Interview with Harold Haizlip (Amherst ’57)

05/10/16

How would you summarize your experience at Dunbar High School in D.C.? At Amherst?

Outstanding…I was a serious student, almost an all A student for the whole time I was at Dunbar…I was very much involved in the activities of the school…I had a good relationship with the principal and the faculty members there…I had good circle of friends….a special experience.”

There was no question that they wanted and expected me to go to college. They were going the extra mile to ensure that I was ready for college, particularly interested and supportive, above and beyond the minimal requirements for teachers.”

What was your relationship like with other men from Dunbar who decided to attend Amherst College?
(For example: Atkinson ’56, Greene ’56, Hayes ’59, Burwell ’59, Jason ’59, Neal ’61)

“I interacted a great deal with Karl Atkinson, both members of Phi Psi fraternity, both from Washington, D.C. We had that history in common, we also liked each other…Larry Burwell….not terribly close but we we’re friends…I acknowledged him as a man who shared a high school history.”

 What specific factors encouraged you to attend Amherst College?
(For example: Amherst alumni, Dunbar teachers, Amherst College admission deans, etc.)

“Her name was Nora Gregory…[she] was Charles Drew’s sister. She was my 5th grade teacher in Washington D.C. I remained in touch with her. She said many times over that you need to go to Amherst College. One day, she called me to meet her at her home…I, of course went…she was very supportive of me…my father had died, I had a difficult time growing up, anything she asked me to do I always did…[There was a] very nice white gentlemen Eugene Wilson…he was the admission dean [of Amherst College]… I had been accepted at Harvard, Yale, Amherst, Williams, and Dartmouth…I knew I was going to college, I didn’t know which one. After that…I made my decision to go to Amherst. He was very honest with me…He could see whether he could help…I could not get a room for race reasons [for] my girlfriend at the time also from Dunbar, a class behind me (Class of 1958) stayed at Dean Wilson’s house for three or four days…That was 1953 I think.”

“He was especially warm and welcoming when recruiting but also after students had made a decision to attend Amherst. He called me in for meetings to discuss whatever was on my mind, whether I was having any problems or challenges, how my academic work was going…A wonderful man, I really liked him a great deal.”

“The admission officers were aware of the students that they were preparing for college…there he was at my fifth grade teacher’s house…the dean of admission! there was quite a history [of the Dunbar-Amherst connection]! I feel like I benefited from that history. There were reasons for the relationship [between Dunbar and Amherst]. There was a positive relationship. This was at a time when it was unusual for college administrators, and white college administrators, to be so aggressive…they knew they were only going to take two…so they went the extra mile to find the best two. I’m sure they knew Nora Gregory’s lineage. It was her son who became the first African-American astronaut, Frederick Gregory. He was a nephew of Charles Drew. His mother who was so instrumental in making sure that I was aware of Amherst and that you had applied for admission.”

How would you describe your experience as a black student at Amherst in the 1950s?

I liked Amherst a great deal. I liked the academic challenges of the courses I was taking. There were some courses such as the American Studies course that I particularly enjoyed. I became very involved with the Classics Department and became a Classics major ultimately….I was very active…I joined Phi Alpha Psi fraternity (the first fraternity to accept a Negro student and was thrown out of the organization for doing so)…I was very active [in the fraternity], I was elected president during my senior year. I was involved in a lot of activities. I enjoyed the madrigals group in our fraternity…We performed and competed as madrigal singers, I enjoyed that very much. I don’t recall any professor that I disliked. For me, the professorial staff at Amherst was a very positive experience. I became very close to the professors…”

I really loved Amherst. It was a great place for me. I was plunged in and I got involved…Dick Button was hired to teach figure skating for the first year of the skating rink’s operation, I’ve been figure skating ever since, I do still figure skate for recreation….”

