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Harvard Honors Black Alum Edwin Jourdain Jr. With Portrait in Winthrop House

Spencer C.D. Jourdain '61 stands in front of a newly unveiled portrait of his father, Edwin Bush Jourdain Jr., at a ceremony in Winthrop House's Senior Common Room on March 31.
Spencer C.D. Jourdain '61 stands in front of a newly unveiled portrait of his father, Edwin Bush Jourdain Jr., at a ceremony in Winthrop House's Senior Common Room on March 31. By Courtesy of Kevin Grady / Harvard Radcliffe Institute
By Jasmine Palma, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard honored Edwin Bush Jourdain Jr., Class of 1921, a Black College graduate who led efforts to dismantle the University’s segregationist freshman dorm policy, with a portrait in Winthrop House’s Senior Common Room.

Situated alongside photographs of other prominent civil rights leaders, the portrait was unveiled March 31 at a celebratory gathering attended by students, Jourdain’s living family, and Vice Provost for Special Projects Sara N. Bleich.

Jourdain’s son, Spencer C.D. Jourdain ’61, selected an image of his father from his time as a student at the College for exhibition.

In remarks at the event, Bleich cited a landmark University report released last year that detailed how the institution of slavery shaped Harvard. The report named dozens of Harvard leaders and donors who enslaved people and are today memorialized on Harvard buildings.

“The report also identifies some of the really courageous individuals, some of the first Black students at Harvard who pushed back, who drove toward equity. And Edwin Jourdain is one of those people,” Bleich said during the ceremony, according to the Harvard Gazette.

While Jourdain was studying at Harvard Business School, William J. Knox Jr., Class of 1925 — an incoming Black freshman and a childhood friend of Jourdain — had his housing assignment rescinded soon after he arrived to take his in-person exams. Jourdain had lived in a freshman dorm just four years prior.

This led both men to meet with Dean of Freshmen Philip P. Chase, who responded that University President Abbott L. Lowell, Class of 1877, said he could not compel white students to live with Black students.

Refusing to accept Lowell’s position, Jourdain confronted him directly about his segregationist housing policy.

Lowell maintained that the University’s southern and western demographic would be discomforted by integrated housing, and he said he would rather exclude the comparably fewer Black students from campus residential life than exclude them from the University entirely.

“Dad loved Harvard more than any other person I ever met in my life,” Jourdain said in the ceremony, according to the Gazette. “He had a way of being calm, and that’s what I see when he was confronting President Lowell. He knew who he was, and he had a long history of abolition in his family.”

To combat Lowell’s policy, Jourdain helped to found a social organization of Black men at Harvard called the Nile Club.

The group pushed to end segregation on campus, and in conjunction with media attention garnered by petitions and efforts by Black alumni, the University banned housing discrimination on the basis of race in 1923.

Jourdain would go on to become the first Black alderman of Evanston, Illinois

The portrait unveiling comes as some undergraduates this semester have pushed to dename Winthrop House due to its namesakes’ ties to slavery. In February, hundreds of Harvard affiliates signed a petition in support of denaming.

Student organizers submitted an official denaming proposal to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, though the FAS has not yet responded to their request.

—Staff writer Jasmine Palma can be reached at

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