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Making The Case For Integration

By Vassar Quarterly

Beatrix McCleary Hamburg ‘44 was the first black student admitted to Vassar since Sally Hemmings (who had passed as white), graduated in 1897. Hamburg was instrumental in the recruitment of other African American students.

In this excerpt from an account that appeared in the Vassar Quarterly’s June 1946 issue, Hamburg discussed the challenges of “representing” her race and made the case for why a greater number of blacks should be admitted to the college. I represented the Negro Problem—in capitals—and the Raymond students were interested in that problem and in seeing that Vassar solved it successfully. That I should be thought of, at least at first, as the representative of a problem race rather than as an individual was natural; it was also sometimes difficult. The most amusing of these difficulties was that everyone assumed I was an authority on all things Negro. I was bombarded with questions about the Negro theatre, Negro political problems and opinions, African lore, Negro music, and so on indefinitely. I answered all the questions I knew anything about and some I didn’t. But it’s an odd thing about my education in a predominantly white college that it made me learn more about Negroes that I knew when I came.

Perhaps the most important contribution Negro students can make is to demonstrate, by their presence at college, that background, intelligence and ability are more important than color in making good members of the college community. Some students have told me that they really believed there was no such thing as an intelligent Negro; they had never known one. Getting to know Negro students, and through them their families and communities, may mean a fresh outlook on the problem of the Negro in this country…These advantages would be increased, along with the ease with which Negro students can adapt to the campus, if more Negroes were admitted to Vassar.