At the time I was Amherst, there were only two Negro students for each class. There were never more than eight Negro students on campus at one time….It was a good thing and a bad thing for me. I developed relationships with all Negro students …I wanted to know who they were…some such as Greene and Burwell…our Dunbar connection was an opener for our relationship…We developed interests and associations that grew out of our shared experiences and interests at Amherst…I had a number of guys who became very close friends who were white…some I’m friendly with to this very day, fifty plus years later…My very best friend is a white guy who lives in South Salem, New York who I met my first day at Amherst…we were at each others weddings, he became engaged and got married…and I fell in love with a woman at Wellesley and we became a very close foursome…I used to go to South Salem…[During my time at Amherst] he and his parents invited me to their home if the holiday wasn’t long enough for me to go home to Washington…We became extremely close and we still are…We’ve had a life of the usual things…Everyone knows that we are extremely close and that was very unusual for a Negro student and a white student at that time…I recall going to a party with members of the Classics department in New York City…“You speak our english so well, what country are you from?”…I was out and about in the dean’s circle and all sorts of things….[and] active with my singing group….”

I was not blind that I was in a racist environment. It was 1953, 1954….while the law had changed, the people hadn’t, the institution hadn’t.Those things had to be addressed…the Negro students were always assigned to single rooms, somebody assumed that they couldn’t anticipate how the student would relate to other white students and vice verse. The solution was to put negro students in single rooms. When I arrived at Amherst, my room was 409 in Morrow Dorm. I’m a full scholarship student and it never occurred to me…I thought it was a luxury, a private room! Yeah, that’s great.

I had been active in all sorts of organizations at Dunbar…We had exchange visits from students at white schools…We had various activities and programs at government agencies…at the Pentagon for example and places like that…black and white students were brought together for purposes of an event…Being black or being white was not the purpose…They made sure to create a diverse audience of students…When I went to Amherst, I knew at least three or four white students from Washington, D.C. who were also going to Amherst. Charles Lofton was the principal of Dunbar when I was there…a very special, gregarious, astute, very intelligent, well-dressed, well-spoken, black man…a role model for us as students…he would often call several students to his office that would involve our integrating with students from other schools and he wanted us to participate and represent our school, we were the ambassadors for Dunbar…He arranged for events like that  for us to participate in….on the train to amherst, were two white guys who I knew.”

 

Interview with Ray Hayes (Amherst ’59)

03/02/16

Where are you currently residing?

My year is divided equally in Silver Spring, MD and Woods Hole, MA. I am currently in Maryland.

How would you summarize your experience at Dunbar High School in D.C.?

My high school years were great. Dunbar provided an excellent education with positive feedback from faculty and administration. Dunbar was a supportive and comfortable setting for all students aspiring to go on to college.

What specific factors encouraged you to attend Amherst?

I was recruited and positively influenced by Chauncey Larry, Percy Barnes and Montague Cobb, all black alumni from Amherst and friends of my family. My visit to the college positively reinforced my choice of a small liberal arts college, thus leading to my decision to attend Amherst.

What was your relationship like with Lawrence Burwell and Robert S. Jason before, during, and after your college years? (From my research, these men were the two other Dunbar graduates from the Amherst class of 1959.)

Larry, Bob and I were very close friends. We grew up in the same neighborhood in Washington, DC, were all interested in science and medicine and were encouraged by the opportunity to attend Amherst together.

Did you also happen to know Harold Cornelius Haizlip (Dunbar ’53, Amherst ’57)?

Yes, very well. His experience at the college was a factor in my decision.

Did you also happen to know Mansfield Castleton Neal (Dunbar ‘57, Amherst ’61)?

Yes, very well. In fact, I had a chance to spend the day with Manny and his wife a couple of years ago at a book signing on Martha’s Vineyard.

