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Black History Month: Looking back at the 1960s

In the 1960s, the African-American community at the University expanded in size under the mentorship of Carl Fields and went on to establish a series of organizations and conferences. There were also a variety of protests that began at the University in relation to apartheid.

1963: A change in admissions policy


In 1963, former University President Robert Goheen ’40announced a new admissions policy to accept as many qualified African-American students as could be found.

Former University President William Bowen GS ’58 said the reactions to Goheen’s strategy were very positive, adding thatmore people became aware of the problem over time.

“We were slow of the mark, that’s what has to be said,” Bowen said.

E. Alden Dunham ’53, the University’s Director of Admission at the time, said African-American students increased the University’s diversity and that the University was serving the nationthrough educating African-Americans,according toa 1964 articlein The Daily Princetonian about the updated admission policy of the University.

However, recruiting minority students was difficult because the pool of candidates was not outstanding due to the deficiencies of American education in general, Bowen said.

“So trying to find well-qualified people who wanted to take what for them would have been a bold step of coming to a place like Princeton that had been unfriendly to black students for a long time was a challenge,” he said.


The 1960s were a difficult, challenging and exciting time for the incoming African-American students,University Vice President and Secretary Robert Durkee ’69 said.

“This was still a place with lots of white students not expecting there to be black students and in many cases, not knowing how to engage with black students [or knowing whether they wanted to]," Durkee said.

University Trustee Brent Henry ’69, who is African-American, said that it was as if he had entered a whole new worldwhen he arrived at the University for the first time.

“The experience on the whole as an undergraduate was a very rich one," he said. "Something that, you know, I appreciated after I graduated much more than I did when I was there."

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Building up to a critical mass of black students was a very important process that took time, and much of the credit is owed to the original group of black students who were effective in encouraging others to come, Bowen said.

“The main thing that we accomplished slowly, but we did accomplish it, was to recruit a large enough number of black students so that they felt comfortable with one another as well as comfortable in their setting,” he said.

Durkee said that at the senior levels of the University, there was a commitment to increasing diversity that was strongly expressed by Goheen and Bowen.

“[The African-American students who arrived on campus in the 1960s] had a sense that the University was very interested in diversifying and bringing black students to campus,” Durkee said.

1964: The arrival of the first blackadministrator

In 1964,the University became the nation’s first college with a predominantly white student body to appoint a black administrator with the selection of Fields, who became one of the most beloved figures on campus.

Fields was concerned with the black students and all of the students that he had been in contact with from his position in the Office of Financial Aid, Jim Floyd ’69 said.

“He made sure that we were looked out for and that we had a grown up that we could talk to, should we need someone to talk to,” he explained.

W. Bradford Craig ’38, then Director of Student Aid, showed up at Fields’ office in January 1964 to offer him an administrative position at the University,according to the anarticleby Fields written for the Association of Black Princeton Alumni.

“Forgetting that he was soaking wet, that he had shown up under really abominable conditions, I raked him and his institution over the coals of black indignation,” Fields wrote.

After 45 minutes of persuasion, Fields wrote, he decided to come to the University. While everyone he knew tried to discourage him due to the University’s reputation of being unfriendly towards minorities, his father supported him and motivated him to take on the challenge.

“I felt that it was time for me to come out of the cocoon and appeal as what I was: the black administrator of Princeton,” he wrote.

1965: An African-American luncheon

Fields wrote he wanted to have a meeting with all of the new black students on campus during Freshman Week, because the African-Americans on campus did not know him or even each other well.

He invited sophomores and juniors to welcome the freshmen in the fall of 1965 at Floyd’s house. The 14 students comprised the largest group of black students to come into a class at the same time.

At the luncheon, Floyd said, Fields expressed his wishes for all the attendees to meet each other and him. He said that the attendees should be aware that the gathering was historic.

The failure rate for African-American students went from around 50 percent to zero after the luncheon, Floyd said.

“The black community had come through and the whole administration knew that the plan [of connecting African-American students] had proven itself,” Fields wrote.

