Charles “Steve” Dawson ’70 was among the early African-American students at Princeton. At Reunions, he and others participated in an oral-history project, Blacks in the Ivy League.
Charles “Steve” Dawson ’70 was among the early African-American students at Princeton. At Reunions, he and others participated in an oral-history project, Blacks in the Ivy League.
PHOTO: FRANK WOJCIECHOWSKI

Mudd Library houses numerous oral histories provided by alumni, but only a few capture the experiences of Princeton’s early African-American students. To rectify that, alumni ­gathered during Reunions in Chancellor Green to tell their stories. 

The Blacks in the Ivy League Oral History Project, ­sponsored by the Princeton Area Alumni Association, the Association of Black Princeton Alumni, and the Prince­toniana Committee, kicked off its effort with interviews of nine alumni, ranging from the classes of 1953 to 1981. Another 10 alumni signed up to record their histories later. 

Robert Rivers ’53, who was one of the first black students to be admitted to Princeton, Charles “Steve” Dawson ’70, and Linda Blackburn ’71, who came to campus the first year women were admitted, each shared parts of their ­personal stories at the Reunions gathering. Then they and other ­alumni went to record their full histories for the project. 

“Many times people just give a sanitized description of what happened at their alma mater, and sometimes it’s good to get the other side of the picture,” Dawson ’70 told PAW. He spoke to the audience about being a part of the first organization for black students on campus; the influence of mentor Carl Fields, Princeton’s first black administrator; as well as the disappointment he felt when the University ­initially observed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. with just a moment of silence. 

Cheryl Rowe-Rendleman ’81 and Thomas Swift ’76 organized the kickoff event and hope that alumni volunteers in other regional associations will record more oral histories throughout the year. The histories will be transcribed and stored in Mudd Library. 

“There is no other history of blacks in Princeton,” said Rowe-Rendleman. “Scholars to this day are still trying to put together that history of blacks and how the Ivy League ­experience has affected them and how they have changed the Ivy League experience.” These oral histories will help them do that.