Final Research Reflection

05/12/16

Harold Haizlip, Nora Gregory, and Eugene Wilson

After my research, I can confidently assert that the Dunbar-Amherst Connection sustained itself through an intergenerational cycle of motivation and matriculation in which older generations of Dunbar-Amherst men encouraged younger generations of Dunbar men to attend the College. But is the story of Dunbar and Amherst really that simple? Since I started this research project, I hoped to encounter evidence of how Amherst College might have made an intentional effort to recruit Dunbar students, but finding the right primary sources proved to be somewhat complex. If I could do it over again, I certainly would have spent more time searching for primary sources that could reveal how admission deans were not only aware of the Dunbar-Amherst connection, but strengthened it themselves.

However, I had my second and final phone interview earlier this week with Harold Haizlip ’59 (I interviewed Raymond Hayes ’59 earlier this semester) and I learned how far one admission dean in particular went to reach out to men at Dunbar. Eugene Wilson (1905-1981), starting his career at Amherst’s Office of Admission in 1946 and retiring in 1972, brought a holistic approach to the college admission process as well as a belief in the importance of a diverse student body. One journalist writes that Wilson accepted the admissions post “on the condition that the college set no racial or other kinds of quotas for the students being enrolled (The Amherst News, February 26, 1981).”

In an excerpt from our conversation below, Haizlip remembers how Nora Gregory (the sister of a notable Dunbar-Amherst man, Charles Drew ’26) invited him to her house to meet Office of Admission Dean Eugene Wilson who was visiting Washington, D.C. From his story, it is clear that more than the aforementioned Dunbar-Amherst alumni network motivated Dunbar men to attend Amherst. My theory of the intergenerational cycle of motivation and matriculation should have included more than just the Dunbar-Amherst men themselves. Not just older Dunbar-Amherst alumni, but family members, friends, and even Amherst deans themselves were invested in the Dunbar-Amherst tradition. Clearly, those black Washingtonians connected with Dunbar like Nora Gregory in knew of the success achieved by those Dunbar men who studied at Amherst throughout the early twentieth century. Many prestigious colleges accepted Haizlip and he knew he would attend a northern institution, but the influence of others led him to choose Amherst:

 “Her name was Nora Gregory…[she] was Charles Drew’s sister. She was my 5th grade teacher in Washington D.C. I remained in touch with her. She said many times over that you need to go to Amherst College. One day, she called me to meet her at her home…I, of course went…she was very supportive of me…my father had died, I had a difficult time growing up, anything she asked me to do I always did…[There was a] very nice white gentlemen Eugene Wilson…he was the admission dean [of Amherst College]… I had been accepted at Harvard, Yale, Amherst, Williams, and Dartmouth…I knew I was going to college, I didn’t know which one. After that…I made my decision to go to Amherst. He was very honest with me…He could see whether he could help…I could not get a room for race reasons [for] my girlfriend at the time also from Dunbar, a class behind me (Class of 1958) stayed at Dean Wilson’s house for three or four days…That was 1953 I think.”

“He was especially warm and welcoming when recruiting but also after students had made a decision to attend Amherst. He called me in for meetings to discuss whatever was on my mind, whether I was having any problems or challenges, how my academic work was going…A wonderful man, I really liked him a great deal.”

“The admission officers were aware of the students that they were preparing for college…there he was at my fifth grade teacher’s house…the dean of admission! there was quite a history [of the Dunbar-Amherst connection]! I feel like I benefited from that history. There were reasons for the relationship [between Dunbar and Amherst]. There was a positive relationship. This was at a time when it was unusual for college administrators, and white college administrators, to be so aggressive…they knew they were only going to take two…so they went the extra mile to find the best two. I’m sure they knew Nora Gregory’s lineage. It was her son who became the first African-American astronaut, Frederick Gregory. He was a nephew of Charles Drew. His mother who was so instrumental in making sure that I was aware of Amherst and that you had applied for admission.”