1966: The formation of the Association of Black Collegians

By the end of 1966, Fields wrote he believed the black students were beginning to think of coming together in a more organized fashion, and long conversations began to take place in his office and in dormitory rooms to plan a more formal organization.

“In my mind, it had to have a form and purpose that would not only bring it visibility, but also create an effective force for positive change on the campus,” he wrote.

The “Association of Black Collegians,” co-founded by Paul Carryon ’68 and Alan Deane Buchanan ’68, was soon created.

The association was dedicated to solving the problems of African-American students across the country and at the University,according toa contemporary announcement of the formation of the ABC in the ‘Prince,’and 88percent of the 43 African-American students on campus at that time were a part of the association.

“When you speak with a combined voice, you tend to get heard a lot more,” Henry, a University Trustee, said.

The ABC tried to restore African-American culture on campus in November by organizing events with artists like LeRoi Jones and African-American poet, playwright and author, Ed Spriggs, according to a 1967 ‘Prince’article.

The ABC highlighted the collective identity of the African-Americans at Princeton, Durkee said.

“It helped convert a series of individual presences into a collective presence and gave more visibility to the fact that there were black students at Princeton and that their number was growing,” he explained.

March 1967: the President's reaction to the first ABC conference

Fields decided to hold an ABC-sponsored conference for black students from predominantly white institutions to discuss their role in shaping the future of African-American students’ on campus, he wrote.

While searching for a person to open the conference, Fields suggested then-University President Goheen as a candidate in an effort to show that the group was accepted by and representative of the University.

Goheen agreed to open the conference on the condition that he would not have to give a speech and would only spend five minutes welcoming the students, Fields wrote. However, upon meeting with student representatives from 41 eastern colleges and universities,Goheen decided to address the gathering spontaneously for 30 minutes about the need for equality.

“Every eye was glued on him. They were taking in every word," Fields wrote. "When he finished, there was an outpouring of applause. In one spontaneous motion, the audience rose to its feet and rocked the Wilson School Auditorium with a tribute that I have seldom seen accorded a white man by a black group."

May 1967: A walkout during a governor's address

Former Alabama Governor George Wallace was invited by the Whig-Cliosophic Society to speak at Princeton when he began visiting college campuses as part of his presidential campaign.

This invitation was not met with approval from most of the University community due to Wallace’s segregationist attitudes, Floyd said.

“An impulse among many of us who were younger was to do something dramatic and to call attention to ourselves and hopefully to make [Wallace] look bad,” he explained.

Placards denouncing Wallace, attempts at confrontation and planned interruption of his speech would be ineffective, Fields wrote. He suggested instead that if, during his speech, Wallace were to make statements deemed biased and prejudicial to the interests of African-American people, the students should rise quietly and leave the auditorium without comment.

“Carl Fields had advised us and guided us towards deciding to all get dressed up in our jackets and ties and go sit together near the front,” Floyd said.

Fields had informed the students that Wallace usually launched into comments about blacks about two-thirds of the way through his speech. As soon as the comments began, all the black students stood up and filed out of the auditorium.

“We’re walking from the front of the hall to the back of the hall so everyone would see us," Floyd said. "We were not causing a fuss, so Mr. Wallace could not say, ‘Look at them.’ And yet, no one could deny that we had made a statement —and a dignified statement at that."

Fields wrote that his phone rang throughout the entire following day. Members of the black community let him know that they was proud of the students’ actions, while the campus administration said the black students had handled the “difficult situation with dignity and directness,” he wrote.

October 1967: A journalist tells the story of black experiences at the University

Durkee said that in his sophomore year, he wished to tell the story of black students on campusupon attending an ABC meeting. However, he said that members of the African-American community debated with one another over whether it was a good idea to cooperate with a white student to tell their story.

Eventually, a number of members of the African-American community agreed to be interviewed and Durkee went on to publish an article, “A New Era for the Negro at Princeton?”, in the ‘Prince.’

“It is an accurate description of what life was like on this campus in the sixties,” Durkee said about the article, adding that the reaction to his article was not positive because white students did not like the theme that it was good to have African-American students on campus.

