Another Light on the Hill Black Students at Tufts

Another Light on the Hill: Gerald Gill Introduction

Students (unidentified) socializing in a dorm room, 1975

The struggle for educational opportunities has been one of the central topics in the history of African-Americans in the United States. Whether as enslaved persons or free persons in the ante-bellum period or as citizens of the republic after the Civil War, African-Americans strove first to learn how to read and to write and then to gain access to both public and private educational institutions on a non-segregated and non-discriminatory basis. In pursuit of such opportunities, a small number of free blacks were admitted to and graduated from selected northern colleges before the Civil War. While the names of students who attended schools such as Middlebury, Amherst, Bowdoin and Oberlin have been recorded as "famous firsts" in African-American history, the experiences of black undergraduates--at predominantly white institutions as well as historically black institutions--over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have not been extensively documented. Although the vast majority of African-American leaders and professionals, past and present, has graduated from the traditionally black colleges, black graduates from "northern" or from "mixed" schools emerged as leaders and spokespersons on behalf of African-Americans. Yet, attention has generally been paid to black graduates of Ivy League institutions or large, state-supported institutions in the Midwest.

Jackson College sophomore basketball team, 1924
Unidentified alumni from the class of 1928 at an Alumni Day event, 1973
Kappa Alpha Psi brothers spend time outside, 1983

Still, smaller, private institutions in the Northeast (schools other than Middlebury, Bowdoin and Amherst) were prominent among those institutions that allowed black students to matriculate. One such institution was Tufts College (later Tufts University) which provided educational opportunities to black students as early as the 1900s, if not decades earlier. Although individual black alumni of Tufts have been duly recognized for their on-campus accomplishments, the overall experiences of black students, past and present, have largely remained unrecorded. This exhibit seeks to highlight the experiences of black students at Tufts over the course of the twentieth century. While they sought to take advantage of a Tufts education, black undergraduates were not content solely with being allowed to matriculate. African-American students at Tufts have excelled in the classroom and on the athletic field, have played leading roles in a wide range of campus organizations, and have involved themselves in on-campus as well as off-campus efforts to improve race relations and to establish cultural and social programs for both black students and the entire campus community. Their accomplishments have not been limited solely to the Tufts campus. In their later careers and professions, black alumni have distinguished themselves and have brought national and international acclaim to themselves and to their alma mater.

– Gill, "Another Light on the Hill"