 

-Harold Haizlip, ’57 (excerpted from a phone interview conducted on 05/10/16 by Matt Randolph ’16) (in response to the question- “What specific factors encouraged you to attend Amherst College?”) (The photo is from the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections and features a picture of a young Harold Haizlip ’57).

haizlip


Research Process

My research incorporated information and images gathered from “bio-files” (every student who attends Amherst College has a file that can be requested from Amherst College Archives and Special Collections). In addition to the standard Amherst College records which provide basic details like residence and relatives, a bio-file could contain an assortment of newspaper clippings and even funeral pamphlets. Even if you don’t find too much, a bio-file can springboard you to further sources of information. The Olio, Amherst’s yearbook, not only helped me put faces to names, but it also helped me understand what extracurricular activities and student organizations the Dunbar-Amherst men participated in during their time at the College.

If you want to research Amherst College alumni, I highly recommend that you start with bio-files and yearbooks. The Higgins Room in the Archives contains an original copy of every single Olio and there are also digitized versions available through ACDC (Amherst College Digital Collections). My most important secondary sources included the two foundational texts for this special topics course (Black Men of Amherst by Harold Wade; Black Women of Amherst College by Mavis Campbell) as well as First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America’s First Black Public High School by Alison Stewart and The Dunbar Story (1870-1955) by Mary Gibson Hundley.

I have also deeply appreciated the opportunity to interview a couple of the Dunbar-Amherst men still living today for my research project. Of course, the capacity to do an oral history project depends on the chronological scope of your research. Even though many of the Dunbar-Amherst men had passed away, I was able to connect with some of the men who we’re at Amherst in the 1950s and still living today. Most alumni are more than happy to share their stories if you reach out to them by email. You can typically find up-to-date contact information for alumni through the College’s Alumni Directory. Just make sure that you have clear and specific questions for them! Although it is important to be mindful of an inherent degree of unreliability with oral history, what I learned from these conversations has been incredibly enlightening and gave me a greater appreciation for the Dunbar-Amherst story in a way that written documents never can.


Final Words

Why does my research on the Dunbar-Amherst connection matter? For the institutional history of both Amherst College and Dunbar High School, as writer Evan Albright puts it, this story that I am exploring is important because “Amherst College graduated more Dunbar students than any other college outside of the nation’s capital (“A Slice of History”, Amherst College Magazine, Winter 2007).” The Dunbar High School of 2016 is quite different from the Dunbar of the early part of the past century but the school is trying to return to its glory days and Amherst could be a critical partner in this process. I would love to see the Dunbar-Amherst connection revived and reimagined in the twenty-first century, perhaps one day through a scholarship program to intentionally bring Dunbar students to Amherst so that they can learn about the historical relationship between the institutions and consider the prospect of attending a liberal arts college like Amherst. I intend to correspond with the Amherst College Office of Admission as well as Dunbar High School itself so we can gradually reach such a goal. A first step could be recruiting some of the brightest students from Dunbar to one of Amherst’s annual Diversity Open House weekends this fall.

However, this research should matter to the student body at Amherst College as well. We cannot fully understand our problems on campus in the present unless we look back to the past. The Dunbar-Amherst Connection reveals the historic importance of structures of support for students of color. Some Dunbar-Amherst men enrolled at Amherst as part of a cohort with one or two other students from their graduating class at Dunbar (or at the very least, they knew Dunbar-Amherst men already at the college and/or in the alumni circle). Administrators who cared about black students also helped to ensure their success, stability, and comfort at Amherst. In reflecting on his college years in the 1950s, Haizlip recalls how Wilson “called me in for meetings to discuss whatever was on my mind, whether I was having any problems or challenges, how my academic work was going.” Wilson was a white admission dean but still did his best to make Amherst a welcoming environment for Haizlip.

I firmly believe that supportive mentors are essential to retaining diversity in higher education after qualified students of underrepresented backgrounds arrive on campus. What was true in the 1950s is true today. In the twenty-first century, students of color still need culturally competent and supportive administrators and faculty members, regardless of their racial and ethnic backgrounds. Without the support of Dean Boykin-East during my first year (and later the guidance of my academic advisor Vanessa Walker), I don’t know if I would be writing this reflection today as a senior at Amherst, with almost a week left before graduation. During my first semester at Amherst, Dean Boykin East gave me an academic planner and advice on how to succeed in my classes. More importantly, she made me feel like I belonged at Amherst and that I had both the potential and the right to thrive here.

