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The Last Negroes at Harvard: The Class of 1963 and the 18 Young Men Who Changed Harvard Forever

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  161 ratings  ·  39 reviews
The untold story of the Harvard class of ’63, whose Black students fought to create their own identities on the cusp between integration and affirmative action.In the fall of 1959, Harvard recruited an unprecedented eighteen “Negro” boys as an early form of affirmative action. Four years later they would graduate as African Americans. Some fifty years later, one of these t ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published February 11th 2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Nenia ✨️ I yeet my books back and forth ✨️ Campbell

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This book is part-memoir, part-journalism, and is about the author's experience going to Harvard as a black man in the late 1950s/early 1960s. In his freshman year, Harvard had included eighteen black men as students at a time when historically, at that point, maybe only one or two were admitted per year. United by their being perceived as "other" by the rest of the student body, even though only some of them identified as African Americ
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Rama
Jan 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Champions of Change

In 1959, Harvard University recruited eighteen African American men to its undergraduate program as a symbolic gesture of affirmative action, a term that did not exist at that time. Author Kent Garrett, one of these kids recalls and recollects his experiences at the famous school and brings us into the same page; how it was like to be black at Harvard at that time. In fact, they were referred to as negroes but later would change the term to African Americans. This book is an
...more
Pamela  (Here to Read Books and Chew Gum)
The Last Negroes at Harvard was an important book with a fascinating subject matter and a lot to say. It was part memoirs, part journalism, part dry-ish non-fiction, which is the only reason I didn't rate it higher.

The parts of The Last Negroes at Harvard that were memoir had the best literary style. They were emotive and involving, and really helped put me in the shoes of the authors; something that is essential for a subject matter that will be read by people from diverse backgrounds and leve
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Kimberley
This is a well-researched book: meticulously detailed and carefully investigated. No Stone was left unturned and every individual story was treated with the utmost respect.

That said, there was a LOT to wade through and far too much of the wading felt like a monumental task.

So many narratives. So many stories. So many different experiences. It’s any wonder it took near a decade to put this into publication: there was so much to do and Garrett essentially started from what amounts to a set of yea
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Danny
Feb 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating book; both insightful and frustrating, as good books often are. The story is framed as a journalistic memoir of Garrett and the other 17 black students who began at Harvard together in 1959. The book ends up being an engrossing account of many social and cultural realities of race in the U.S. in the 1960s as well as details about Harvard and Boston at large. It covers everything from racial politics, to a fortuitous lunch with Malcolm X, to Garrett's summer romance with an ...more
Biblio Files (takingadayoff)
Jan 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
In 1959, eighteen "Negroes," entered the Harvard College class of 1963. When they left, they would be "Afro Americans" or "African Americans." Kent Garrett was one of that class and he spent a decade tracking down his classmates to see what they had done, how Harvard had affected them, and how they had changed Harvard. It's a thoughtful slice of history, made personal by many memories as the old classmates remind each other of those days before Kennedy was assassinated, before the Civil Rights M ...more
Erika Dreifus
Apr 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoirs
It was at Harvard—in a first-semester graduate history seminar taught by Bernard Bailyn—that I learned the word prosopography. Since then, I've been attracted to group portraits, and this one—about Kent Garrett and his undergraduate classmates—fascinated me. ...more
Carolyn
Aug 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: by-black-authors
This book feels like a slow burn, like when you slowly clean your room to serendipitously discover some hidden treasures of decade’s past to spend the day daydreaming and laughing about. The author and subject of the book, Kent Garret, has a tongue in cheek attitude that counters his old age. The recounting of his unique experience as a Black man at Harvard in the 1960s was surprisingly refreshing and relevant to today’s age. The book remembers how the Harvard Class of 1963 explores their identi ...more
Atish
Jun 15, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
The Last Negros at Harvard is an intriguing memoir that follows the lives of eighteen African Americans (all men) from the class of 1963 at Harvard. The author is one of these eighteen.

These unique individuals are selected to attend Harvard from a variety of backgrounds in what can only be viewed as the early days of affirmative action. The young men face the uncomfortable challenge of managing their presence in an elite majority-white institution while surrounded by a web of institutional raci
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Colby Ponzo
Jul 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
The Last N* at Harvard is an incredibly rich, inspiring, and informative chronicle of the lives and accomplishments of 18 black students that not only broke boundaries, but also helped to pave the way for future pioneers.
Following the narration and lens of Kent Garrett, this novel breaks through the deeply buried and complexly woven secrets of the notorious Ivy League school, all while maintaining a deep sense of humanity and wisdom taught in a way that only an elderly trailblazer could provide.
...more
Eli Pollack
Aug 06, 2020 rated it liked it
It seems a difficult task to write a book about eighteen different people, joined only by their color and attendance at Harvard.

The book pulls it off successfully but it seems a little uneven. First, many of these people were extremely interesting in their own right and the few lines about them only makes you want more. Second, the book was written about forty years after the events and except for a contemporaneous survey with notes by a white classmate, no one seemed to be keeping a journal to
...more
J.D.
Apr 04, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book throughout although given its length the content covered was quite ambitious which left me wanting for more.

