‘Fifty Educated African Americans’ (or, Why Black Enterprise?)

A reminder from a beloved Harvard admissions officer to lift as we climb rings with new meaning in the Age of Obama.

between 1890 and 1910 upwards of 4200 blacks were lynched. That computes to a black lynching every forty-one hours for twenty years!

Our visitor reminded us that those fifty or so educated men and women could have remained in the North or migrated to Canada or Europe and enjoyed relatively comfortable lives. They chose instead to look into their conscience, their religion, and into the future. They knew that without skills and organization, all that the ancestors had endured would have been for naught and chattel slavery would have been replaced with economic and political slavery.

He ended his talk with the daunting question raised in Genesis 4:9, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” He said that those few educated Black men and women in the 19th Century nobly answered that question and he urged all of us to contemplate it every day of our lives.

That visitor’s speech resonates today with even greater urgency especially among the statistics about black males and it suggests that: We must either keep our brother or he will assuredly keep us. He will keep us in debt, e.g., state correctional system budgets run into billions of dollars with California topping them all at $10,000,000,000! He will keep us in fear (many homes in our communities look like jails, with their locks and bars). He has already driven too many Americans to believe that we can imprison our way out of the problem even if it renders African Americans an ethnic group without functional males between fifteen and forty. Lest we think this is a problem afflicting only the black “underclass,” we need only observe the growing male/female imbalance in college, graduate and professional schools.
Could this portend a single-gendered black middle class in our future?

The following quotation that I first heard many years ago in Sunday School almost leaps out at me:

“As I approached the mountain I thought I perceived a monster, but as I came closer I saw that it was not a monster but a man, and as I came even closer, I saw that he was my brother.”

“I sought my friend and my friend forsook me.

I sought my God and my God eluded me.

I sought my brother and found all three!”

Best regards,


David L. Evans is a native of Phillips County, Ark., and holds degrees in electrical engineering from Tennessee State University and Princeton. Before coming to Harvard he worked in Huntsville, Ala., on the Saturn/Apollo Project that landed a man on the moon in 1969. While in Huntsville he began a voluntary, one-man college recruiting and placement effort for African-American youth, who were admitted to many of the nation’s top colleges. His work was covered by the news media, and he was offered jobs by the College Entrance Examination Board, Harvard College, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was most impressed by Harvard College and its dean of admissions, Chase N. Peterson ’52, and came to work in the Admissions Office in 1970 on a two-year leave-of-absence from engineering.

During his time in Cambridge, over

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  • From Opression to the Peak

    From the strongholds of oppression
    They bore heirs to the thrown of grace
    Through the struggle and humiliation
    They wore the pain on their face
    No medication, to help cope with the strife
    No comfort came to console at night
    Through the ridicule, low pay, and degredation
    They endured for the making of a great nation

    Great nation you say, This I cannot see
    Their heirs are jailed and mocked
    Always in trouble they seem to be
    But yet there are those who have made them proud
    oh yes, they have done quite well so say it loud
    Changed over time to educate and empower
    There is one who rose up like a might tower
    A nation that once left them without a cent
    has now made their heir the president

    Geneva Rochester
    Copyright ©2008 Geneva Rochester