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Constructing Black Education at Oberlin College

A Documentary History

Roland M. Baumann

Publication Year: 2010

In 1835 Oberlin became the first institute of higher education to make a cause of racial egalitarianism when it decided to educate
students “irrespective of color.” Yet the visionary college’s implementation of this admissions policy was uneven. In Constructing Black Education at Oberlin College: A Documentary History, Roland M. Baumann presents a comprehensive documentary history of the education of African American students at Oberlin College.

Following the Reconstruction era, Oberlin College mirrored the rest of society as it reduced its commitment to black students by treating them as less than equals of their white counterparts. By the middle of the twentieth century, black and white student activists partially reclaimed the Oberlin legacy by refusing to be defined by race. Generations of Oberlin students, plus a minority of faculty and staff, rekindled the college’s commitment to racial equality by 1970. In time, black separatism in its many forms replaced the integrationist ethic on campus as African Americans sought to chart their own destiny and advance curricular change.

Oberlin’s is not a story of unbroken progress, but rather of irony, of contradictions and integrity, of myth and reality, and of imperfections. Baumann takes readers directly to the original sources by including thirty complete documents from the Oberlin College Archives. This richly illustrated volume is an important contribution to the college’s 175th anniversary celebration of its distinguished history, for it convincingly documents how Oberlin wrestled over the meaning of race and the destiny of black people in American society.

Published by: Ohio University Press

Illustrations

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pp. xi-xii

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Preface

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pp. xiii-xvi

For more than a decade I have wanted to write about the educational opportunity and experience of black Americans at Oberlin College. In this endeavor, I follow the lead of Oberlin’s first archivist, William E. Bigglestone, who built the road on which many of us have traveled. Most notably, he authored two important works, “Oberlin College and the Negro ...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xvii-xx

This documentary history on black education was made possible by the strong dedication of numerous individuals and by some timely funding from Oberlin College. The book project received grants in 1999 and 2000 from the McGregor-Oresman Scholars Program, administered by Oberlin’s office of Sponsored Programs. This program enabled me to employ ...

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Introduction. OBERLIN—A COLLEGE AND A CAUSE

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pp. 1-14

On the occasion of the sesquicentennial of Oberlin College in March 1983, Professor Geofrey Blodgett wrote, in understated fashion, that the institution’s sometimes activist and peculiar history had “made it a controversial kind of place.”¹ Blodgett echoed, perhaps, the sentiments of founder John Jay Shipherd. One year after the founding ...

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Chapter 1. ORIGINAL COMMITMENTS TO BLACK EDUCATION, 1833–35

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pp. 15-25

One of the early events that established the character of the Oberlin Collegiate Institute was the decision in 1835 to accept black students. Oberlin’s founders understood the significance of the egalitarian step they were taking when they expanded the admissions policy of the institute, and they took it with caution and trepidation. The decision came about ...

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Chapter 2. BUILDING AN INTERRACIAL SOCIETY, 1835–75

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pp. 26-55

Between 1835 and 1875, the white institution of Oberlin College was decidedly “at the cutting edge of social and religious innovation.”¹ “The logic of the resolution [to admit black students] is not very luminous, nor is the conclusion entirely unambiguous,” wrote James H. Fairchild in 1860, “but the effect was decisive and unequivocal.”² Thus, on the grounds ...

Gallery 1

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pp. 57-69

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Chapter 3. MODERATING THE OBERLIN TRADITION, 1875–1959

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pp. 71-137

Oberlin’s second and third presidents, Charles G. Finney (1851–66) and James Harris Fairchild (1866–89), contributed to a lowering of the college’s liberal spirit of equality in educational opportunity. Some might argue that this development began in the middle of Fairchild’s presidency and that it coincided with the death of his predecessor in 1875 ...

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Chapter 4. RECLAIMING EQUAL EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY, 1960–85

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pp. 138-185

This chapter contains five documents that focus on the renewal of Oberlin College’s commitment to black education—as well as a new commitment to diversity initiatives—between 1960 and 1985. During this time of rapid societal change and wide-ranging educational innovation, campus leaders examined civil rights issues, studied the service and learning needs ...

Gallery 2

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pp. 187-199

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Chapter 5. MOVING TOWARD MULTICULTURALISM, 1985–PRESENT

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pp. 201-281

Chapter 5 contains six documents dating from the presidential administrations of S. Frederick Starr (1983–94) and Nancy S. Dye (1994– 2007). During these two administrations, which together spanned nearly a quarter century, Oberlin grappled with the question of what it meant to be part of American national culture.¹ The college moved from the ...

Epilogue

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pp. 282-294

Notes

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pp. 295-386

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 387-404

Index

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pp. 405-418


E-ISBN-13: 9780821443637
Print-ISBN-13: 9780821418871

Publication Year: 2010

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Subject Headings

  • African Americans -- Education -- Ohio -- Oberlin -- History -- 20th century.
  • College integration -- Ohio -- Oberlin.
  • Oberlin College -- History.
  • African Americans -- Education -- Ohio -- Oberlin -- History -- 19th century.
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