They Didn't Teach Us That In History Class: The Bordentown School

Often times, it is easy to stumble upon a piece of Black history and say, "I never learned that in school." Today will be one of those days. What if someone were to tell you that historically Black boarding schools once outnumbered historically Black colleges and university. In fact, one of those schools attracted the likes of W.E.B DuBois, Booker T. Washington and Albert Einstein.

In 1954, Thurgood Marshall scored a career-defining legal victory as the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Plessy v. Ferguson in support of desegregating schools. While the desegregation of schools was far from a quick process, it did ultimately shut down a number of all-Black learning institutions. One of the many schools to close its doors shortly after the ruling was The Bordentown School is Bordentown, New Jersey.

The Bordentown School was unlike almost anything around today. While historically Black colleges and universities still operate, The Bordentown School functioned as one of the nation's leading historically Black boarding schools. Founded by Walter A. Rice in Bordentown, the school spent much of its life on a 100-acre farm at the edge of the New Jersey town. Providing instruction for students up until the 12th grade, the school produced a bevy of attorneys, doctors, craftsmen and tradesmen. It stood out as the only state-supported Black boarding school of the northeast. Ultimately, educators began calling it the "Tuskegee of the North" in honor of Booker T. Washington's Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. The school also attracted the likes of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Paul Robeson and Albert Einstein, who delivered lectures to students from time to time. Not to mention, U.S. Ambassador George Haley, Golf tee inventor George Grant and Delta Theta Sigma Sorority, Inc. founding member Ethel Black all graduated from the school.

After the passage of Marshall's Brown v. Board of Education, Bordentown's six decade long run came to an end after Governor Robert B. Meyner ordered the school be closed for its "failure to recruit white students." A few of the buildings were demolished while others were turned into state-run prisons. Still, the legacy of The Bordentown School lives on.

The New Jersey School legacy was immortalized in the 2010 documentary, A Place Out Of Time. Narrated by Emmy and Grammy award-winning actress Ruby Dee, the documentary highlighted the rich history of the institution.

"They nurtured us. They cuddled us. They kicked us in the butt when it was necessary," one graduate said of the historic institution.

During the 20th century, there were nearly 100 historically Black boarding schools. Today, only Pine Forge Academy, Laurinburg Institute, Redemption Christian Academy and The Piney Woods School surge forward. Despite closing their doors, the legacy of The Bordentown School and dozens of other historic institutions continue to live on.

Photo: Getty Images

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