Reflecting the College's long history of African American engagement, beginning with John Brown Russwurm's matriculation in 1824 and antislavery activities among College faculty, the Bowdoin College Archives are rich in documenting the black experience at Bowdoin. Included among the Archives' holdings are biographical files detailing the lives of African American alumni and collections that detail the efforts of black and white students to increase racial diversity and tolerance on campus. Administrative records trace College initiatives both to recruit more African American students and faculty and to provide ways for students of different racial backgrounds to express their own cultures while also integrating their diverse voices into a larger community of intellectual and social inquiry.
Historical overviews of African American issues at Bowdoin are available in a number of publications, including the Bowdoin Alumnus magazine and the student newspaper, the Bowdoin Orient, which provides particularly extensive coverage of civil rights issues during the 1960s and early 1970s and establishment of the Africana Studies program and the John Brown Russwurm African American Center. Especially useful are:
Administrative efforts to increase racial diversity, to incorporate Africana Studies into the curriculum, and to include the African American Center as part of campus life, are document through the files and reports of numerous College committees. Records series of especial note include:
Biographical files of graduates and non-graduates of Bowdoin College and of the Medical School of Maine are maintained by the College. The files contain genealogical and career information as well as clippings and obituaries for African American alumni, beginning with Bowdoin's first African American graduate. In the nineteenth century, in addition to Russwurm, the College's affiliated Medical School of Maine matriculated five African Americans between 1848 and 1864. Information about these men can be found in the biographical files of the Medical School. Among those alumni are John Van Surlay De Grasse, Class of 1849, who was one of only eight African American surgeons to serve in the U.S. Army during the Civil War.
Background material about and publicity for student groups related to African American issues and civil rights—including the Bowdoin Undergraduate Civil Rights Organization (BURCO), the African American Society, Bowdoin's Black Arts Festival, and Project '65—are found in Student Group and Organizations Records.