Stefan M. Bradley discusses his new book about history of black activist challenges to the Ivy League

Historians in the News
tags: civil rights, Black History, Stefan M Bradley

Ivy League universities today boast about having diverse student bodies. But for much of their histories, these institutions were almost entirely white. As the colleges started to recruit and enroll black students in the 1960s, many leaders of the institutions were stunned to find that the students were not remotely happy about their situation. They didn't just want to be admitted -- they wanted changes in the institutions. Fifty years ago, these tensions exploded on a number of the campuses.

A new book, Upending the Ivory Tower: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Ivy League (New York University Press) explores this history. The author is Stefan M. Bradley, associate professor and chair of African American studies at Loyola Marymount University, in Los Angeles. He responded via email to questions about his new book.

Q: Much discussion of the civil rights movement in higher education focuses on the desegregation of all-white universities in Southern states. What were the general patterns of black enrollment at Ivies prior to the civil rights movement? 

A: From the late 1800s through the 1950s, black students trickled into the Ivy League in small numbers. While enrolled in the Ivies, early black learners experienced what scholars have aptly termed “Jim Crow North.” Although they were among the most privileged of their race, black students, by and large, suffered from isolation and neglect as they survived solitude in the Ancient Eight institutions. They, like their racial peers in Southern universities, were desegregating institutions that glorified white history and culture; however, the Ivy League proudly created America’s leadership class. All Ivy schools but Princeton University admitted black students before World War II; few, however, encouraged racial integration.

Housing was a major issue for institutions like Harvard that were liberal but not so much as to allow black learners to sleep among their white peers. Additionally, some black students were regularly “blackballed” from participating in campus events; that led to the creation of a black fraternity at Cornell University and altered college policies regarding fraternity life at Dartmouth College. The exceptions to the mistreatment and neglect of black students were varsity athletes, whom white students and officials loved to celebrate mostly on the fields and courts. When not competing, however, even star athletes were daily reminded of their “otherness.” With the goal of uplifting the race after graduation, black students, before the arrival of the modern civil rights movement, did their best to endure in the Ivy League without causing major disruptions. ...

Read entire article at Inside Higher Ed

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