Dickinson College Apologizes for 1940s Racial Slight

Esther Popel Shaw and her daughter Patricia

Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, recently bestowed a posthumous honorary degree on Esther Popel Shaw, who in 1919 was the first African American women to graduate from the college. Shaw graduated Phi Beta Kappa and went on to a career as a poet and a member of the Harlem renaissance. Shaw died in 1958 at the age of 61.

In presenting the honorary degree, Dickinson President William G. Durden apologized to Shaw’s descendents, several who were present at the ceremony, for a racial slight that occurred in the 1940s. Patricia Shaw Iverson, the only daughter of the college’s first Black woman alumna, came to Dickinson on the recommendation of her mother. The college admitted her but refused to allow her to live on campus. As a result, Iverson decided to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C.

President Durden stated, “There was an injustice committed by the college leadership decades ago against this family. This action was plain wrong by any humane or moral standard. I wish to acknowledge publicly this wrong and apologize to the family members present on behalf of Dickinson College.”

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