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Media contact: Neal Buccino, neal.buccino@rutgers.edu, 848-932-7328 

Latest Scarlet and Black Book Explores Lives of Rutgers’ First Black Students

Decades before the civil rights era, the “forerunner generation” paved the way for desegregation 

Newswise — New Brunswick, N.J. (Feb. 25, 2020) – In a new book in the Scarlet and Black Project, Rutgers University continues to examine its historical relationship to race, slavery and disenfranchisement, telling the story of the school’s first black students, who were pioneers treated as outcasts on their own campus. 

Scarlet and Black Volume II: Constructing Race and Gender at Rutgers, 1865-1945 provides new context for the lives of Rutgers’ first African American alumni, the “forerunner generation” to the Civil Rights activists of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. The list includes Paul Robeson, the renowned entertainer and human rights activist, and James Dickson Carr, Rutgers’ first black student who graduated in 1892 and went on to Columbia Law School and a successful legal career. It also includes Julia Baxter Bates, the college’s first African American female student, who co-authored the winning brief in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the case that declared school segregation unconstitutional. 

The book also highlights lesser-known but equally notable figures, including Alice Jennings Archibald (the first black woman to obtain a graduate degree at Rutgers); Emma Andrews and Evelyn Sermons (the first black women to integrate the dorms at Rutgers’ Douglass Residential College); formerly enslaved Islay Walden (who attended New Brunswick Theological Seminary in 1876, nearly a decade before Rutgers admitted its first black student); and Edward Lawson, Sr., and Edward Lawson, Jr. (a father and son with Rutgers stories of racism and triumph). 

Volume II examines how concepts related to race and gender evolved during the 20th century at Rutgers College and its newly created women’s college. During that time, the “Rutgers Man” and “Douglass Woman” were idealized as Anglo-Saxon, Protestant and from the middle or upper classes. Some black and other nonwhite students found opportunities to “pass” into whiteness. But others became “Race Men” and “Race Women” – they embraced race consciousness and chose to fight racism in its many forms while working to advance the status of black people in the U.S. and internationally. 

The full story, with photos, can be found here. A password-protected electronic copy of the book can be provided upon request. 

“This January, many, if not most, in the Rutgers community celebrated the appointment of this university’s first black president, Dr. Jonathan Holloway,” said Deborah Gray White, the Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of History at Rutgers University–New Brunswick and an editor of the Scarlet and Black book series. 

“However, black people were not always welcomed at Rutgers. The 18th century profits from the sale of our bodies and labor enabled the university’s existence, but we were not allowed to step on the campus as students until the late 19th century. When we were allowed to matriculate, we could not always live on campus nor participate as full-fledged members of the Rutgers community. Not until the mid-20th century freedom movement did Rutgers open its doors to more than a handful of African Americans and other racial minorities, and even then, Rutgers – meaning administrators, faculty, students and surrounding neighborhoods – resisted at every turn. We are proud to add this second volume to the story of Rutgers’ journey from exclusion to inclusion. It tells the story of the first young black men and women at Rutgers, the obstacles they had to surmount and the racial climate of the classroom, university and community. We are overjoyed that this volume comes at this particular moment of new beginnings for Rutgers University.” 

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