Looking Back: Reflections of Black Princeton Alumni is a 75-minute documentary that was written, produced and edited by Melvin McCray, a member of the Princeton class of 1974. In 1995, Calvin Norman, a schoolmate from the class of 1977, approached McCray with the idea of producing a program on Blacks at Princeton for the university’s upcoming 250th Anniversary. McCray realized that Norman’s original idea of a panel discussion would be limited in scope and instead proposed a full length documentary chronicling the history of African Americans at Princeton from it’s founding in 1946 to the present. They approached 250th Anniversary Steering Committee members Dorothy Bedford, class of 1981 and Robert Durkee, class of 1969 and served as university vice president and secretary. With their support the program was completed a year and a half later and became one of the highlights of the university’s anniversary celebration.
McCray interviewed over 35 black alumni, three black administrators and three presidents including Robert F. Goheen (President1957-1972), William G. Bowen (President 1972-1988) and Harold T. Shapiro (President 1988-2001). The first two black graduates, John Howard ’47 and James Ward ’48, were interviewed and were found to have very different experiences at Princeton. Howard, who spent two years at Columbia University prior to coming to Princeton, found no racial discrimination at all. Ward, who spent two years at Lancaster College, a historically Black college, found a racially charged and alienating environment. Although Harvard University admitted it’s first Black student in 1870 and Yale in 1874, Princeton had never admitted a black undergraduate, with the exception of students privately tutored by John Witherspoon in the late1700s. The university was forced to integrate in 1944 when the federal government sent Howard, Ward and two other blacks to Princeton’s Naval V-12 Training Program. In the documentary the experiences of black alumni run the gamut from loving ever minute of their time on campus to hating every minute and almost every emotion in between.
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