Issue Number 19 - December 5, 2002




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There is not a more coveted degree by the status-starved Black elite than that which is conferred by Harvard University. The Cambridge center of traditional American intellectualism can lay claim to having stamped a goodly number of government and industry leaders with its crimson imprimatur. A negro wearing a Harvard brand has always earned special attention of the masses, mostly because of the white custom of unilaterally elevating its negro matriculants to race leadership. has expertly repudiated Harvard's Randall Kennedy, who is currently touring the lecture circuit telling whites for $25 a head that there is no longer any word that is objectionable in describing the Black race. His book Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word has served to raise a deeper issue still. An internet search of Randall Kennedy reveals that every single mention of this white man's trusty ne'er-do-well is appended to an equally prominent mention of his affiliation with Harvard - an inferential certification of Kennedy as a racial authority. A study of early Black nomenclature reveals that emerging from the American slave system, Blacks often took the name of the white man who had enslaved them as their new surname. Thus, the former "Toby, President Washington's nigger" became Toby Washington, and so forth. Kennedy has linked himself to Harvard - and they to him - in precisely the same way, making themselves just as responsible for Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word as the nigger himself.

So, what is Harvard University to Black folks? And why have so many Blacks with suspect motives, and having no organic relationship to any Black institution, been
placed in front of Blacks to speak on Blacks' behalf? Maybe it is time to examine the legacy of this institution to understand the nature of those Blacks who so proudly wear its brand. Such Blacks continue to be given extraordinary access to public airwaves to opine on and interpret the Black condition for white America. More than a generation ago Adam Clayton Powell confidently asserted that Harvard has "ruined more negroes than bad whiskey." A brief racial history of America's intellectual Vatican puts its special role, and Powell's biting assessment, in proper context.

Harvard College was founded in 1636 (just six years after the settlement of Boston) with the intent of academically assisting the clergy in their attempts to brainwash the Massachusetts Indians into accepting white European customs and religious beliefs. In this they were wholly unsuccessful, having only graduated one Indian, who died just a year later. Once conversion failed, the ol' Pilgrim/Puritan standby of massacres and mayhem was employed, and the Red man was no longer welcome at Harvard. Thus, in 1698 Harvard tore down its "Indian College" and used the bricks to construct the new Stoughton College--named for the family of the man who has been "credited" with the annihilation of the Pequot Indians in 1637.

Quiet as it's kept, the slave trade was the primary economic force in the development of Boston's elite, and most of that class were trained at Harvard. Puritan minister and president of Harvard (1685-1701) Increase Mather held African slaves. Benjamin Wadsworth, president from 1725-1737, was a member of one of the leading slaveholding families in New England. "Servants are very Wicked," he once wrote, "when they are LAZY and IDLE in their Masters Service. The Slothful Servant is justly called Wicked..." In 1756, the First Parish Church at Cambridge was made off-limits to Blacks when Harvard officials objected to their sitting in the gallery. In 1773 Harvard hosted a debate in which Blacks were defined as "a conglomerate of child, idiot and madman." Many of the early ship-owning slave traders of New England sent their children to Harvard, as did many of the Southern plantation owners. The grand wizard of the Massachusetts Ku Klux Klan graduated from Harvard in 1853. One of the most viciously anti-Black newspapers in Boston history was run by a Harvard graduate.

A host of paragons of race hate acquired their intellectual bearings at this Cambridge center of white supremacy, including many icons of American history. John Adams, Samuel Adams, Josiah Quincy, Theodore Roosevelt, to name a few, have proudly ascended to the upper echelon of America's racial villainy. John Adams "shuddered at the doctrine" of racial equality and spoke in Hitlerian terms of "quieting the Indians forever." Samuel Adams and Josiah Quincy both enslaved Black Africans. Roosevelt voiced the common Harvard creed that Blacks were backward savages who needed strong white rule to bring them into civilization. The Africans, this Harvard-trained American president believed, were "ape-like, naked savages, who dwell in the woods and prey on creatures not much wilder or lower than themselves." Divinity school graduate Ralph Waldo Emerson asserted matter-of-factly that "it is better to hold the negro one inch below water than one inch above it."

Harvard, a pillar of the Brahmin establishment, "did its best to stifle anti-slavery [legislation]." When expelled German scholar Charles Follen sought refuge in America, he found it on the Harvard faculty. But when he became an abolitionist in 1833, he was immediately fired. When Harvard graduate Charles Sumner criticized slavery in a speech to the student body in 1848, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow recorded the reaction: "the shouts and hisses and the vulgar interruptions grated on my ears." Two of the college's honorable presidents, Jared Sparks and Cornelius Felton, were strong supporters of the notorious Fugitive Slave Bill, which aligned the northern "free states" with the Southern slave-owners in apprehending runaway Black slaves. When a Southern slaveholder came up to a Boston court to use the fugitive slave law to reclaim "his slave" Anthony Burns, Harvard students acted as the slaveholder's bodyguards.

