Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

(Really, Really) Old School Friday: U Vermont’s First Black Student

May 29th, 2009 by Ajuan Mance

George Washington Henderson, a former slave and probably the second Black student to graduate from the University of Vermont. He was also the first African American student in the U.S. to be elected to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society.

Until 2004, George Washington Henderson was believed to be the University of Vermont’s first Black graduate — that is, until university archivist Jeffery Marshall confirmed that a previous African American student had preceded Henderson by nearly 40  years. After being refused admission to Union and Middlebury colleges, Andrew Harris enrolled in and graduated from the University of Vermont as part of the class of 1838. You can read the story of archivist Marshall’s discovery at THIS LINK.

I was unaware of any of these developments until yesterday afternoon, when I came across the report below, reprinted in Frederick Douglass’ Paper [sic], on September 22, 1854. A little poking around revealed that I was reading about the very same Black student who UVM’s archivist rediscovered five years ago. Before appearing in Frederick Douglass’ Paper, this following article first appeared in the Rochester American:

COLORED STUDENTS IN AMERICAN COLLEGES. In announcing that George B. Vashon, a colored lawyer and a graduate of Obertlin, will henceforth be one of its regular contributors, Frederick Douglass’ Paper refers to his having obtained liberal education in a College, as a very remarkable fact. Doubtless it is true that a few colored men find their way to our highest institutions of learning; and yet, that they have sometimes done so is undeniable. An instance of the kind came under our own observation. A young colored man named HARRIS, was examined and admitted to the sophomore class of the University of Vermont at Burlington. He pursued his studies regularly and graduated with his class. A few of the students objected to recite with him, but this insubordination was very soon put down the College authorities. None of the Faculty were abolitionists. They took the ground in adducting HARRIS that he gave evidence of the requisite qualifications, and that nothing in the laws of the University warranted the rejection of his application on account of his color. We understood at the time that he previously applied unsuccessfully for admission to Union College. The Faculty could find no law or rule excluding him, but having chosen to submit the question to the class, he was voted out.
HARRIS we believe has been dead some years.

Posted by Ajuan Mance


Posted in African Americans, Andrew Harris, Black History, Black Students, George Boyer Vashon, Higher Education, Oberlin College, race, University of Vermont

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