I encourage future generations of Amherst students not to shy away from merging the personal and the academic spheres. Some of the best scholarship can come from tapping into our own stories and lived experiences. When we feel personally connected to our research, we develop a drive and passion that empowers us but also inspires others in our communities. With a grandfather who graduated from Dunbar in 1943, this research has been instrumental in learning a little bit about his story and connecting more with my own family’s past. And, although my grandfather never graduated from college, I find it beautiful that in some way we have our own Dunbar-Amherst connection, even if it took a couple generations. My Dunbar grandfather will live to see the day when his grandson graduates from Amherst College this May.

 

Research Reflection #3 – Connecting with the Dunbar Legacy

04/07/16

My research of the Dunbar-Amherst connection has certainly taken me outside and beyond the Amherst College Archives recently. In March, I had the opportunity to interview one of those Dunbar Men of Amherst from the “Trio of 1959,” referenced in my previous research reflection.[1] Through email correspondence and over the phone, I interviewed Raymond Lewis Hayes (Amherst ‘59) to discuss his memories as a high school student at Dunbar and an undergraduate at Amherst. Hayes, who trained as a medical researcher and an anatomist, currently resides in Silver Spring, MD but also spends half of the year in Woods Hole, MA. He confirmed that the other two graduates from Dunbar from his Amherst College year were more than just classmates:

“Larry, Bob and I were very close friends. We grew up in the same neighborhood in Washington, DC, were all interested in science and medicine and were encouraged by the opportunity to attend Amherst together.”

In my last reflection, I explored the dynamic of Amherst alumni perpetuating the cycle of the Dunbar-Amherst connection through mentorship of Dunbar students considering elite colleges. My suspicion that previous Dunbar-Amherst men actively encouraged Dunbar students to apply to Amherst too was confirmed by Hayes’s response to my question about factors that influenced his college decision:

“I was recruited and positively influenced by Chauncey Larry, Percy Barnes and Montague Cobb, all black alumni from Amherst and friends of my family. My visit to the college positively reinforced my choice of a small liberal arts college, thus leading to my decision to attend Amherst.”

Unfortunately, through the phone interview, I learned that one member of the trio, Robert Stewart Jason is currently deceased. Jason lived two blocks away from Hayes when they grew up together in D.C. He became a radiologist and was a member of the same fraternity as Ray at Amherst (Kappa Theta).[2]

I was also surprised when Hayes informed me that there was a lack of a politicized identity around blackness in the 1950s at Amherst. I learned that the nature of race relations at Amherst between 1955 and 1959 (when the trio in question attended) differed quite a bit from the post-civil rights movement black experience at Amherst and beyond. Hayes told me that having his fellow Dunbar men at Amherst served as a “built-in advantage” upon arrival on campus and a “fallback of support if we were to need it.” Yet, there were still no black student organizations at Amherst at this point (perhaps they were not deemed necessary at the time?). Indeed, the 50s at Amherst was a time before the Black Student Union of today and the Afro-American Society of the 70s. Of course, Hayes, Burwell, and Stewart likely encountered racism on campus and in the Amherst community but the 1950s were the calm before the storm of radical racial politics of the 1960s and 1970s which would lead to the creation of the Amherst College Afro-American Society, The Gerald Penny Memorial Black Cultural Center, and the Black Studies Department, all three of which were institutional novelties at Amherst that reflected societal changes unfolding throughout the entire nation.

After talking with Steven Kalt ’16, a tech wizard friend of mine, I realized that I need to challenge myself to think about my data differently as I continue with this special topics course and begin developing theories for a final research project. I have been so incredibly focused on completing biographical data entries in my spreadsheet of Dunbar-Amherst men that I forgot to consider my findings in the context of the black community at Amherst in general.

