Final Scarlet and Black Book Shows How Student Activism Has Transformed Rutgers

Scarlet and Black: Making Black Lives Matter at Rutgers, 1945-2020, highlights the power of students’ commitment to justice and equity

This article by John Cramer was featured in Rutgers Today on April 29, 2021.

In 1963 when Donald Harris, who had just graduated from Rutgers University, was arrested in Georgia and charged with insurrection for trying to register African American voters, students thought they could create a movement that would bring national attention to the atrocity that left the former football and lacrosse player and member of the Air Force ROTC facing the death penalty under Georgia law.

But, according to the forthcoming release and final book in Rutgers University’s Scarlet and Black series that recounts the university’s challenge to diversify, students found themselves struggling against a campus culture that, when not overtly racist, was apathetic toward Black rights.

The book, third in a series, recounts the role Black and Puerto Rican students played in challenging the university to diversify its student and faculty recruitment, invest in financial aid and initiatives that would help underserved students, expand its curriculum to include Black and Latinx scholarship and recognize the struggles toward freedom that were taking place across the world.

“The latest Scarlet and Black volume reveals through painstaking scholarship that transformational change at Rutgers did not occur quickly, easily or without the persistent commitment of students and others in the Rutgers community who confronted injustice and inequity,” President Jonathan Holloway said. “It is imperative that we explore our history as we continue the work toward inclusion and providing opportunity for all at Rutgers with steadfast intention.”

While Harris was released from jail when a federal judge declared the law under which he was charged unconstitutional after he spent 84 days locked up, his arrest inspired Rutgers students to continue to demand that the university make a commitment to justice and equity.

The final volume continues to uncover the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow segregation in New Jersey, what many consider to be a liberal state, said Deborah Gray White, Scarlet and Black coauthor and Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of History.

“Most important, however, it demonstrates how students, faculty and administrators can work together to implement change,” she said. “If the past is prologue, as I believe it is, the story revealed here presents important lessons for Rutgers as it strives to serve the state and nation in the 21st century.”

This volume presented tremendous challenges, White added.

“The horizontal expansion of Rutgers-New Brunswick into Piscataway and the university’s vertical expansion to Camden and Newark presented a complex story even before it was layered with the impact of the mid-century Black revolution on Rutgers’ campuses,” she said.

Scarlet and Black: Making Black Lives Matter at Rutgers, 1945-2020, covers a broad sweep of history, including what historians have called the “Black revolution on campus” – protests at Rutgers and other universities during the 1960s and 1970s that pushed American higher education to better reflect the nation’s diversity.

The final volume builds on volume one, which showed how Rutgers’ founders grew rich from the profits of slavery and justified Black debasement, and volume two, which followed Rutgers’s first Black students as they navigated white campus population and culture.

“Built on outstanding research conducted by Rutgers faculty, doctoral candidates, postdoctoral fellows and undergraduate students, the Scarlet and Black series provides an unflinching look at the ways Rutgers and many of its founders and leaders contributed to and profited from the disenfranchisement of people of color throughout its history,” said Christopher J. Molloy, Rutgers-New Brunswick chancellor.

“This third and final volume shows how student activists and others, through the latter half of the 20th century and beyond, succeeded in challenging Rutgers to become the exemplar of diversity, equity and inclusion that President Obama celebrated during his 2016 commencement speech and that we continue to improve upon today,” he said.

Some pivotal moments in the volume include:

The Conklin Hall Takeover, February 1969
Volume 3 featured in Rutgers Today
Black Organization of Students member placing protest banner on top of Conklin Hall.

Members of the Black Organization of Students, frustrated by years of unfulfilled promises from university leadership, occupied a Rutgers-Newark administrative building with demands for equity in student recruitment and retention, faculty hiring, Black studies and other issues during a three-day protest. Rutgers’ then-president, Mason Gross, negotiated with the students instead of bringing in the police, which drew criticism from faculty members, politicians, the Rutgers Board of Governors and the public. The Conklin Hall demonstration was a fundamental event not only in the history of Rutgers but in the modern Black freedom movement as well.

