[Some] Dartmouth men first saw the light of day as men of color but crossed the color line – ‘breaching the veil’ DuBois would say - into the white world. Their stories invite reflection on the conflicts, compromises, and personal sacrifices of educated black men seeking a place in a segregated society. I will mention just one.
Douglass Carr Griffing was born to an interracial union in Mississippi and came north after the Civil War. He prepared at Oberlin and finished up at Dartmouth in 1873. While in College, he penned a widely circulated letter protesting newly legislated barriers restricting the civil rights of blacks in the South. Sen. Charles Sumner of MA read the letter into the congressional record.
‘…the colored man [is] denied many public privileges accorded to other American citizens. What we ask now, is simply equal public privileges, and…that the several States of the Union shall be prohibited from passing or enforcing a statue which makes invidious discriminations on account of color.’
After a year at Harvard law, Griffing returned to Mississippi as a Professor at Alcorn University. A year later he gained an elected seat in the Mississippi State senate. Then abruptly, his ascendant star vanished. It was 1878, a time of resurgent white violence against blacks in the southland.
Rev. Samuel Adriance, the 1873 Dartmouth Class Secretary, after many unsuccessful inquiries, guessed that Griffing, 'who was no darker than a suntanned farmer, had purposefully went away to some new place, where no one would ever suspect that he was a negro.’
Griffing, in fact, had escaped across the color line, a journey to the West Coast with stops in Kansas and Nebraska. He reached Jamestown, South Dakota and remained there for eighteen years, leading a very public life. He re-invented himself as D. C. Grifin, businessman and real estate entrepreneur, ‘prominent in county and state affairs.’
Upon retiring to Southern California he and his wife wrote a long letter of fulsome thanks to Jamestown citizens: ‘We first landed in Jamestown in April 1882. We love Jamestown for the many sincere friends we found there…It was there that God converted our souls and set us free.’ Griffing died in 1925 and is buried alongside his wife in Redlands, California.