“The Tuskeegee of the North” – The Bordentown School in New Jersey

22 Jul

There is a myth formulated by some that black folks weren’t (and aren’t) interested in education, and somehow – before the Brown vs Board of Education decision didn’t develop facilities of their own. I’ve previously discussed the “Jenny Dean” School in Mananas, Virginia and Maggie Walker in Richmond, Virginia.

The New Jersey Historical Society has developed a film about the Manual Training and Industrial School for Colored Youth, or “Bordentown School” as known to locals.

Here is an old film about “Bordentown”. It looks to have been shot in the late 30’s or mid 40’s –

Documentary chronicles Bordentown school as ‘A Place out of Time’

The school’s bloodlines go back to Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. It was visited by Washington, Paul Robeson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein and Joe Louis. Duke Ellington and Nat King Cole played there. So did Althea Gibson. Those are the big names.

But the small names preserve the legacy — people like Art Symes, Nate Hampton, Barbara Wheeler, and Betty and Lionel Hunter. They are among the few dozen former students who meet every July to remember what was.

It is part class reunion and part historic exhibit. The youngest are nearing 70 and there is urgency to their work, because they don’t want their school, which closed 54 years ago, to be any more forgotten.

The big, official name was the Manual Training and Industrial School for Colored Youth. But it was simply called “Bordentown” to New Jersey’s black working class, who sent their kids there. And to the nation’s African-American intellectual community, who went to teach them. And to the white progressive thinkers, who saw the school as a successful experiment in public segregated education.

A new film by Dave Davidson and Amber Edwards captures the history and successes of the school.

“A Place out of Time: The Bordentown School” will premier at 7 tonight at the Newark Museum as part of the New Jersey Black Film Festival. The film is narrated by Ruby Dee, who is expected to attend.

“The story is a documentarians dream,” Davidson said. “There are these great individual stories on the ground, and the characters are still alive to tell them. But their stories mirror that larger story told from above.”

The one-hour documentary weaves the big picture and small picture together. The film tells the history with black-and-white archival film and photos, and tells the back story of the national debate over “Negro education.” Bordentown was called “The Tuskegee of the North.”

But the color comes from the alumni who banded together 17 years ago to save memories of the school, then successfully petitioned the state for a beautiful black granite and bronze monument, in case the old buildings are ever torn down.

“Our teachers came from Harvard, Princeton, Radcliffe, Rutgers, best universities in America,” said Symes, who studied carpentry at Bordentown and went on to become an architect and professor.

Symes said this Sunday at the home of Norman Harris, an Elizabeth committeeman, who was hosting the monthly gathering of the “Social Club,” which plans the reunion, which will be held at the school Saturday.

Hampton, the group historian, said many graduates went on to academic careers. Barbara Wheeler at Kean. Symes at Southern University. Ivory Buck at Rowan. Henry Daniels was a high school principal. Augie Smith was an engineer with JCP&L, and teacher. Those, and many others met the expectations of the faculty.

“It was a village. It was a community,” said Betty Hunter. “They taught us how to take care of our rooms, and our clothes and our money. It was like living with a big family, where the other students were your siblings and the teachers were your parents. You didn’t want to disappoint them.”

Bordentown was laid out on 400 acres overlooking the Delaware River. The architecture was Georgian Colonial, like many academic palaces of the day. There were farm fields, and work shops. The boys were trained in agriculture, auto mechanics and building trades; the girls in cosmetology and the domestic arts. All were schooled in discipline.

Military uniforms for the boys. White jumpers and black ties for the girls. Marching and drilling formations. Precision calisthenics. Serious band and choir, that performed professional.

“We had a fabulous choir,” Betty Hunter said. “The school made money for our appearances.”

Scholarships were worked for. The school cost $15 a month. Students could earn that by doing extra work, like mopping floors, or waiting tables in the cafeteria. In their own dorms, they worked for free.

“We had to keep that place clean,” Betty Hunter said. “I don’t mean tidy. I mean clean. It was expected.”

In the film, Rutgers-Newark professor Clement Price speaks about the transitional time Bordentown represents. The school opened in 1886 and closed in 1955. Those years speak for themselves. The founder was a college-educated former slave, and it operated until integration of public schools became national law.

Price talks about post-slavery blacks being like every other ethnic group new to America’s opportunity.

“They wanted to carve out a place of their own,” he says in the film. “Learn a trade. Work hard. Remain frugal. Be patient.”

Get an education. Meet expectations.


Posted by on July 22, 2009 in The Post-Racial Life


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

15 responses to ““The Tuskeegee of the North” – The Bordentown School in New Jersey

  1. Tafaraji

    July 22, 2009 at 6:39 PM

    What an enchantment! This information supports the discussion of those who would argue the negative impact of segregation.

    My brother spent several years there as a juvenile delinquent. In fact, he spent more time there than at home, mostly for petty crimes, so much so, I hardly knew him.

    Looking at the campus, I see why so many youth of his age preferred being institutionalized rather then staying in the over-wrought madness and mayhem of the streets, even though things weren’t as bad as they are today.

    This is an amazing revelation Bt, as a matter of fact I’m impressed with many of the stories/post you cover.


  2. btx3

    July 22, 2009 at 10:51 PM

    Thank You, Taf!

    Bordertown and Jenny Dean were part of the invisible black America. Much the same way today that your average middle class black person is utterly and completely invisible.

