historian and Professor of Government Martin L. Kilson, who has a forthcoming book called Neither Insiders Nor Outsiders: Blacks in American Society.