For many years, it was believed that George Washington Henderson was the first African American graduate of the University of Vermont. Henderson was born a slave in Virginia in 1850. After the Civil War he moved to Vermont. He enrolled at the university in 1875 and graduated two years later. He taught at Straight University in New Orleans and Wilberforce University in Ohio.
But research by archivists at Middlebury College and the University of Vermont determined that Andrew Harris, an African American, was one of 24 students in the graduating Class of 1838. Harris went on to become a staunch abolitionist as a Presbyterian minister and the pastor of the St. Mary’s Street Church in Philadelphia. In May 1839 Harris addressed a crowd of 5,000 at the annual meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society at the Broadway Tabernacle in New York City. In that speech Harris stated: “The colored people are also charged with want of desire for education and improvement; yet, if a colored man comes to the door of our institutions of learning, with desires ever so strong, the lords of these institutions rise up and shut the door; and then you say we have not the desire or the ability to acquire education. Thus while the white youth enjoy all these advantages, we are excluded and shut out, and must remain ignorant.”
Harris died in 1842 at the age of 27.
The University of Vermont recently honored Harris with an academic chair and a plaque. An academic scholarship and an award also have been named in his honor.