The Last Negroes at Harvard: The Class of 1963 and the 18 Young Men Who Changed Harvard Forever

Houghton Harcourt. Feb. 2020. 320p. photos. notes. ISBN 9781328879974. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781328880000. ED
Garrett was one of 18 young black men who in 1959 enrolled at Harvard. Many of these students were recruited from America’s inner cities or Southern towns because of their race and academic achievements. The title refers to the shifts in racial politics that took place around the time this group graduated in 1963. Former TV and film producer Garrett’s beautifully written narrative, coauthored by educator Ellsworth, offeres a gripping snapshot of how these students “stood out and blended in” as the largest incoming Harvard class of African Americans to date and for a number of years to come. (That said, these 18 students represented just 1.595 percent of the freshman class.) Race and class sometimes kept students apart, starting with the young men’s choice to sit together during meals. Garrett is a keen observer of his fellow students, and he explores how this experience sharpened his critical thinking skills and raised his consciousness of Negroes as Afro-Americans (later African Americans), Afro-Caribbeans, and Africans. The author draws from his firsthand knowledge and interviews conducted over a ten-year period with 14 of his surviving classmates and their loved ones, supplemented by anecdotes about classmates who died and others who attended or taught at Harvard at that time.
VERDICT Essential reading for those interested in civil rights, racial identity, and higher education.
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