Scarlet and Black
The Scarlet and Black Project aims to shed light on the legacy of slavery and dispossession at Rutgers University. We examine the history of race at Rutgers over two and a half centuries, from slavery to Black Lives Matter. Along the way, we document the stories of African American students who have worked to achieve scholarly excellence in a hostile environment and have fought to bring about meaningful change, demanding that Rutgers live up to its promise of educational opportunity and public service for New Jersey’s diverse communities. Since 2016, the Scarlet and Black Project has published two books, and our third volume is forthcoming from Rutgers University Press in May 2021.
The Scarlet and Black Digital Archive is a publicly accessible educational resource that serves as a companion to our books. We are working to digitize a wide range of historical documents and make them accessible to scholars and educators for research and teaching. Our digital collections illuminate the history of slavery in New Jersey through primary sources such as runaway slave ads, birth records of enslaved children in Middlesex County, manumission records, and slave sale receipts that document slaveholding among Rutgers officers and benefactors.
Exhibits connected with our second book highlight the experiences of the first African American students at the university in the early twentieth century, including alumni of Rutgers College and alumni of Douglass College (previously the New Jersey College for Women). A collection of cartoons from the student magazine Chanticleer shows the racist imagery that awaited African Americans on campus in the 1920s. As we look to the publication of our third book in May 2021, exhibits about the black student protest movement on campus are coming soon!
We also explore local black history in digital exhibits about the New Brunswick NAACP’s anti-lynching campaign and the rise of the KKK in New Brunswick in the 1920s. Additionally, we have partnered with the Mount Zion AME Church (the oldest African American institution in New Brunswick) to digitize records from the Alice Jennings Archibald History Library and make them available to the community as part of our digital archive.
How it began
This collaborative project grew out of the work of the Committee on Enslaved and Disenfranchised Populations in Rutgers History. The Committee was created in 2015 by then Rutgers University–New Brunswick Chancellor Richard L. Edwards in response to student calls for a full acknowledgment of the role of exploitation and dislocation in the founding of our university. Rutgers 250—a yearlong commemoration of the university’s founding in 1766 in New Brunswick—provided the impetus for asking difficult but important questions about aspects of Rutgers history that have been ignored for far too long.
Chaired by Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of History Deborah Gray White, the Committee was charged with seeking out the untold story of disadvantaged populations in the university’s history and recommending how Rutgers can best acknowledge their influence. Marisa Fuentes, Associate Professor of History and Women’s and Gender Studies, co-directed a team of doctoral researchers who began to probe the university’s archival records for information about slavery. Distinguished Professor of History Camilla Townsend led her undergraduate students in an exploration of the intersecting histories of Rutgers University and the Lenni Lenape. In 2016, the Committee issued a set of Recommendations for how the university can make use of the history that we began to uncover.
With the support of Chancellor Christopher J. Molloy, the Scarlet and Black Project continues to research and share this history with our community in multiple ways including books, digital exhibits, historical markers and campus landmarks, public history tours, and commemorative events. For more information on the other components of the project, please visit the Chancellor’s Scarlet and Black Project website.