A Place out of Time
directed by Dave Davidson; Hudson West Productions
For 70 years, the Tuskegee of the North, New Jersey’s Bordentown School, educated generations of black youth, producing judges, academics, oceanographers and solid middle class folk, while it operated quietly in the shadow of Booker T. Washington’s far more famous institute in Alabama. One reason Bordentown School strove for stealth—one alum remarks, “Nobody outside this part of New Jersey knew it was here”—was racism; another was its deviation from Washington’s prescriptions about teaching black youth useful trades. Even though its students worked on the buildings and grounds and farmyards and critters of its beautiful 400-acre Georgian-style campus, the Manual Training and Industrial School for Colored Youth, as it was formally known, widened its curricula to include college-style offerings, thus encouraging the aspirations of those black Americans whom W.E.B. DuBois, Washington’s perpetual antagonist, dubbed the Talented Tenth. In the end, the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision ironically helped bring about the school’s demise in 1955. Narrated by Ruby Dee, enlivened by vintage photos and footage, this revealing film tracks how America’s racial problems unwound through the lives of a select, dedicated group of teachers and students.
Originally published in the August 2010 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here.