Rutgers-Camden Students Protest, February 1969
Beacons of Light: The Black Student Protest Legacy at Rutgers—Camden, March 30, 2016.

Students barricaded themselves inside the campus’s College Center demanding that Rutgers support efforts to improve the urban community it inhabited. Though the city’s population was 40 percent Black, Rutgers-Camden’s student population, most of whom lived in the surrounding suburbs, was 98 percent white. The 20 Black students enrolled were mostly from Camden and deeply involved in advocating for city residents. A meeting with the university president and a vote by the faculty supporting students led to what the book calls the beginning of an era of persistent student activism that reshaped Rutgers-Camden.

Rutgers’ Latino and Caribbean Studies Department at Livingston College, 1969
Rutgers Puerto Rican Studies yearbook page
Puerto Rican Studies Department, The Rock Yearbook, 1978.

The creation of what is now Rutgers Latino and Caribbean Studies Department on the Livingston campus began as an experiment in recruiting Black, Latinx and other underrepresented students with an academic focus on social justice issues. But the university dedicated only meager resources toward a Puerto Rican studies program, which still thrived due to its dedicated faculty and demands of students. The department established New Jersey’s first Puerto Rican student theater group, held conferences on colonialism, established high school outreach resources and helped shape educational programs across the United States.

Black and Latinx Feminist Consciousness at the All-Women’s Douglass College and the Coed Livingston College
Bernice Proctor yearbook photo
Bernice Proctor Venable, Quair Yearbook, 1962.

Student Bernice Proctor Venable organized petitions against the arrest in 1960 of 100 anti-segregation protesters in Tennessee and with the NAACP in New Brunswick fought housing discrimination against Black students. The Douglass Black Students’ Committee organized a cafeteria protest in coordination with the Conklin Hall takeover, advocated for African American studies courses and successfully demanded space for African American cultural events. Black Douglass women students also demonstrated in front of a segregated white fraternity house where Black Rutgers College men were being threatened with baseball bats by white men.​​​​​​

Don Imus Comment About the 2007 Women’s Basketball Team Leads to Uproar
Rutgers Womens Basketball Team
2006–2007 Rutgers University Women’s Basketball Team official photo.

The 2007 event in which Scarlet Knights women’s basketball head coach C. Vivian Stringer and her team’s student-athletes turned the national uproar over radio host Don Imus’s sexist and racist comments into a demand for recognition of the dignity of Black women and all women. After several days of national outrage and intense emotion, Rutgers Athletics held a news conference in which Stringer and the team used the experience to open up a dialogue about sexism and racism. In the end, the message of female empowerment took hold and raised the consciousness around larger issues of race and gender.

Since 2015, when the committee’s Scarlet and Black Project was launched as part of the commemoration of the university’s 250th anniversary in 2016, scholars have explored the experiences of two disenfranchised populations at Rutgers: African Americans and Native Americans.

The release of the last volume arrives during a time when the Black Lives Matter movement is creating a space where people seem to have more of a desire to learn about African American history, White said.

“Volume three of the Scarlet and Black book series illuminates the long history of racial justice activism initiated and sustained by Black and brown students across Rutgers campuses, across New Jersey and the nation,” said Marisa Fuentes, Presidential Term Chair in African American History and an associate professor of history and gender studies. “As the concluding volume in the series, its focus on institutional racism and the efforts of Black and Puerto Rican students to end police violence, community displacement and make spaces for scholarly attention to histories of racial oppression and resistance brings Rutgers history to the present in powerful ways.

Celebrating the Publication of Scarlet and Black Volume 3

Message from Chancellor Christopher J. Molloy:

April 29, 2021

Dear Members of the Rutgers–New Brunswick Community: 

Rutgers launched the Scarlet and Black Project several years ago as an effort to confront the ways our university benefited from and contributed to slavery and its legacies of racism against African Americans, and the displacement of Indigenous Americans from their land.

The project began with the 2016 publication of Scarlet and Black Volume 1: Slavery and Dispossession in Rutgers History, a book that traces how Rutgers benefited from the slave economy and came to own the land it inhabits.

