When Ivory Towers Were Black: A Story about Race in America's Cities and Universities

When Ivory Towers Were Black.jpg
Author name: 
Sharon Egretta Sutton
Affiliation: 
Alumni
School: 
Architecture, Planning, & Preservation
Class Year: 
1973
Genre: 
Non-fiction
Subject: 
Architecture
Subject: 
Research & Studies

When Ivory Towers Were Black tells the untold story of how an unparalleled cohort of ethnic minority students earned degrees from Columbia University’s School of Architecture during the Civil Rights Movement. The book follows two university units that steered the school toward an emancipatory approach to education, in particular the school’s Division of Planning, revealing fierce struggles to open the ivory tower to ethnic minority students and to involve them, and their revolutionary white peers, in improving Harlem’s slum conditions. It tracks the unraveling of this groundbreaking experiment to achieve racial justice as white lash against reforms wrought by civil rights legislation grew. Through its first-person portrayal of how a transformative process got reversed, the book can catalyze contemporary struggles for equality as crushing injustices increase and historically marginalized students remain excluded from elite professions like architecture and planning.

When Ivory Towers Were Black tells the untold story of how an unparalleled cohort of ethnic minority students earned degrees from Columbia University’s School of Architecture during the Civil Rights Movement. The book follows two university units that steered the school toward an emancipatory approach to education, in particular the school’s Division of Planning, revealing fierce struggles to open the ivory tower to ethnic minority students and to involve them, and their revolutionary white peers, in improving Harlem’s slum conditions. It tracks the unraveling of this groundbreaking experiment as white lash against reforms wrought by civil rights legislation grew. Through its first-person portrayal of how a transformative process got reversed, When Ivory Towers Were Black can catalyze contemporary struggles for equality as crushing race- and place-based injustices multiply and historically marginalized students remain excluded from the elite city-making professions.

"Sutton tells a story that has yet to be told: a
time, an era, a passion, a hope, a tale recounted
with the skill and energy of a mystery novel. She
tells of young people who believed that the
injustices they found on their college campuses
also believed that they could be righted, that
racism could be battled and defeated. When Ivory
Towers Were Black encourages us to reflect on the
dreams, hopes, battles and defeats as a way of
measuring how far we have come—and how far
there is yet to go."—Diane Ghirardo, University of
Southern California