Another Light on the Hill Black Students at Tufts


The decade of the 1920s, according to historian Raymond Wolters, saw the emergence of the "new Negro on campus." Whereas the total number of black students on college campuses nationwide in the 1910s averaged less than 1500 yearly, there was a marked increase in the 1920s as the sons and daughters of a small but emergent middle class began to enroll in institutions of higher education. Tufts was no exception; for at least one and sometimes two black students enrolled in most entering classes. Beginning with Madeline Bernard, (Jackson 1920) the first African-American woman identified as a graduate of the college, those black students participated rather actively in campus activities and on athletic teams. However, the on-campus social life of black students may have been restricted. To fill such a void, black male students pledged several of the historically black fraternities--Omega Psi Phi, Alpha Phi Alpha, and Kappa Alpha Psi and black female students pledged local chapters of two of the historically black sororities--Alpha Kappa Alpha and Delta Sigma Theta. In addition, African-American students at Tufts established friendships, often of long standing, with students from nearby colleges. Perhaps the most prominent on-campus activity involving black students in the 1920s was the staging of Eugene O'Neill's play "The Emperor Jones" by members of Pen, Paint and Pretzels. According to the Tufts Weekly, that production marked "the first time that any play has ever been given on hill with the lead taken by a negro [sic]." Starring John Moseley and Jester Hairston, (one of Tufts’ most distinguished alumni) the play was well received on campus and in local communities.

– Gill, "Another Light on the Hill"