Last year, that work continued with the publication of Scarlet and Black Volume 2: Constructing Race and Gender at Rutgers, 1865-1945, which provides new context for the lives of Rutgers’ first African American students. It highlights how Paul Robeson, Julia Baxter Bates, and others struggled due to a culture of racism.

Next month, Rutgers University Press will publish the final book in the trilogy, Scarlet and Black Volume 3: Making Black Lives Matter at Rutgers, 1945-2020. This latest book covers a broad sweep of history, including what historians have called the “Black revolution on campus” – protests at Rutgers and other universities during the 1960s and 70s that pushed American higher education to better reflect and honor our nation’s diversity.

The third volume highlights activism by Black, Latinx, and other students at Rutgers’ Camden, New Brunswick, and Newark campuses, and how they succeeded in challenging Rutgers to become the exemplar of diversity, equity, and inclusion that President Obama celebrated during his 2016 commencement speech and that we continue to improve upon today.

Each book in the series was researched and written by Rutgers doctoral candidates, postdoctoral fellows, and undergraduate students, led by Deborah Gray White, Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of History, and Marisa Fuentes, Presidential Term Chair in African American History and an associate professor of history and gender studies, and their co-editors. Please join me in thanking and congratulating them for this groundbreaking work that has challenged us to confront our past, and has literally changed our university’s landscape. It has become a model for universities that study their relationship to slavery, to African Americans, and to other unrepresented identities.

Finally, I would also like to thank our students for pushing Rutgers to improve by illuminating our blind spots; and thank the dedicated faculty, administrators, and staff who have worked tirelessly to support this effort, pushing us forward on the path to becoming a beloved community.

The Scarlet and Black Committee will hold a virtual symposium today, April 29 and tomorrow, April 30 to discuss the final two books in the series, as well as the project’s future. We hope you will attend to learn more about this important effort.


Christopher J. Molloy, Ph.D.
Chancellor, Rutgers University­–New Brunswick

Join the Scarlet and Black Project for our virtual symposium – Apr. 29-30, 2021

April 29-30, 2021

featuring a keynote address by President Jonathan Holloway

Click here to register

Join the Scarlet and Black Project to celebrate the release of our newest books from Rutgers University Press. Our 3-volume book series examines the history of race at Rutgers from slavery to Black Lives Matter.

Our virtual symposium will include panels and presentations that discuss the scholarship, public history, and community engagement aspects of our project. Speakers include project co-directors Deborah Gray White and Marisa Fuentes as well as doctoral researchers, community partners, and distinguished Rutgers alumni.

View the complete symposium program and register today!

Video: Exploring Black History in New Jersey webinar

The New Jersey Historical Commission is pleased to present Exploring Black History in New Jersey: New Research and Discoveries, a webinar exploring projects that uncover and share African American history in the Garden State.

This virtual event took place on Tuesday, February 23, 2021, and featured speakers from the Scarlet and Black Project, the 313 Project, and Monmouth County Historical Association discussing their work. Attendees learned about the latest research, historical stories, and ways to access and support Black history in New Jersey.

Watch the webinar recording:

Featured speakers in order of appearance:

  • Reverend Doctor Wanda Lundy, Siloam Hope First Presbyterian Church and the 313 Project
  • Joe Zemla, Associate Curator, Monmouth County Historical Association
  • Dr. Alexandria Russell, Rutgers University Scarlet & Black Postdoctoral Fellow
  • Dr. Jesse Bayker, Digital Archivist, Scarlet & Black Project

Resources from the webinar:

Rutgers Confronts Ties to Slavery With New Historical Markers

This article by Robin Lally was featured in Rutgers Today on February 23, 2021.

Rutgers is taking new steps to acknowledge its connection to slavery and racial injustice with the creation of four additional historical markers that tell the story of its early benefactors whose families made their fortunes through the slave economy.

The markers shed new light on some of the most prominent names memorialized on the Rutgers-New Brunswick campus, including the university’s first president, Jacob Rusten Hardenbergh, and New Jersey’s first governor, William Livingston.