The book starts talking about going to find out others from the same class who graduated and we find out over time that was done but very little of the space is given talking about the years after Harvard. I think I would have enjoyed it most to spend time covering the years at Harvard with the prevailing currents covered(as was done) with more time spent after
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Kay Wright
Jun 03, 2020 rated it it was ok
The author and his companion worked so hard and s o long on this book I feel bad that I didn’t find it inspiring or even terribly interesting. When tracing so many young men it takes a lot to keep them separate for the reader. Garrett’s descriptions of his family’s migration from the south to New York City and the indignities his parents suffered, their determination to educate their children well, and the trip to Harvard kept me reading even though there were no great surprises. Once Garrett se ...more
Audrey
Jul 12, 2020 rated it liked it
3.5 stars

This was so interesting in so many different ways. Part personal memoir about author while he was at Harvard and after, as well as his fellow ‘Negro’ classmates. The issue for me wasn't the subject matter, it was the organization. The memoir became bogged down by all the author's classmates, both Black and White. It made for some dense reading. The book would have been more readable if each Black classmate, had his own section instead of interspersed throughout the narrative. There were
...more
forsanolim
Oct 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
Kent Garrett entered Harvard in 1959 as one of the eighteen African-American members of the Class of 1963. He tells the stories of different members of this group, describing how they navigated Harvard and interfaced with the broader world as the Civil Rights Movement came into their and Americans' consciousness. I found it a really interesting look at Garrett, the men in his class, and the depiction of Harvard as an institution in the 60s.

This book may well have appealed to me more than it migh
...more
Claire
Jul 05, 2020 rated it it was ok
Interesting to hear about the experiences of black students in the class of 63. Especially the detail on why so few of them were involved with the civil rights movement, how they felt about white people who were, and the start of the Afro American student group (which later split into the two groups). However, the storytelling and journalism could’ve been more pointed and controlled - for example, Garrett shares a brief life story about each student he features but doesn’t delve into why each pe ...more
Eve
Oct 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Santos
Jun 23, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: race
3.5 stars.
This book was worth reading and certainly includes lot of worthwhile stories that were interesting to listen to.

I just felt like the author took on way too many of the stories and it was a lot to get through.

Some of the great moments in the book were when he talked about how these young men experienced and stepped into their racial consciousness. They were at Harvard during a pivotal time, when the civil rights movement was gaining momentum and to hear about how they interacted with
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Sara
3.5 stars. The topic is intriguing, realizing that Harvard was at times different and dismally the same as the larger American society in its treatment of blacks.

The portions of Garrett's book dealing with his history and the vignettes of his classmates' lives are the best. Well written, engaging, and compelling character sketches. Where Garrett's narrative falls short is the often dry recitations and attempts to link this unique cohort with the events of the larger world. As he was mostly a bys
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Kris
Jul 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I started this book just a few weeks ahead of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests in May/June 2020.

The author tells of the 18 young negro men who entered the elite, ivory league university of Harvard in 1959--up to that time, the highest number of negro students to ever attend Harvard at one time.
He explains how this occurred and the effect this matching of education had on the lives of its graduates and the communities they served.

I highly recommend reading this book to add another dimension
...more
Mystic Miraflores
Feb 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
The authors did a good job weaving the students' personal histories with the background social, cultural, and political events of the early 1960s. To me the most interesting parts of the book was about the lives of the students after they graduated and had their careers. It was satisfying to observe that most of them had successful lives and careers. It was quite sad to read about those who died young and never had a chance to live full lives. ...more
Ruth
Apr 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Tony and I really enjoyed reading this book as we also were in the Class of 1963. I graduated from Wheaton and he went to Yale. I was from Greensboro, NC and he was from DC. This book explores how the 18 "Negroes" were selected, who influenced them to go to Harvard and what was happened in civil rights each of the four years. Then he tells us his individual story and how the events of the day took place with or without his knowledge or concern. ...more
☄k.c.☄
Sep 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020
Amazing, would highly recommend to anyone interested in history! I love that this is a first hand account of history while it was being made. I also love that Garrett reached out to his black classmates, and that they got the opportunity to speak on their experiences as student at Harvard during this time. The section at the end where he talks about where his peer are now was a really thoughtful touch. Fantastic overall!
Fareeda
Dec 15, 2020 rated it liked it
I expected something different from this book. I thought the author would have played an integral part in what was becoming a “radical” era. Instead, I feel like he was an outsider looking in. He confirmed this when he stated, “As usual, I was more the observer than the fighter.” There were some historical nuggets in the book, but it felt like the story was all over the place. If it weren’t for the Gallery section, I’d give the book 1.5-2 stars.
Nilsa Pacheco
Jul 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Given today's context of Black Lives Matter and the injustices that continue to take place, I found this book to be consequential and carefully researched. The author does an outstanding job pointing out how little things have changed in the last 60 years, since he graduated from Harvard. His work exposes blatant racism and how senseless the unspoken rules are. ...more
Kirk Dobihal
Very interesting, especially growing up in the shadow of Yale during the 1960's. Knowing a few Harvard students and Yale students however, not knowing any Blacks this was illuminating. Once again shame on the WASP but hope maybe for the future. ...more
Debbie
Jul 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Its hard to imagine what trailblazers the young black men of the Harvard class of 1963 had to have been. I think this is a really well-organized look at what these 18 young men were like, where they came from, and what their experience was like.
Noah Thomas
Aug 09, 2020 rated it liked it
Not a bad read, it's kind of like when you've got that rambling uncle who keeps talking but all the stories grab your attention so you don't mind. Great perspective to read from even if you don't agree with his view on it all. ...more
Mahalia Gosla
Feb 09, 2021 marked it as to-read
This is such an impactful book with memoirs, biographies, and historical moments of each person within this novel. This is a book for history buffs and those who need the confidence to go for their dreams.
Rebekah A.
Mar 08, 2021 rated it really liked it
I do not generally like memoirs, but this had a perfect balance of a life-story with a more broad view of the topic at hand. Easy to read and definitely thought-provoking. Absolutely recommend it to anyone even considering reading it.
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