What was the ratio of Dunbar men to those blacks who graduated from different high schools? In the 1910s and 1920s? In the 1940s, 1950s, etc.? Was there ever a year in which Dunbar men made up a notably large population or majority of the black community at Amherst? What has been the black faculty/staff to student ratio since the turn of the twentieth century when the Dunbar-Amherst story began? To begin to answer such questions, I turned to the appendix of Black Men of Amherst by Harold Wade, this course’s foundational text. As you’ll see from the image of page 112 of the appendix, the “Trio of 1959,” a group of graduates from Dunbar, comprised the entirety of the black population in their class according to Wade’s research. Additionally, for the class of 1925, three-fourths of the black students are Dunbar men (Davis is the only exception). In 1926, Drew and Dodson, both from Dunbar, were also the only black graduates in their Amherst College class.List

On behalf of the Black Student Union, I brought journalist and author Alison Stewart to campus this past Tuesday evening to discuss her book First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America’s First Black Public High School (2013). I am incredibly grateful that I was able to gather the necessary funds to make her visit possible through the President’s Office, the Office of Student Life, and the Association of Amherst Students. The Multicultural Resource Center also covered the cost of a delicious catered meal from Pasta e Basta. The dinner was held in The Gerald Penny Memorial Black Cultural Center of the Octagon and served as an opportunity for a select group of faculty, staff, and students to get to know Alison on a personal level. Alison gave an eloquent and engaging speech about the Dunbar story that reinforced my confidence in the importance of historical knowledge for engaging with the world today. I hope the other students that attended also left with a heightened appreciation for the Amherst alumni that came before them who led lives of consequence, leaving legacies for us to admire and emulate. From the photograph, you’ll see that I had a chance to tour Alison around Charles Drew House (my dormitory as a junior)!

Alison

M_StreetI appreciated how she tailored her speech to our college community, spotlighting the many alumni of Dunbar who matriculated at Amherst. In the next week or so, I’m hoping to take a closer look at the bio-file of Robert Nicholas Mattingly, technically the first Dunbar-Amherst man (’02, ’06).[3] In her speech, Alison referred to Mattingly and emphasized how he returned to D.C. to become the principal of Cardozo High School. In one document from his bio-file, “Autobiographic Memories, 1897-1954: M Street-Dunbar High School,” prepared by Mattingly himself in 1974, there is a list of Dunbar-Amherst men! Mattingly writes that “Amherst records reveal that more M Street-Dunbar High School students have graduated from Amherst College than from any other college or university outside of the District of Columbia.” It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who has been curious about the connection between the institutions!

 

[1] I discovered that three Dunbar graduates all went on to Amherst together and later became doctors.

[2] Considering the proximity of their homes during their Dunbar years, perhaps a digital mapping project could be a possible component of my final project.

[3] Mattingly is technically the first Dunbar-Amherst man if you don’t count William Tecumseh Sherman Jackson (Amherst 1892), an early principal of M Street High School (1906-1909). He convinced Charles Hamilton Houston, Class of 1915, to apply to his alma mater, initiating the cycle of encouragement for attending Amherst that I mentioned earlier.


 

Research Reflection 2 – The Trio of 1959

02/29/16

For last week’s reflection, I wrote about my decision-making process to research the Dunbar Men of Amherst for my individual project for the special topics course. Ultimately, my personal connection to Dunbar (my grandfather was a 1943 graduate) motivated me to investigate why and how that D.C. public school transformed into a feeder school for Amherst College since the turn of the twentieth century. To keep track of new historical data, I’ve been updating a digital spreadsheet of this group of alumni with each visit to the Archives. By keeping track of class years, the spreadsheet allows me to visualize exactly how many Dunbar graduates entered Amherst every year. I color-coded those years with multiple matriculations (1925, 1926, 1929, 1956, and 1959).