“These markers are an invitation for us to talk about the complicated legacies of namesakes and the complicated ways in which blood money from slavery is woven into old institutions like Rutgers,” Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway said at the Board of Governors meeting today. “They are a result of the excellent research shared in the Scarlet and Black volumes that acknowledge our own legacy.”

Holloway, Rutgers’ first African American president in its 254-year history and a leading Black history scholar, recently published The Cause of Freedom, an examination of Black history starting with the arrival of the first slave ship on the shores of Jamestown in 1619 through the Black Lives Matter movement of today.

The legacy of racial injustice is long and must be addressed by colleges and universities throughout the country including Rutgers, among the oldest land-grant universities in the United States, Holloway said. 

The new historical markers – recommended by the Committee on Enslaved and Disenfranchised Populations in Rutgers History as part of the Scarlet and Black Project – will contribute to discussions confronting the past while recognizing steps to take to move forward, Holloway said.

The new markers will be at the following locations:
Hardenbergh Hall historical marker

Hardenbergh Hall, built in 1956 and named for Jacob Rusten Hardenbergh, the founder of Queen’s College, later renamed Rutgers College, who was appointed its first president. Research for the Scarlet and Black Project revealed Hardenbergh’s family owned abolitionist Sojourner Truth and her parents, Bomefree and Mau-Mau Bett. The Dutch Reformed minister, who came from a prominent slaveholding family in Ulster, New York, forced enslaved people to work in his house.

Frelinghuysen Hall historical marker

Frelinghuysen Hall, also built in 1956, was named for the Frelinghuysen family, including Frederick Frelinghuysen, a United States senator and state legislator, who enslaved Black people.  He was a trustee and the first instructor at Queen’s College (later renamed Rutgers College). His grandfather, Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen, who also enslaved Black people, was instrumental in Rutgers’ founding. Frederick’s son, Theodore Frelinghuysen, a congressman and leader in the American Colonization Society, advocated for the forced removal of African Americans. Most names of those the Frelinghuysen family enslaved are unknown.  However, Ukawsaw Gronniosaw’s experience was documented in his 1772 world-renowned autobiography that describes being captured in West Africa and enslaved by the Frelinghuysens in their Raritan Valley home. This marker honors Gronniosaw and all the women, men and children enslaved by the Frelinghuysen family.

Wood Lawn Mansion historical marker

Wood Lawn Mansion, built in 1830 for Col. James Neilson, an early trustee who profited from enslaving Black people and whose family funded the estate through inherited wealth created over generations of deep involvement with slavery. The marker honors 13 African Americans enslaved by the Neilson family and the countless others whose names are unknown.

Livingston Campus historical marker

Livingston Campus, site of the former Livingston College, was named after William Livingston, the first governor of New Jersey whose family made a fortune trafficking human beings in the transatlantic slave trade. The family collectively enslaved hundreds of people and William’s brothers, Philip and Robert, two of Rutgers’ founding trustees, bought and sold hundreds more. When William Livingston moved to New Jersey, he enslaved at least two people, a woman named Bell and her son Lambert. Though William Livingston later advocated for gradual abolition, he continued to represent the legal interests of his slave-trading family’s wealth throughout his career. 

The metal plaques will be erected this spring as part of the ongoing effort to complete Rutgers’ historical record. They will join other landmarks that contribute to the university’s story, including Will’s Way, the walkway from the Old Queens building to the Voorhees Mall, named for an enslaved man who laid the building’s foundation in 1808; the Sojourner Truth Apartments, named for the abolitionist who, as a child, was owned by the Hardenbergh family; and the James Dickson Carr Library, named for Rutgers’ first African American graduate.

“These markers and the three volumes of Scarlet and Black is not the end of Rutgers recognizing its history,” said Deborah Gray White, committee co-chair and a Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of History. “It is a process. This is not something that is a be-all and end-all, but an acknowledgment that African Americans not only contributed to the founding and the building of Rutgers but also a recognition that we have been here all along even though we have been shut out of classrooms.”

