Another Light on the Hill Black Students at Tufts


Brooks Johnson about to cross the finish line, 1950

The years from 1945 to 1965 did witness a small increase comparatively in the enrollment of black students on campus. Although the Tufts community reflected the changing intellectual and attitudinal views then existent on many northern college campuses, the number of black students on campus grew rather slowly. Whereas an estimated twenty-five black students may have enrolled as undergraduates in the years from 1905 to 1945, more than fifty were enrolled in the two decades after World War II. Although their numbers were decidedly small, there was an increasing diversification in the background and in the gender ratio of the black student population. While a number of the early black students at Tufts were commuters from West Medford or from Cambridge, black matriculants from the late 1940s through the mid-1960s increasingly came from the Greater Boston area, the New York metropolitan area, Midwestern urban centers, parts of the South, the Caribbean Basin, and after 1960 from several British colonial possessions in Africa or from newly independent republics such as Nigeria. In addition, there was a slight increase in the number of black female enrollees in Jackson College. Only four black women have been identified as pre-World War II graduates of Jackson; approximately twenty black alumnae have been so identified for the two decades after World War Two.

Like their predecessors, these students involved themselves in a wide range of campus activities. Several of the male students were stellar performers on the various varsity athletic teams, particularly the track team. Other students, male and female alike, wrote for campus publications, participated in on-campus discussion groups, joined pre-professional organizations, were members of departmental honor societies, sang in various choral groups, starred in campus productions, and ran for and won election to various class offices and student government positions.

Although race relations at Tufts in the early 1950s were generally described as positive by Ebony magazine, there were still areas of on-campus student life and activities closed to black students. In the earlier years several, if not most, black students had sought a social life off-campus. Some had affiliated themselves with and others would continue to pledge the citywide chapters of the historically black fraternities and sororities. By the early 1950s, there was increasing concern among some black and white students over the racially exclusionary practices of most fraternities and sororities on campus. Throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s campaigns were waged to have local chapters end such discrimination. Over the decade of the 1950s, several of the social living groups on campus began to accept black pledges. While most did so with no incident, one local sorority was expelled from its national association for pledging two black women students. By the early 1960s, two fraternities, due to their national headquarters' adherence to racially exclusionary policies, refused to accede to policies of non-discrimination on racial grounds until the mid-1960s.

– Gill, "Another Light on the Hill"