Dr. Michelle Stephens, Executive Director of the Institute for the Study of Global Racial Justice, sat down with Dr. Deborah Gray White, Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of History, to talk about the research, legacy, and future of the Scarlet and Black Project.
On September 30, 2021, Scarlet and Black contributors shared their experience studying slavery at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, as part of the 3-day symposium called In the Wake of Slavery and Dispossession: Emory, Racism, and the Journey towards Restorative Justice. This symposium highlighted the ongoing efforts and research in the areas of slavery, dispossession, and restorative justice, with a focus on the legacy of racism and its enduring effects at Emory University. The sessions included creative interpretations and dialogue, with a primary focus on the perspectives of Black, Native American, and Indigenous peoples.
You can learn more about the symposium and view videos from all sessions on the symposium website.
Watch the session recording:
Panel Discussion: Rutgers Experience in Studying Slavery and the Development of the Scarlet and Black Project
Jesse Bayker, Research Project Manager and Digital Archivist for the Scarlet and Black Project (moderator), Rutgers University–New Brunswick
Miya Carey, Assistant Professor of History, Binghamton University
Beatrice Adams, Assistant Professor of African American History, College of Wooster
Tracey Johnson, Scarlet and Black Postdoctoral Fellow, Rutgers University–New Brunswick
Winner of the 2020 Kemper and Leila Williams Prize and Finalist for the 2021 Frederick Douglass Book Prize, Wicked Flesh draws upon archival documents scattered in institutions across three continents, written in multiple languages and largely from the perspective of colonial officials and slave-owning men, to recreate black women’s experiences from coastal Senegal to French Saint-Domingue to Spanish Cuba to the swampy outposts of the Gulf Coast.
Sponsored by the Institute for the Study of Global Racial Justice and co-sponsored by the History Department, Africana Studies Department, French Department, Department of Latino and Caribbean Studies, Black Latinx Americas xLab, and the Institute for Research on Women.
For more information, contact Yesenia.Barragan@rutgers.edu
The Scarlet and Black Project celebrated the release of our newest books from Rutgers University Press with a 2-day virtual symposium on April 29-30, 2021. Thank you to all of our speakers and attendees for participating in our celebration and making it a success!
All symposium sessions and President Jonathan Holloway’s keynote address were recorded and are now available on our website. View the videos here.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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 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.
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 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, 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, 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, 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, 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.”