Frank Wong, assistant vice president of University Planning and Development, is working with White and the Committee on Enslaved and Disenfranchised Populations in Rutgers History on the creation of another eight historical markers, including one acknowledging Colonel Henry Rutgers, the university’s namesake who was an early trustee and the son of a slave-owning family. He is remembered for donating the interest on a $5,000 bond in 1826 that put the college on a solid financial footing.

Since 2015, when the committee’s Scarlet and Black Project was launched as part of the commemoration of the university’s 250th anniversary in 2016, scholars have explored the experiences of two disenfranchised populations at Rutgers: African Americans and Native Americans. Under the direction of White; Maria Fuentes, associate professor of women’s and gender studies and history; and Camilla Townsend, Distinguished Professor of History, undergraduate and graduate students carefully pieced together lost stories from the pages of the university’s early history. 

White says Volume 3, a historical narrative from 1945-2020, details how Rutgers’ Black and Puerto Rican students revolted against the university’s admission policies, Eurocentric curriculum, and its primarily white faculty and insisted that Rutgers diversify. This was during the Black campus revolution that swept across the nation in the 1960s and changed the student population, curriculum, faculty and cultural environment to reflect the diversity of American culture.

The release of the last volume due in May arrives during a time when the Black Lives Matter movement is creating a space where people seem to have more of a desire to learn about African American history, she said.

“As the pandemic has given all people more time to think and reflect on the way law enforcement deals with Black lives, books and videos reflecting Black life have increased in consumption,” White said. “For New Jersey residents, Rutgers is a local story and what better way to begin to learn about Black lives than waking up to what is happening and has happened in one’s own backyard.”

Alice Jennings Archibald mural unveiled in New Brunswick

The local arts organization coLAB Arts has created a mural series in Alice Jennings Archibald Park in New Brunswick. The work celebrates the legacy of Mrs. Archibald in relation to the students of McKinley Community School. The mural draws inspiration from Mrs. Archibald’s motto: “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” Designed by local artist RH Doaz, the mural aims to convey Mrs. Archibald’s values: educational rigor, community service, and social justice.

The Scarlet and Black Project provided research support for the mural series through our archival digitization project in collaboration with the Mount Zion AME Church of New Brunswick. We invite you to explore the new digital collection Alice Jennings Archibald History Library Records (Mount Zion AME Church of New Brunswick) to learn more about Mrs. Archibald’s life.

Alice Jennings Archibald mural unveiling flyer coLAB Arts

On January 29, 2021, coLAB Arts and the City of New Brunswick held a virtual unveiling of the new mural series, with Scarlet and Black Postdoctoral Associate Alexandria Russell participating as one of the speakers. The event was streamed live on Facebook, and you can view the video recording. The event includes oral history content speaking to the life of Alice Jennings Archibald from the point of view of her family and an interview with the artist, RH Doaz.

Check out the local press coverage of the new mural:

New collection: Alice Jennings Archibald History Library Records

The Scarlet and Black Project is excited to announce the publication of a new digital collection: Alice Jennings Archibald History Library Records (Mount Zion AME Church of New Brunswick).

This collection consists of photographs, manuscripts, church histories, and financial records from the Alice Jennings Archibald History Library at the Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church of New Brunswick. Founded in 1827, Mount Zion AME is the oldest African American institution in Middlesex County, New Jersey. The Scarlet and Black Project has partnered with Mount Zion AME to digitize select archival materials and make them available as part of our digital archive.

Rev. James W. Waters, Alice Jennings Archibald, and Rev. H. Solomon Hill
Rev. James W. Waters, Alice Jennings Archibald, and Rev. H. Solomon Hill

The Alice Jennings Archibald History Library is dedicated to the memory of church historian Alice Jennings Archibald (1906-2002). For many decades, Mrs. Archibald led the efforts to collect and preserve archival materials documenting African American life in New Brunswick. She was instrumental in founding the history library at Mount Zion AME.