However, what fascinates me about the Dunbar-Amherst connection is not simply the high rate of matriculation, but how it was maintained for generations. The cyclical trajectory of Chauncey Larry (Amherst ’27) who graduates from Dunbar in 1923 but returns to his high school as a teacher from 1945 to 1950 reflects some of the ways in which the Dunbar Men of Amherst managed to maintain an interest in Amherst College among Dunbar students. Dunbar’s seniors considered Amherst not only because of Dunbar’s encouragement for students to apply to northern colleges, but also because of Larry’s likely endorsement of his alma mater.

Last week, I continued my archival research by examining more “bio files” of those men who attended both Dunbar and Amherst. I focused on three men: Robert Stewart Jason Jr., Raymond Lewis Hayes Jr., and Lawrence Burwell. All three of these men graduated from Dunbar High School in 1955, enrolled in Amherst together, and graduated in 1959. Each of these also three men went on to pursue careers in medicine.

Were Jason, Hayes, and Burwell close friends at Dunbar? Did the decision of one to attend Amherst influence the others?  Did they support each other in their college years and beyond? These are the kinds of questions I wanted to answer, but the bio files primarily served to provide biographical information about their lives at Amherst rather than their relationship to one another.

This coming week, I intend to go beyond bio files by searching D.C. newspaper records from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries for references to Dunbar and specifically connections between Dunbar and Amherst.  I could also reach out to the three aforementioned men and their families to learn more about their Dunbar and Amherst experiences. I also want to learn more about what experience of Amherst students in general and black scholars in particular would have been like in 1959. Indeed, when Jason, Hayes, and Burwell attended Amherst in the late 50s, the civil rights movement was still in its early stages.

Nonetheless, one letter from the bio files suggests a connection between Burwell and Hayes that endured beyond graduation from Amherst. In January 1963, a few years after graduating from Amherst, Burwell still seemed aware of his classmate Hayes’s professional path. In a letter, Burwell updates “Bob” on “the latest news” that Hayes received his PhD in Anatomy from the University of Michigan and planned to join the faculty at Howard Medical school that fall. I didn’t capture the header in my photo so I will need to request the bio file once again to get a fuller image of the letter. I do not remember if this was a letter sent to the College or if it was Burwell’s own personal correspondence with a friend. Regardless, Burwell’s mentioning of Hayes is a good indication that the three Dunbar men of Amherst of the class of 1959 likely kept in contact with one another and supported each other’s shared medical aspirations.


A Black Amherst legacy:  Below there is a photograph of Burwell ’59 (right) alongside one of his son Scott (left) who also attended Amherst as a member of the class of 1990. I want to take a look at Scott’s bio file as well this week since it might offer some more information about his father.

Burwell

Below is the letter mentioned in this research reflection, written by Burwell in 1963.

Letter

Research Reflection #1 – The Dunbar Men of Amherst

02/21/16

For the past four weeks, my fellow classmates and I initiated our special topics course, “The Black Experience at Amherst College,” by engaging with literature already written on the topic as well as familiarizing ourselves with Amherst’s available archival resources. We also agreed upon Black Men of Amherst College by Harold Wade Jr. ‘68 and Black Women of Amherst College by former Amherst history professor Mavis C. Campbell as “foundational texts” that we as a research group would explore collectively before delving into our individualized projects. I found this approach to a special topics course with multiple students quite useful and unifying since we now all share a common body of knowledge despite how our research trajectories have already started to diverge.

After reading Black Men of Amherst College, I felt extremely empowered by Amherst’s enduring legacy of black alumni who have enrolled since the 1820s, the decade of the College’s founding. In particular, I am fascinated by the story of Edward Jones, the College’s first black graduate, who successfully received his diploma in 1826 and continued to influence his nation and the world while many other blacks throughout the United States were still bound in chains. I am not suggesting that the struggles of student of color today should not be subject to proper amelioration with steadfast determination. Indeed, the horrors of the past should never be an excuse for activism and social change in the present. Yet, I am still humbled by those black Amherst alumni who walked through this campus at a time when some American states still sanctioned the dehumanizing institution of slavery. What would it have been like as a black Amherst student in antebellum America to share the same social and intellectual spaces as classmates whose parents could very well have owned people who looked just like you?

