During the late 1870s, four black students from the Princeton Theological Seminary attended the class of Princeton president James McCosh. It has always been customary for Princeton seminary students to take classes at the university. Two white students from the south complained to McCosh about the presence of one of the blacks who was very dark in complexion. McCosh refused to bar the black seminarian because of his race. The white students withdrew from the university in protest and went home. Their families quickly sent them back asking the university for their reinstatement. They were readmitted and spent the rest of the semester in McCosh’s class with the four black students without incident.
James “Jimmie” Johnson was an escaped slave from Maryland who fled to Princeton, New Jersey. He was recognized by a student from his Maryland hometown, arrested and convicted of violating the fugitive slave act. Just before he was to be sent back into slavery his freedom was purchased by for $550, paid by Theodosia Prevost, a descendant of former Princeton President John Witherspoon. Johnson became a well-known character on the campus, where he spent the rest of his life selling food, candy and clothes from his wheelbarrow. He eventually repaid Prevost the $550 she paid for his freedom. He even contributed to the new gymnasium fund for the university. The construction was complete in 1903, but unfortunately Johnson didn't live to see it. He passed away on July 22, 1902, in Princeton, at the age of 87.