The following is an excerpt from "Ohio University, 1804-2004: The Spirit of a Singular Place" by Betty Hollow, published by Ohio University Press.
Nestled among the foothills of the Appalachians--at considerable distance from most urban centers--Ohio University might at first seem an unlikely site for a long and significant association with Americans of African descent. Yet their association began just twenty years after the university's founding, when John Newton Templeton, a freed slave, enrolled.
Little is known about Mr. Templeton's experiences at the university, except that he lived in President Wilson's household--perhaps because he could not find suitable accommodations elsewhere--and that he was a member of the Athenian Literary Society, suggesting that the local racial climate was not totally hostile to blacks. At the time, however, advertisements for runaway slaves were carried in the Athens newspaper, and soon after, minstrel shows, with vicious portrayals of African Americans, took hold of the American imagination. "Scientific racism," calculated to "prove" the inherent inferiority of black Americans, was about to make its appearance.
Nevertheless, Templeton received his diploma in 1828, becoming Ohio University's first African American graduate and probably the nation's fourth. Whatever his personal experiences, he graduated with knowledge and skills that enabled him to pursue a productive career as an educator and political activist and a story that is, in many ways, paradigmatic of the experiences of other African Americans who have since studied at Ohio University.
Next: Margaret Boyd: Ohio University's First Female Graduate
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