Thus, after learning about each remarkable generation of black Amherst students from decade to decade, choosing a particular topic naturally proved quite difficult. There is quite a bit of material that Wade either chose not to research or include in his study. Wade’s exploration of black history at his alma mater did not incorporate any critical reflection of black faculty and staff, not even in regard to their relationship with the student body. (Fortunately, Head Archivist Mike Kelly unearthed the forgotten story of one campus groundskeeper or custodian who was condescendingly referred to as “Professor Charley” by Amherst students in the nineteenth century. This supposedly innocuous nickname quickly reveals itself to be problematic when considering the irony that a black man could never aspire to be a professor at the College at that time.) Although I am not following through with an in-depth study of the non-student black experience at Amherst, I think the case of Professor Charley merits a reflection from me at the very least for our course website by the end of the semester.

Ultimately, I decided to investigate the large contingent of black Amherst alumni since the turn of the twentieth century who all originated from the same high school in Washington D.C. Dunbar High School, a then prestigious pubic school for D.C.’s black population, essentially became a feeder school for Amherst. Why and how did so many black students end up enrolling to Amherst from Dunbar?

The topic actually first entered my mind a couple years ago after reading Alison Stewart’s First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America’s First Black Public High School. Stewart’s mentioning of famous black history-makers like Charles Drew (Class of 1926) going from Dunbar to Amherst stayed dormant in my mind. However, the topic was reawakened after I read Black Men of Amherst College in which Wade comments on the College’s deans planning special visits to Dunbar to recruit the best and brightest of D.C.’s young black scholars. Additionally, on a personal level, it was incredible for me to check out a secondary text from 1965, The Dunbar Story (1870-1955) by Dunbar teacher Mary Gibson Hundley and see my grandfather, Nathaniel Randolph (born in 1925), a World War II veteran, mentioned as one of the Dunbar students who entered the Armed Forces the summer after his graduation in 1943.

Last week, I began searching the biographical records in the College’s Archives to learn about some of these Dunbar Men of Amherst, as I like to refer to them. Each Amherst student has a “bio file” which can include various documents from photographs to obituaries. I learned that William Tecumseh Sherman Jackson (Amherst Class of 1892) became the president of M Street High School (which would later become Dunbar in the early twentieth century). According to one 2007 article from the College’s magazine, “At Dunbar, Jackson taught mathematics and coached sports for 38 years. He served as the school’s principal from 1906 to 1909. He shepherded many of his students to Amherst, which graduated more Dunbar students than any other college outside of the nation’s capital…It was Jackson who convinced Charles Hamilton Houston, Class of 1915, to attend Amherst.” [1] Thus, W.T.S. Jackson is clearly the necessary starting point for my investigation of the Dunbar-Amherst connection because he begins a cycle of Dunbar students choosing Amherst to continue their educational journeys.

This past weekend, thanks to a text-searchable PDF of biographical records from the Archives, I successfully tracked down several alumni who attended Dunbar High School. I found twenty-eight individuals so far (with class years ranging from 1892 to 1964) and created a spreadsheet to organize these alumni and document biographical data points such as their Amherst class year and career fields. In the coming weeks, I want to start thinking about potential digital tools that would allow me to map and represent my quantitative and qualitative data.

Eventually, I would like to reach out to the Digital Programs staff of Frost Library for guidance but in the meantime I believe it is important that I continue to explore archival material and collect more data about the Dunbar Men of Amherst. Indeed, there are many more questions to ask: Did any Dunbar graduates attend Amherst after 1964? Did post-civil rights era Dunbar ironically suffer because of integration? If so, what effect did this have on Dunbar’s academic caliber and the future of the Dunbar-Amherst connection?

 

 

 

[1] Albright, Evan J. “A Slice of History.” Amherst Magazine. 2007.

< https://www.amherst.edu/amherst story/magazine/issues/2007_winter/blazing/slice>