The article went on to win the prize for the best college newspaper story of 1967 and was published in the anthology, “Black Hands on a White Face.”

1968: A bullet that pierced the silence

On Sunday April 7, 1968, at 11 p.m., almost three dozen African-American students, led by Carryon and Buchanan, gathered and marched to Walter B. Lowrie House, the University President’s home because Goheen decided not to cancel class on April 9, the day of Martin Luther King Jr.'s funeral, Durkee said.

The ABC found fault with Goheen’s choice to establish one hour of silence and otherwise allow campus activities to proceed as usual. Black students thought they should be authorized to prepare a program for a day of no classes, Durkee said.

“No black student will attend classes! No black student will work on any job! It will be a day of quiet meditation and reflection,” the ABC wrote in the ‘Prince.’

Melvin McCray ’74 said that when Goheen opened the door and saw a majority of the African-American student population gathered on his porch that night, he stood there and listened to their reasoning for half an hour, finally agreeing to cancel classes.

“It was a very important defining moment because of the way they had represented their concerns and the way he had responded to their solicitations," Durkee said. "And then, they put together an absolutely first-rate program."

Later that week, ABC held an hour-long silent vigil at Palmer Square in honor of King. Approximately 200 people were in attendance for an unprecedented show of unification that the University had never witnessed before.

On Class Day that year, the ABC announced the creation of the Frederick Douglass Award for students who showcase courage, leadership, intellectual achievement and unselfish contribution with regard to racial minorities. The first two recipients were Carryon and Buchanan.

"It was a tremendous surprise," Buchanan later told Princeton Alumni Weekly. "This was the University recognizing the importance of generating student leadership among blacks."

Carryon and Buchanan were greeted by a standing ovation from the entire student body as theymade their way down Cannon Green to collect their prize, Fields wrote.

1969: A cry for divestment

On Feb. 26, a student rally sponsored by The United Front on South Africa, which combined the University’s black and white student groups, asked the University to divest stock in 39 companies for their role in apartheid.

Goheen promised on March 4 that the University would inform the companies it invested in of the University’s feelings toward apartheid, according toUniversity archives at Mudd Manuscript Library.

However, the University should not fully divest, as divesting would not have a “substantial prospect” of meaningful impact on apartheid, Goheen said in a statement at the time. The companies “derive on average less than one percent of their sales and profits from southern Africa,” while the University would lose of $3.5 million in income, which would hinder its ability to carry out its educational mission, he wrote.

In retaliation to Goheen’s position, 51 students pushed aside a janitor on March 11who was going about his daily job of opening up the New South Building, which then held the University’s administrative offices.

“In the late sixties, campus building takeovers were not uncommon," Henry said. "So we decided that we would make a statement by taking over New South."

They occupied the seven-story building for eleven hours, during which the Students for a Democratic Society, a predominantly white student group, piled bike racks at the entrance of the building to prevent administrators from entering.

“We leave, not out of fear of repercussion, but rather because the administration has already begun to shift the emphasis of our protest away from the moral issue of South Africa to the legitimacy of our tactics,” W. Roderick Hamilton ’69 of the ABC told the ‘Prince’ at the time.

Henry said the protesters only disrupted the University for a day, a far lesser impact than that of protests at other colleges.

“When you’re a student, as long as you’re not destructive, a peaceful protest is a legitimate way to make one’s voice known,” Henry said.

Henry went on to be elected as one of the first two young alumni trustees, making him the first black alumnus to be elected trustee.

Henry said the first action of the trustees was to put him on the financial committee to work with the trustee committee and the University committee to address student concerns on campus.

“So clearly, the action [of protesting] got the board’s attention," he said. "And I do give the board leadership credit for taking it seriously enough to put someone who was involved in the protest on the committee to address the issue."

This article is the second in a five-part Black History Month feature series. Check back tomorrow for a look at the University in the 1970s.

Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this article inaccurately stated thatFormer University President William Bowen GS ’58 was the University Provost in 1963. The position was not established until 1966. The 'Prince' regrets the error.