In the first edition of Black Men of Amherst, Harold Wade says this about the list of black graduates in Appendix I:
The list below is of those students attending Amherst who were clearly identifiable (from either yearbook photos or written references) as black Americans. The list is of course incomplete. Whenever in doubt, the author has chosen to eliminate names; those blacks, known in the black community as blacks but passing for white, have not been included. Students in the 19th century are identified from written reference only. Thus, only blacks of some accomplishment would be known. For example, there were blacks at Amherst in the 1870s, but their names are now unknown. Their existence, though, is certain.
As we prepare for the Amherst College Bicentennial celebrations in 2020-2021, the Archives is working closely with Digital Programs to make more college history material available online than ever before. You can read about the various projects under way on their blog: https://digitalcollections.wordpress.amherst.edu/
The Amherst College Class Album Collection is a previously untapped resource that is part of our digitization program for the Bicentennial. You can read more about class albums here, but the short version is that they were a way for classes to collect and share photographs of their professors and classmates before the age of modern yearbooks. Our goal is to digitize one album for each class year between 1853 and the end of the collection in 1909.
One result of working with the Class Albums is turning up evidence of those black men of Amherst that Wade knew existed. While the class albums are not yet available in Amherst College Digital Collections, here we offer a preview: five black men of Amherst whose names were not included in Harold Wade, Jr.’s book.
Class of 1877
Proceeding chronologically, the first black student of the 1870s appears to be Madison Smith, about whom we know very little. According to our alumni records, Smith was born in Scotland Neck, North Carolina on December 8, 1850. He prepped for Amherst at Phillips Academy Andover and attended Amherst College from 1873 until 1875. Our records indicate that he died on August 15, 1875; fortunately, The Amherst Student published a memorial to Smith in the October 9, 1875 issue:
Less is known of his classmate, Charles Sumner Wilson:
Wilson was born in Salem, Massachusetts on November 17, 1853; he prepped at Salem High School then attended Amherst College from 1873 until 1875. Our records say he then attended Tufts in Boston from 1876-1877. Apart from a note in the alumni directory that says “In law office, Salem 1877-(?). d. Danvers Jan 17 1904.” we know nothing of Wilson’s life after Amherst.
Class of 1878
The life of Charles Henry Moore is more thoroughly documented; he was born in Wilmington, North Carolina on June 6, 1855. He prepped at the Preparatory Department of Howard University and spent some time at Smith Academy in Hatfield, Massachusetts before spending four years at Amherst.
Moore returned to the south after graduation and was instrumental in advancing the cause of black education in the region. This earlier blog post gives a much fuller description of his life and accomplishments.
Class of 1879
Similar to Moore, Wiley Lane also pursued a career in education after graduation from Amherst College in 1879.
Lane was born in Elizabeth City, North Carolina in 1852 and, like Moore, prepped for Amherst at the Howard University Preparatory Department. He spent 1873-1877 at Howard and 1877-79 at Amherst where he became a scholar of classical literature and culture. Immediately after graduation he returned to Howard University where he served first as Assistant Principal, then Principal of the Normal Department (1880-1883) then Professor of Greek from 1883-1885. Lane’s death from pneumonia in February 1885 is reported in The Amherst Student for February 28, 1885:
Class of 1883
Wilbert Lew was born in Gardner, Massachusetts on May 6, 1881; he attended Gardner High School before coming to Amherst. He graduated with the class of 1883 and studied veterinary medicine at Battle Creek, Michigan. After a brief time with the J. N. Leonard silk factory in Florence, Massachusetts (1888-89), he established himself as a veterinary surgeon there from 1889. He died in Amherst in September 1923.
Lew provided a biographical sketch and an up-to-date portrait for the class of 1883’s 25th Reunion book:
There may be other nineteenth-century black students that we have yet to identify, but we are pleased to update Wade’s assertion: there definitely were black students at Amherst in the 1870s and (some of) their names are now known.