Going Back: December 20, 1995

Ahead of His Time

Ahead of His Time

Frank Broderick '43 Pushed for an Integrated Princeton

With Martin Luther King Day less than a month away, it is fitting to remember the efforts of the late Francis L. "Frank" Broderick '43, a man ahead of his time.
In 1942-43, when Broderick was chairman of The Daily Princetonian, Princeton was the last major academic institution north of the Mason-Dixon Line that still refused to admit black students. A history major from New York City and a graduate of Phillips Academy at Andover, Broderick was a devoted Catholic profoundly influenced by the Church's teachings on social justice, and he waged a tireless campaign against the university's de facto policy of segregation. He did so in the pages of the Prince more than a decade before the Supreme Court's 1954 landmark decision, Brown v. Board of Education.
In what may have been the Prince's finest hour in more than a century of publication, Broderick, along with Editorial Cochairman C. Powell Whitehead, Jr. '43 and others on the staff, penned a triad of editorials titled "White Supremacy at Princeton." Broderick and company took their stand not long after the United States had entered World War II, when civil rights leaders were just beginning to press for equal treatment of African-Americans. Segregation remained the law in the South and the rule rather than the exception throughout the U.S., a nation that was fighting the war with segregated armed forces.
At Princeton, a university regarded by many alumni and students as "the northernmost of the southern schools," the Prince's stand was radical and courageous. The first editorial examined the fundamental values of American society as they related to the fight for democracy. It concluded with words from the author and Nobel laureate Pearl S. Buck: "Is democracy right or wrong? If it is right, then let us dare to make it true." The second editorial directly attacked what the writers viewed as the university's hypocrisy: "While 13,000,000 Negro Americans look for signs of their admission to a rightful place in American democracy, Princeton continues its principle of white supremacy and, in an institution devoted to the free pursuit of truth, implicitly perpetuates a racial theory more characteristic of our enemies than of an American university." The third article responded to the common arguments against integration.
The desegregation question swept the campus. Broderick and Whitehead were asked by Whig-Clio to debate the issue against a pair of classmates. The Dean of the Chapel, Robert R. Wicks, delivered sermons supporting the Prince's stand. Charles Edison, the governor of New Jersey and the chairman of the Board of Trustees, also endorsed the editorials, as did two-thirds of the faculty and the local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.
Despite such support, only 40 percent of the student body favored desegregation. By a 7-6 vote, the Undergraduate Council recommended that the university not admit black undergraduates until the student body had been "properly oriented." In a letter to the Prince, a student argued that "One attraction to Princeton for Southern boys has been that it is a Northern university excluding Negroes. . . . The Negro was happy and would have been [still] had he not been molded by white men to demand and desire things which in many cases he does not understand or care for." Some southerners threatened to withdraw if the university admitted black students. Integration, another student proclaimed, was a policy that "practical men" knew "just won't work."
President Harold W. Dodds *14, a man whose ideas were progressive in most respects, presumably had practical concerns in mind when he officially ignored the Prince's position. Dodds had his hands full putting the university on a wartime footing, and this was hardly the time to institute a radical social change that was sure to be controversial. The Board of Trustees, which was ultimately responsible for Princeton's policy, declined to take action on the issue throughout the 1942-43 academic year, despite the stance of Governor Edison.
Upon graduating, Broderick entered the Army Air Corps and served as a navigator in a B-24 bomber in the Pacific theater. After the war, he returned to Princeton as a graduate student and resumed his campaign for integration. The university by then had several black students, who had come to campus in the Navy's wartime V-12 program and had stayed on as civilians to complete their degrees. But their presence hardly constituted any official change in admission policy. As an On the Campus writer for the Princeton Alumni Weekly, Broderick used his column to keep the issue alive, but his call for a multiracial campus was mainly greeted with indifference or hostility. In a letter to the editor, one reader caustically suggested that Broderick "might well be acceptable as a transfer student at one of the better known Negro colleges."
Undaunted, Broderick took his fight for integration to the Princeton Summer Camp, in Blairstown, New Jersey. This student-run facility hosted needy children, the majority of whom came from the Princeton-Trenton area. Broderick, who served as the Blairstown camp's director in the summer of 1946, noticed the conspicuous absence of black kids. He wrote to Howie Stepp, Princeton's swimming coach and the administrator in charge of the camp, explaining, "If there is an underprivileged group in Princeton, it is most certainly among the Negro population. On behalf of the staff, I should like to request that you arrange to have several Negro campers from the Princeton YMCA sent to Blairstown."
Stepp and Assistant Dean of the Chapel Burton A. MacLean, another administrator involved with Blairstown, responded by recruiting black campers for that summer's session. As MacLean later observed, "the inter-racial experiment met with the greatest kind of success for all concerned. A far-sighted precedent has thus been established."
That fall, Broderick moved on to Harvard, where he earned a PhD in history. After teaching at the University of Iowa and Phillips Academy at Exeter, he became chancellor of the University of Massachusetts's Boston campus. In 1987 he earned a law degree from Boston College and began working for Legal Aid in New Hampshire, where he remained until his death in 1992.
Princeton, meanwhile, had long since changed its admission policies toward blacks. Beginning in the mid-1960s, it began recruiting qualified African-Americans, and by the 1970s they were well represented among the student body. Thirty years after his speaking out, Frank Broderick's vision had become reality.

A former editor of The Daily Princetonian, Dan Klein '92 is a second-year student at Yale Law School.