    Was watching CNN’s Black In America 2 tonight. Good, thought provoking show, unlike the first.


  3. Charles, The Original

    July 25, 2009 at 11:16 AM

    In the words of Leland Mississippi Alderwoman Marla Brooks, We are not going anywhere. We are not going anywhere. Stop! Stop! We are not going anywhere. Leave us alone. Leave us alone. We haven’t done anything wrong… They are doing us wrong. There is a bunch of racist evil black integrationist Niggers up in here that’s doing us wrong.

    I can’t speak for Hispanics. But if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. Low graduation rates among Negroes have nothing to do with the absence of married mothers and fathers in the home. But here is the thing. Negro males and Negroes in general aren’t integrationist. And the low graduation rates among Negro children are a clear and present rejection of that philosophy. Let’s be real. The so-called educated integrationists Negroes don’t represent the interest of the masses of Negroes i.e. the children of a Negro mother and Negro father etc. They represent the interest of mongrels, the children of a white mother and a black father etc. And the educational system gives credence to that philosophy.

    The dirty little secret in the United States among the so-called educated integrationist Negroes and their collaborators has been exposed. Under the guise of indiscriminate love for everyone, they seek to annihilate the “ugly” black faces of the original Negro in the United States via education, interracial marriage/sex, and outright genocide. And it’s promoted by fostering institutional advantages to black mongrels etc. thereby encouraging the original Negro to loathe his physical appearance e.g. Michael Jackson. History shows us how the original black Egyptians were annihilated because of their failure to reject a similar educational system. It was used by internal and external enemies of Egypt to transform original black Egyptians into mongrel Egyptians.

    Using low graduation rates as the evidence, the original Negro males in the United States absolutely reject the leadership of the so-called educated integrationist Negroes and the enemy educational system they impose upon their families. But all is not lost. What a fantastic job our first “black” educated integrationist President of the United States, Barack Obama and Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates are doing with their children.


    • btx3

      July 25, 2009 at 1:55 PM

      Not sure how exactly, such “integrationist Negroes” are having any impact on the fact that fewer than 10% of American black folks in this country have pure African Genes, and the fact that 1/3 of the “white” folks in this country have a black ancestor.

      I take it you haven’t bothered to have a DNA test?


  4. Charles, The Original

    July 25, 2009 at 2:23 PM

    Btx3 is probably someone deceived by the New World Order integrationist system. If he/she is white, they are likely sitting at home with a child sporting Negro lips, hair, and skin. And at the same time, the child has blue eyes, narrow nose, and a high pitch voice. The same scenario is true for a stupid black person in the same predicament.

    You Fools. Don’t attempt to lure others into the mistake you’ve made by bringing up the ridiculous notion of the DNA test. But help them make wiser and more informed choices.


    • btx3

      July 25, 2009 at 3:04 PM

      You are welcome to read my bio page, publicly offered on this very website if you are confused about who I am. Most of the intelligent posters who visit here do. Smart folks tend to do that before posting at various sites to get an idea of whom they are talking to, as well as what the site is about.

      While I can’t guarantee this will make you look any less stupid, I can at least gurantee it wil take folks reading a sentence or two of your ramblings…

      Before they figure it out.

      “New World Order”?


      And exactly which black man came up with that idea?


  5. Tafaraji

    July 25, 2009 at 3:34 PM

    Part of the “new world order” was perpetuated, part of it consequential, and much was unexpected. The outcome of all human experiences are going to include some of these elements.


  6. Charles, The Original

    July 25, 2009 at 3:37 PM


    When we have systematic brainwashing taking place in the United States, you don’t need to know who you’re talking to. If I’ve spoken to one Negro, I’ve spoken to them all.

    After reading your welcome page, there isn’t anything there that would change my opinion of you and definitely not my comment.

    And as for the New World Order, I refer you to Visit some of the past archives, shows/interviews. Dr. Stanley Monteith is capable of bringing the lost up to speed. You speak as if you are living in the 1800s.

    Additionally, might be of interest to you.


  7. Charles, The Original

    July 25, 2009 at 3:59 PM

    A special gift for BT:


  8. btx3

    July 25, 2009 at 8:05 PM

    Ahhhh… The New New John Birch Society…

    Not much different than the old one, except wrapped in a new cult theology – very much akin to Christian Identity.

    Now I know why you say – “If I’ve spoken to one Negro, I’ve spoken to them all. ”

    I don’t think you’ve spoken to anyone except yourself…

    For a very long time, Charles.

    But feel free to rant on.

    Go here –

    The two of you should enjoy each other.


  9. Charles, The Original

    July 25, 2009 at 9:16 PM

    Thanks btx3.

    I’ll take a look at the website. I hope you enjoyed The Obama Deception.


  10. brotherbrown

    July 26, 2009 at 12:05 PM

    BT, it seems, my friend, that you are on the radar of the latest class of hitler youth summer camp. Seems every summer in late july/early august, a wave of whites swoop into black oriented discussion areas to promote the propaganda they just learned.

    By September, they get bored and move on.


  11. btx3

    July 26, 2009 at 6:08 PM

    It’s OK. Just not worth expending energy to try and educate. I sent him to the Porch Simian’s. Should be interesting!


  12. brotherbrown

    July 26, 2009 at 8:55 PM



  13. cosmetology

    July 29, 2010 at 1:49 PM

    Any person have any updates on this? Desire to know more.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: