“Oberlin College holds a unique place in the history of higher education and in the history of African American education. Historians have probed bits of Oberlin’s relationship to black education, but Roland Baumann’s fine documentary history is the first to explore that history fully and critically. Historians, students, and lay readers alike will find much of value in this study.”
Ronald E. Butchart, University of Georgia
“Readers of Constructing Black Education at Oberlin College will come away with a rich understanding of an institution that was a hybrid—neither a black college nor a wholly white college like many of its institutional neighbors…. Baumann has written an excellent book that adds to our understanding of American higher education in meaningful ways.”
Indiana Magazine of History
“A new well-researched book by Roland M. Baumann, a professor emeritus of history at Oberlin College, offers a complete history of African Americans at the college. In addition to his own commentary and historical notes, Baumann presents the full text of memoranda, letters and other documents from the college’s archives written by students, administrators, and alumni discussing race relations on campus.”
The Defenders Online/A Civil Rights Blog
“In 1835, Oberlin began admitting students regardless of race. Thirty first-person accounts that Baumann dug up—in the form of letters, petitions, board minutes, applications, student protest circulars, student senate minutes, letters to the editor, and memoranda, (among other documents)—paint a different picture, one that finds the implementation of its admissions policy as uneven.…(Constructing Black Education at Oberlin College) shows that archivists and curators are more than collectors of minority history and the communities they represent.”
In 1835 Oberlin became the first institute of higher education to make a cause of racial egalitarianism when it decided to educate students “irrespective of color.” Yet the visionary college’s implementation of this admissions policy was uneven. In Constructing Black Education at Oberlin College: A Documentary History, Roland M. Baumann presents a comprehensive documentary history of the education of African American students at Oberlin College.
Following the Reconstruction era, Oberlin College mirrored the rest of society as it reduced its commitment to black students by treating them as less than equals of their white counterparts. By the middle of the twentieth century, black and white student activists partially reclaimed the Oberlin legacy by refusing to be defined by race. Generations of Oberlin students, plus a minority of faculty and staff, rekindled the college’s commitment to racial equality by 1970. In time, black separatism in its many forms replaced the integrationist ethic on campus as African Americans sought to chart their own destiny and advance curricular change.
Oberlin’s is not a story of unbroken progress, but rather of irony, of contradictions and integrity, of myth and reality, and of imperfections. Baumann takes readers directly to the original sources by including thirty complete documents from the Oberlin College Archives. This richly illustrated volume is an important contribution to the college’s 175th anniversary celebration of its distinguished history, for it convincingly documents how Oberlin wrestled over the meaning of race and the destiny of black people in American society.
Roland M. Baumann, emeritus archivist and professor of history at Oberlin College, is a Society of American Archivists Fellow and founding member of the Academy of Certified Archivists. He teaches for the School of Library and Information Science, Kent State University, and has authored a number of award–winning publications in archives and history including The 1858 Oberlin–Wellington Rescue: A Reappraisal.
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