In her new book, Reparation and Reconciliation: The Rise and Fall of Integrated Higher Education, sociologist Christi M. Smith reveals a largely forgotten history of early efforts to integrate higher education in the years following the Civil War. This history pushes us to consider the relationship between higher education and political rights, the complexities of external pressures facing educational organizations as they negotiated integration, and the lessons that colleges and universities can learn as they confront their role in histories of injustice.
In 2001, I moved from Washington, D.C. to rural Northampton County in northeastern North Carolina to teach high school. On my early morning drive to work, the fog hovered over cotton plants and crumbling plantation houses. It was to this county that planter whites fled during Nat Turner’s rebellion just over the state line. My attendance rosters listed few last names; indeed the small number of shared surnames made painfully clear the historical links between African American and white students.
A few years later, I began doctoral studies in Education Policy and Sociology at Indiana University. Thanks to one of my former high school students who considered applying to Berea College, I developed an interest in unraveling the early history of diversity and higher education that led to this book. In looking at the website for Berea College, I was surprised to see that Ebony had hailed it as a top campus for African Americans. Having family in Eastern Kentucky, I did not expect the region to garner recognition for interracial cooperation. I wanted to know more.
I was awed by Berea’s 19th century radical past. Just as one point of evidence: in 1872, the Board of Trustees wrote a statement in support of interracial dating. That was nearly one hundred years before the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Loving v. the Commonwealth of Virginia (1967).
So often, the history I had learned focused on a narrative of increasing progress, as if each new generation were more