Distinguished Harvard graduate Lemuel Shaw was considered to be the most influential state judge in American history. Shaw considered Blacks who escaped from chattel slavery to be "fugitives from labor" and ordered their immediate return. When two Black women were arrested in 1836 as escaped slaves, Shaw allowed the slave catchers to correct their warrant so that they could re-arrest the Black women right in his courtroom. The Blacks who came to court refused to stand by and allow for this outrage and attempted to rescue the women. Shaw himself tried to stop them before he was knocked to the floor during the successful escape.

As chief justice the Harvard-trained Shaw delivered the unanimous opinion of the Massachusetts Supreme Court which upheld the legality of school segregation,
providing the basis for the doctrine of "separate but equal" - America's official racial policy until 1954. Between 1872 and 1949 at least eleven state courts cited Shaw's opinion to justify their own state's segregationist policies. (In 1956, when Virginia Senator Robert Byrd read his infamous "Defiance: The Southern Manifesto" he was joined by 19 Southern Senators and 70 Representatives, including J. William Fulbright and Strom Thurmond. Byrd cited Shaw's opinion to buttress his last stand against the Supreme Court's desegregation order.)

The many well-to-do Harvard students from Southern plantation families did not have to long for the amenities of their beloved slavocracy; upon their arrival at the University each cracker was given a Black servant they euphemistically called a "scout." All the while Blacks served Harvard's white faculty and enrollees as janitors, custodians, and waiters. The first record of these "scouts" at Harvard is noted by Samuel F. Batchelder, in Bits of Harvard History, as he contemptuously recounts the tribulation of these unpaid, overworked Harvard slaves:

What ebony face with rolling white eyeballs grins sheepishly at us from this mildewed page? Who was this blackamoor who surreptitiously helped himself to beer and (possibly under its influence) made so free of little Sam Hough's bed? Have we not here the first darkey "scout" of Harvard, progenitor of the whole tribe of college coons and great-grandfather of all Memorial Hall waiters? What fluky breeze of fortune wafted this dusky child of nature from a languorous coral strand to the grim confines of Calvinistic Cambridge? Were colored brethren already hanging round the Square looking for odd jobs ere that classic forum had become clearly distinguishable from the encircling wilderness?

But always, Blacks seeking to better themselves attempted to break through Harvard's rigid racial barriers. When three Black men attended lectures at the Medical School in 1850, groups of white students protested their presence and prevailed upon the faculty to expel them. Harvard president Charles Eliot (term 1869-1909) stated his belief in separate educational facilities for Blacks and whites and suggested that Harvard may implement such a policy. He maintained - quite accurately - that the white man in the North is no less averse to the mingling of races than his Southern counterpart.

Race hater Louis Agassiz, the dean of the Nazi-approved philosophy of scientific racism, and for whom a Harvard campus building is currently named, warned fellow whites, "Let us beware of granting too much to the negro race...lest it become necessary hereafter to deprive them of some of the privileges which they may use to their own and our detriment." Agassiz found his views of the Black man warmly received and echoed by Harvard deans Henry Eustis, who considered Blacks "little above beasts," and Nathaniel Shaler, who believed Blacks "unfit for an independent place in a civilized state." In 1922-23, President A. Lawrence Lowell barred Blacks from living in the freshman dormitories saying, "We have not thought it possible to compel men of different races to reside together."

Around that time, Harvard's venerable newspaper, the Crimson, excitedly announced the presence of the school's very own Ku Klux Klan chapter. Without a trace of indignation, it trumpeted the KKK's campus membership drive. The paper even promised to respect the secret identities of the KKK leaders, and announced the possibility of the establishment of the branch of the KKK called Kamelia, the female KKK, at Radcliffe. By 1960 Harvard was writing letters to white students asking if they had problems with being assigned a Black roommate. (Black students received no such "courtesy.") In the '80s, Bell Curve author, the now dead Richard Herrnstein, successfully restored Harvard's white-hooded intellectual tradition, which seemed to have been usurped briefly by some loud but ineffectual liberal '70s campus activism.

So, here comes Randall Kennedy, bookending this tradition to the proud nods of his white campus puppeteers. Ultimately, those Blacks who seek to append themselves to this corrupt legacy will suffer a shameful disgrace. For increasing numbers of Blacks today are in complete agreement with the great "uneducated" freedom fighter Fannie Lou Hamer, who could not have been clearer when recounting the battles she fought for political representation and justice:

Everybody that would compromise in five minutes was the people with a real good education. I don't understand that - I really don't to save my life. Them folks will sell you - they will sell your mama, their mama, anybody else for a dollar.

Shelton Amstrod is a researcher and editor at CBIA Publishing in Detroit.

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