Alice Jennings Archibald was an educator and a civic leader. A life-long New Brunswick resident, Mrs. Archibald was also a Rutgers alumna. She was the first African American woman to receive a graduate degree from Rutgers. She earned a master’s degree from the Rutgers School of Education in 1938. In those days, Rutgers College only admitted men for undergraduate study, while women attended the New Jersey College for Women (later called Douglass College). But the graduate program at the new Rutgers School of Education was coeducational.

Will Power Student Retention Scholarship webinar at the Paul Robeson Cultural Center – Jan. 12, 2021

In 2017, the Will Power Student Retention Scholarship was created to help address the financial element that impacts student retention, particularly for black male students. Since then, alumni and friends have come together to help award over two dozen students. Join the Paul Robeson Cultural Center to hear the impact this fund has had on student awardees and the future of this initiative from Jakora Holman RC’07, PRCC Director, and lead alumni supporter, Frank McClellan RC’67.

When: Tuesday, January 12, 2021, 6:30 – 7:30 PM

Click here to register

This fund was named after an enslaved man, known only as Will, who helped lay the foundation for the Old Queens building in the fall of 1808. Today, Old Queens houses some of the university’s most prestigious offices including the Office of the Chancellor. The Scarlet and Black Project uncovered Will’s story. 

Just as Will, and countless unnamed enslaved people, laid the foundation for this University, the Will Power Retention Fund helps ensure that promising Rutgers students are able to attain the degree that will provide the foundation for future success.

New exhibit: Rutgers African American Alumni Gallery

We are thrilled to present our new digital exhibit Rutgers African American Alumni Gallery: The Forerunner Generation, by Beatrice J. Adams and Jesse Bayker. This exhibit brings together photographs and brief biographical sketches of all twenty-five African American men who attended Rutgers University before the end of World War II.

The research into their stories began with the chapter “The Rutgers Race Man: Early Black Students at Rutgers College” by Beatrice J. Adams, Shaun Armstead, Shari Cunningham, and Tracey Johnson, in our book Scarlet and Black, Volume 2: Constructing Race and Gender at Rutgers, 1865-1945, where seven of these men are profiled in more detail. They were “the forerunner generation,” entering an exclusive white men’s school in Jim Crow America before the movement for Civil Rights and desegregation reshaped the university into a more diverse and accessible institution. Paul Robeson, who graduated in 1919 and whose legacy we have celebrated with centennial commemorations in 2019, is the most famous of these early alumni. In the epilogue to the book, Deborah Gray White calls on us to “recover, acknowledge, and celebrate all of the forerunners of desegregation at Rutgers.” The Rutgers African American Alumni Gallery exhibit seeks to answer that call.

If they were daunted by their exceptionalism or exclusion, they did not and could not show it. Rather they competed fiercely, completed their degrees, and many went on to leadership positions in the race and nation.

— Deborah Gray White in Scarlet and Black, Volume 2, “Epilogue: The Forerunner Generation”

This exhibit draws on archival materials from our digital collections Scarlet Letter Yearbooks (1908–1943) and Rutgers Alumni (before 1945).

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

This article by Neal Buccino was featured in Rutgers Today on February 25, 2020.

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

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 university’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 students, 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 coauthored 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 Scarlet and Black Project, which started in 2015, is an exploration of Rutgers’ relationships with the history and legacies of racism affecting African Americans and the displacement of Native Americans from their land. The project started with 2016’s Scarlet and Black, Volume I: Slavery and Dispossession in Rutgers Historywhich traced the university’s early history, uncovering how the university benefited from the slave economy and how Rutgers came to own the land it inhabits. It told the story of Will, an enslaved man who helped build the foundation of the iconic Old Queens building. It also revealed that abolitionist Sojourner Truth and her parents had been enslaved by the extended family of Rutgers’ first president.

The first two volumes – as well as the upcoming third volume, which will focus on student activism and the contemporary history of students of color from World War II to the present – build on the groundbreaking scholarship of Rutgers–New Brunswick’s top graduate school ranking in African American history. A digital archive of the project’s findings can be found here.

“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–New Brunswick and an editor of the Scarlet and Black book series.

