Brown’s Early African-American Alumni

Brown admitted its first students of color in the 1870s, during the period of post-Civil War Reconstruction. These pioneering young men (for women were not admitted to Brown until the founding of the separate Women’s College in 1891) faced the challenge of having to excel in a class-conscious, all white environment. Nevertheless, most were exceptional for their scholarship. When Inman Edward Page was elected Class Orator in 1877, the Providence Journal noted “He is an orator of rare ability…at times rising to a profound and impressive eloquence.…There is no doubt but he fairly earned his honors.” A number of these early African American alumni went on to devote themselves to the education of others, and some had stellar careers in the Black colleges and universities of the South.

Inman Page, class of 1877.
An impressive man, remarkable orator and devoted educator, the first African-American graduate of Brown served as President of four colleges: Lincoln University (Jefferson, MO), Agricultural & Normal University (Langston, OK), Western Baptist College (Macon, MO) and Roger Williams University (Nashville, TN). He was the guiding light for generations of African-American students, including the writer Ralph Ellison.

George W. Milford, Class of 1877.
Milford entered Brown with Inman Page in 1873 and graduated with an A.B. degree. Following graduation, he taught at several schools and authored several articles and a book entitled Education in Maryland. Following that, he went on to a successful career in public service in the District of Columbia. In 1901, he earned an LL.B. degree from Howard University and was admitted to the practice of law the following year.

John Wesley Gilbert, class of 1888.
A Classics major, Gilbert went on to do graduate work at Brown and earned a Master's degree here in 1891. He later taught Greek and English at the Paine Institute in Augusta, Georgia.

John Hope, class of 1894.
Hope, like Inman Page, made an impressive career in education, first as a teacher at Roger Williams University (Tennessee) and Morehouse College, then as President of Morehouse College and Atlanta University. He maintained his connections to Brown and shepherded a number of African Americans into the ranks of the Brown student body — including Samuel Nabrit, who became the first African American to obtain a Brown Ph.D. in 1932.

John Brown Watson, class of 1904.
Watson, like Page and Hope before him, devoted himself to what was then called “Negro Education.” After a short stint at Morehouse College, Watson went on to found Leland College in Baker, Louisiana. He later served as President of Arkansas A & M.

William Dinkins, class of 1912.
Dinkins spent his career as an educator at Selma University, of which he was President from 1935 to 1950.

Rudolph Fisher, class of 1919.
The only other African-American in Pollard’s class was Providence native Rudolph Fisher. Unlike Pollard, Fisher concentrated on academics, majoring in biology. After graduation he attended medical school and became a radiologist. He was also a writer, and a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s.