I’m raising funds to write and publish the book, Black Princetonians: The Black Experience at Princeton University 1746 to the Present. This book will examine the rich, colorful and important history of black people at the university. People of African descent have always been an integral part of Princeton, it’s just that our stories have never been fully told. With your help, I’m going to change that. The book will not only cover black students, but will also explore the lives of enslaved Africans, workers, entrepreneurs, teachers, administrators, and residents of the town of Princeton.
When I walked onto the campus for the first time in the fall of 1970 I thought I was part of a new wave of black students. I learned much later that I was actually following in the footsteps of illustrious black men and women, many of them unsung, who had gone before me. Black Princetonians will tell the story of the trials, tribulations and accomplishments of these trail blazers. I found out about many of these historical figures in 1996 while producing a documentary on the history of blacks at Princeton for the university's 250th anniversary. The film is called Looking Back: Reflections of Black Princeton Alumni. It can be screened on my website: www.blacksatprinceton.com.
I became aware of people like John Chavis, who was nominated for a Leslie Fund Scholarship in 1792 and was likely a student of Princeton President, John Witherspoon, before becoming the first black to be licensed to preach by the Presbyterian Church in 1799. Betsy Stockton was born into slavery in 1798 in the household of Princeton, New Jersey, attorney Robert Stockton. He gave her as a gift to his daughter, Elizabeth and son-in-law, Ashbel Green, then president of Princeton College, then known as the College of New Jersey. The Greens educated Stockton and allowed her to attend Princeton Theological Seminary classes at night. She later became a missionary, traveled to Hawaii in 1822 and led a celebrated career before returning to Princeton where she died in 1865. There was Belle da Costa Greene, a black woman passing as white in order to get a job at Princeton’s Firestone Library in 1901. She learned her craft in the rare books and manuscripts division under the tutelage of Associate Librarian Junius Spencer Morgan. He in turn introduced Greene to his uncle, J.P. Morgan, who hired her as director of the newly created Pierpont Morgan Library. For the next 30 years she traveled the world to acquire rare books and artifacts that made the Pierpont a world-class library.
And, of course, there are also contemporary blacks who have distinguished themselves both on campus and in their careers. Larry Hamm ‘78 organized the student take-over of Nassau Hall in 1978 to pressure the Princeton Board of Trustees to divest in companies doing business with the apartheid regime of the Republic of South Africa. He went on to found the Peoples Organization for Progress, a grassroots group that advocates for social justice in Newark, New Jersey, and surrounding communities. John Rogers ‘80 was captain of the varsity basketball team at Princeton and went on to form Ariel Capital Management, a multi-billion dollar Chicago-based company. Not to mention Michelle Obama ‘83, the first African-American First Lady, as well as an attorney and accomplished businesswoman.
This work is both fascinating and important. I have been researching blacks at Princeton since 1983 when I wrote an article called “The Two Lives of John Favors” for the Princeton Alumni Weekly (http://www.blacksatprinceton.com/articles/). When I was an undergraduate, Favors ’72 was the leader of the black student union, the Association of Black Collegians. He was an activist and very militant in his political positions that often pitted him against the will of the school administration. But he had a secret life—one of meditation and spiritual contemplation. I decided to write about him after being shocked to learn that after graduating he had become a monk in the Hare Krishna Movement, known as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Since then I have completed three documentaries on blacks at Princeton and interviewed over a hundred black alumni.
As I enter my 40th year since graduating from Princeton I decided it was time to write a book and share more fully the information that I have uncovered. All of the funds that I raise will be spent on research, conducting additional interviews, transcription, photo rights, copy editing, cover design, book formatting and layout, printing, marketing, legal fees, and expansion of the website. The book is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2016.
Thanks for your support.