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J. Gresham Machen, Woodrow Wilson, and Attempts to Erase Black Presence at Princeton

Previously, I wrote an article for Faithfully Magazine detailing personal research that revealed a hidden narrative of white supremacy and anti-Blackness underlying J. Gresham Machen’s theology. Machen, who is upheld by many in theologically-conservative, Reformed, and Evangelical circles as a hero of biblical orthodoxy in the midst of a tide of theological liberalism, publicly fought against the integration of a Black student in the dormitories at Princeton Theological Seminary. In a letter that he wrote to his mother in 1913, Machen speaks as though this dormitory integration was a new policy, something that he was willing to quit as a faculty member over.

In his letter, Machen explains that he “most emphatically objects” to the integration of people of color in the dorms because “the intimacy of the relation of the men in the same dormitory where there is only one bath-room, exceeds, in some respects, at least, that of table-companionship.”

What became clear as I dove deeper into this event as it fit into Princeton Theological Seminary’s broader history was that Machen was not fighting a new policy—he was fighting against nearly a century-long policy of integration at the seminary.[emaillocker id=60875]

Overturning Nearly a Century-Old Policy

Princeton Theological Seminary
Photo of Princeton Theological Seminary (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)

On May 16, 1825, the board of directors of Princeton Theological Seminary made a landmark decision to make the seminary an integrated institution:

“Dr. McAuley, on behalf of the Presbytery of Albany, applied to the Board to have Theodore Wright, a fine young man of color, admitted into the Seminary. Whereupon, resolved that his color shall form no obstacle in the way of his reception (emphasis added).”

According to Kenneth Woodrow Henke, curator of Special Collections and archivist of Princeton Theological Seminary, historical records prove that Black students not only matriculated into the seminary as early as 1825, but were also residents of the seminary’s dorms since 1874, potentially earlier:

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Timothy I. Cho
Timothy I. Cho
Timothy Isaiah Cho is Associate Editor at Faithfully Magazine. Timothy’s bylines have appeared in Religion News Service and Reformed Margins, and he has been interviewed for several podcasts including Truth’s Table and Gravity Leadership Podcast. He also runs a personal blog on Medium. He received a Master of Divinity from Westminster Seminary California and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from U.C. Berkeley. Email: timothy.cho (at) faithfullymagazine.com

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