Volume 2 featured in Rutgers Today 2
Deborah Gray White, the Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of History at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, is 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 or 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.”

Marisa Fuentes
Marisa Fuentes, the Presidential Term Chair in African American History, an associate professor of history and women’s and gender studies at Rutgers–New Brunswick, is an editor of the Scarlet and Black book series.

Marisa Fuentes, the Presidential Term Chair in African American History, an associate professor of history and women’s and gender studies at Rutgers–New Brunswick and an editor of the book, said, “The editors and authors of this volume are proud of the hard work they dedicated to publishing another substantial part of Rutgers history. As evidenced by the extensive archival research, Rutgers has not always been on the right side of history, but by acknowledging this past, we hope it’s a step forward in ensuring that all feel welcomed in the Rutgers community today. Rather than a simple indictment of the past, this work is one method of redress by recognizing how students of color have fought for a place here and have excelled. The graduate students who put in long hours of research and writing should be recognized for their commitment and rigor in telling these stories.”

The Volume II team consisted of doctoral candidates and postdoctoral fellows led by White, Fuentes and Kendra Boyd, an assistant professor of history at York University who, as a Ph.D. candidate in African American history at Rutgers, coauthored two chapters of Scarlet and Black, Volume I. The team reviewed admissions records, yearbooks, meeting accounts, personal letters and newspaper accounts to piece together the stories of the first black students at Rutgers. The university is commemorating the second volume’s publication during Black History Month and Women’s History Month, and with a March 31 public event at the Rutgers Club.

The book’s researchers and writers include Shari M. Cunningham, a Ph.D. candidate at Rutgers–New Brunswick’s Graduate School of Education. Cunningham said, “How Rutgers’ first African American students navigated the obstacles they faced on and off campus can help us to better understand the less overt but still present issues African American students in higher education are confronted with today. While progress has been made, we still face issues of inclusion and equitable representation, which must be addressed in sustainable ways moving forward.”

Volume II describes the black students who attended a Rutgers that “practiced informal Jim Crow segregation and incubated a white supremacist ideology,” according to the epilogue by White. “Their success made it possible for African American baby boomers, or the desegregation generation, to push that door wide open.”

Exploring the History of Black Women’s Experience at Douglass  

With research supported by funding from Douglass College, Volume II traces the limiting ways that womanhood was defined at the beginning of the century – and how the school’s first black women helped pull Douglass toward “the multicultural world of the 21st century.” At its establishment in 1918, the school’s founders promoted opportunities in the “librarian, secretarial, nursing, domestic science, art, social and civic betterment” fields, promising it would make them “better citizens, better homemakers, better club-women” – a significant difference from the Douglass of today. Because of their gender, Douglass students at the time lived restricted lives. A college guidebook listed the restaurants they were allowed to patronize without a chaperone, many of which excluded patrons of color.

The first black women who attended Douglass found a campus culture that was beginning to challenge traditional gender roles, while continuing to reinforce racial stereotypes. A popular student publication often celebrated the “modern (white) woman” of the 1920s, juxtaposed with racist jokes and cartoons.

Julia Baxter Bates senior photo Quair yearbook
Julia Baxter Bates, Douglass College’s first African American female student, went on to co-author the winning brief in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the case that declared school segregation unconstitutional.

Though it received federal funds from a program that prohibited racial discrimination, Douglass was almost exclusively white until the 1970s. The school admitted Julia Baxter Bates in 1934 only because admissions officers thought she was white. Realizing their mistake, school administrators tried to discourage her from registering, then prohibited her from living on campus. Though she experienced discrimination at the school, Baxter later recounted the lifelong friendships she developed there. Though admissions officers had tried to discourage her from attending, “Baxter herself believed that Jewish students received harsher treatment,” the book says.

In 1946, a decade before Rosa Parks made history by sitting in the front of a bus, Emma Andrews and Evelyn Sermons became the first black women to live on campus at Douglass. They thrived on campus, and in their later careers. Sermons earned master’s degrees in education and library service at Rutgers and became a founding trustee of Raritan Valley Community College. She said Douglass let her see that “as a young woman, even as a minority woman … you can do anything you want to do.”

