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African Americans on Campus, 1746-1876

During its first two hundred years, Princeton University (then the College of New Jersey) was a segregated institution. Prior to the Civil War, as the school became increasingly dependent on money from southern slaveholders, its students, faculty, and administrators remained committed to white supremacy.

At the same time, African Americans were a constant presence on campus. Slaves lived and worked at the President’s House and were sold at auction within sight of Nassau Hall. Black residents of Princeton filled essential roles on campus as cooks, janitors, and servants. Others advanced the school’s educational mission as research and teaching assistants. Some black workers became minor celebrities and unofficial mascots, and they posed for photos for graduating seniors. A small number of former slaves studied on campus. Life for these pioneering laborers and scholars could be difficult, and they endured threats, ridicule, and physical violence. One Princeton resident later compared the school to a southern plantation.

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