In 1978 a group of students gathered in front of Firestone Library for a rally against apartheid in South Africa. One of the speakers was Larry Hamm ’78, an articulate and outspoken student leader.
Larry raised our consciousness by describing a book we could find inside Firestone, Red Rubber by E.D. Morel. The rubber trade devastated half the population of the Congo. Western rubber companies, Firestone included, profited from this arrangement (Harvey Firestone Jr. spoke out against the atrocities). Some of those profits came to rest at Princeton, in the form of the magnificent Firestone Library.
But instead of excoriating Firestone, Larry told us that all students should appreciate the building all the more because Firestone reminds us that the “price” of Princeton is more than tuition. It includes the sacrifices, willing and unwilling, by those who came before.
I was enthralled by Nicholas Guyatt *03’s article on Samuel Stanhope Smith 1769 (cover story, May 11). I never knew that Smith’s ideas contributed to a political movement that resulted in thousands of enslaved Americans being deported to Liberia.
The connection? Liberia granted Firestone a 99-year lease for a million acres of land, at a price of just 6 cents an acre. The company employed forced labor on its plantations, albeit under much less brutal conditions than in the Congo.
Larry’s words are still true. A deeper understanding of Princeton’s past will enable us to form stronger personal connections to the Princeton of today.