Volume II notes that Rutgers’ first black female students were far less likely than the first black male students to file complaints about racism on campus – perhaps because Douglass was still a new school of uncertain stability and longevity. “Race issues, even in the minds of women who experienced prejudice in the first decade of the college, might have taken a backseat to issues of gender,” the book says. “A number of black women’s experiences … propelled them to more overt race work after college, but while enrolled they kept their eyes on the prize of future opportunities.”

Alice Jennings Archibald was a New Brunswick native whose family had deep ties to the Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church, the city’s first black church and an important civic hub for African American life. She earned a bachelors of arts degree at Howard University in 1927 and an education degree from the University of Cincinnati in 1928. Unable to find work as a teacher in New Jersey, she found work in North Carolina, but her experience of job discrimination in her home state “led to a profound realization that self-determination alone would not lead to groundbreaking racial advancement.”

Archibald returned to New Brunswick a decade later to begin a career as an activist and community organizer. In 1938, she became the first African American woman to obtain a graduate degree from Rutgers, the same year as the graduation of Douglass College’s first black female undergraduate student, Julia Baxter Bates. In 1942, Archibald wrote “What the Negro Wants,” a multipoint plan for achieving economic, educational and social justice that became a blueprint for the rest of her career. Archibald became a founding member of the National Urban League of New Brunswick, which pushed Johnson & Johnson to hire black employees and the New Brunswick Public Schools to hire black teachers. The Urban League, under her leadership, pushed Rutgers’ Douglass College to let black students live on campus. It pushed for the construction of Robeson Village, New Brunswick’s first public housing complex. Archibald worked to create “a New Brunswick that lived up to what she believed it could be” and to enrich the educational, professional and cultural lives of the city’s African Americans.

Islay Walden was one of two black students admitted to New Brunswick Theological Seminary, which was closely allied with Rutgers College, in 1876. He was part of “the first black student presence on the Rutgers campus.” Walden, born into slavery and suffering a vision impairment, walked from North Carolina to Washington, D.C., and then to New Brunswick to pursue an education. In 1878, he requested a rent reduction due to financial struggles, noting that unlike his white classmates, he couldn’t earn money by preaching in a segregated church. He had created a Student Mission made up of local residents, some of whom were so destitute that Walden spent his own money to help them.

Edward Lawson Sr. entered Rutgers College in 1905. Attending Rutgers had been a lifelong dream; he even used the institution’s incoming student requirements to guide his high school studies. He thrived academically and socially at Rutgers. But he was forced to withdraw in November 1907, seven months shy of graduation, after a white janitor accused him – without evidence – of stealing mail. Lawson transferred to Howard University but continued over the years to maintain his innocence as well as positive relationships with Rutgers leaders and classmates.

His son, Edward Lawson Jr., graduated from Rutgers in 1933. His success made some amends for the injustice his father had experienced, according to the book. Lawson Jr. dedicated his career to creating better conditions for African Americans. He became a member of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Federal Council of Negro Affairs, also known as the Black Cabinet, which was a group of high-ranking African-American advisers to the president. Its creation “marked the first time that the federal government officially recognized African Americans as an interest group and that racism and discrimination might demand federal intervention.” After World War II, he joined the newly formed United Nations Division of Human Rights and, as his career drew to a close in the 1990s, he edited the Encyclopedia of Human Rights.

While describing the struggles and successes of Rutgers’ first black students, Scarlet and Black, Volume II highlights the racism they experienced, including Ku Klux Klan activity in Middlesex County, white supremacist views expressed by Rutgers faculty and racist jokes in student publications. It also explores what it meant to be a Rutgers Man and Rutgers Woman, and how black students inserted race into these gendered notions. It also takes up the issue of colorism and how the experience of light-skinned minority students, including Latinx women, was different from those with darker complexions.

White notes in her epilogue that “only a very few of the forerunners of desegregation survived to see Rutgers become the diverse institution we take pride in today. Though largely invisible, the forerunners’ legacy lives on the Rutgers campuses.”