It touched me to read the May 15 Campus Notebook article about Professor Martha Sandweiss’ exploration of Princeton’s ties to slavery. I have always believed that this topic has never been adequately addressed.

I’m an African-American ’94 Princeton graduate, and I began my own genealogical research in 1999. I was surprised to learn that my family history intersected with Princeton. The South Carolina slaveholder on whose plantation my enslaved ancestors labored was himself a graduate of Princeton’s Class of 1856.

I don’t know if this slave owner brought along any of his black “servants” during his years at Princeton. (His father owned more than 100 slaves, and divided them between his sons in 1849. Just four years later, in 1853, one son went on to enter Princeton as a Southern slaveholder.) But, whether my enslaved ancestors accompanied him to Princeton or not, they certainly would have known of Princeton, given the owner’s notable loyalty to his alma mater.

I’m a person of deep faith and believe that surely my ancestors prayed to God regarding their plight of perpetual servitude. I believe that they desired to someday live free and to see their children freely participating in society’s esteemed institutions – perhaps even in an institution as respected and as lauded as Old Nassau. If my ancestors did, in fact, offer such prayers, then I believe that God heard them. And even though our slavery persisted for hundreds of years, faith mysteriously imbued such prayers with an unsilenceable voice in the heavens and prompted God’s response.

That I am the recipient of such grace as an answer to my ancestors’ prayers, so that 140 years later, I exited Nassau’s gates as a Princeton graduate – well, this is completely humbling. If I had this knowledge during my days as a student, especially during those periods of loneliness during which I struggled with feelings of whether I belonged at Princeton, I likely would have known that my days at Princeton were indeed “meant to be.” 

Believe me when I say that the exploration of Princeton’s connections to slavery is a good thing. Thanks to Dr. Sandweiss for her good work. I wish her continued success.

Rick Williamson ’94