The Last Negroes at Harvard: The Class of 1963 and the 18 Young Men Who Changed Harvard Forever

Kent Garrett and Jeanne Ellsworth. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-1-328-87997-4
Former NBC News producer Garrett reflects on his 1959 arrival at Harvard University as one of “the largest group of Negroes admitted to a freshman class to date” and interviews 14 of his 17 fellow African-American classmates about their experiences in this vivid and perceptive debut. A Brooklyn native, Garrett spent his childhood summers in South Carolina, where his relatives conveyed “a visceral sense of fear” around local whites. At Harvard, Garrett’s classmates included Wesley Williams, a member of the “elite Negro world” of Washington, D.C., and George Jones from segregated Muskogee, Okla. “Almost from the first day,” Garrett writes, “we Negroes started noticing each other, making mental note of who and where the brothers were.” He describes eating at the “Black Table” in the freshman dining hall and attending house parties in nearby Roxbury, as well as Malcolm X’s 1961 campus visit to debate the merits of integration. Reconnecting with his classmates 50 years later, Garrett notes many educational and professional achievements, including the founding of the African and Afro American Association of Students at Harvard, but laments that their lives have been “bracketed” by Jim Crow and Trumpism. He and coauthor Ellsworth eloquently describe the pressures these students were under, drawing an insightful portrait of the limits of racial progress in America. Expertly blending memoir and cultural history, this outstanding retrospective deserves to be widely read. (Feb.)
Reviewed on : 12/02/2019
Release date: 02/11/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 978-1-328-88000-0
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