African Americans Shut Out of Rhodes Scholarship Awards

In 1907 Alain LeRoy Locke, later a major philosopher and literary figure of the Harlem Renaissance, was selected as a Rhodes scholar to study at Oxford University. It is generally believed that at the time of the award the Rhodes committee did not know that Locke was black until after he had been chosen.

It would be more than 50 years later, in 1962, that an African American would be named a Rhodes scholar. That year John E. Wideman, now a famed author as well as a professor at Brown University, was selected. Seven other blacks were named Rhodes scholars during the 1960s.

In the 1970s, approximately 25 African Americans received Rhodes scholarships. Noted African Americans who were Rhodes scholars in the 1970s include Randall Kennedy, professor of law at Harvard University, Kurt Schmoke, former mayor of Baltimore, and Franklin D. Raines, former director of the Office of Management and Budget and former CEO of Fannie Mae.

In 1978 Karen Stevenson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was the first African-American woman selected as a Rhodes scholar.

In the 1980s, when America took a conservative turn and affirmative action pressures diminished, fewer black candidates were chosen for the Rhodes scholarship program. But in the 1990s and so far in the twenty-first century, the norm has been for one or two African Americans to be named each year to Rhodes scholarships. But this year, there were no blacks among the 32 Americans awarded Rhodes scholarships.