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Bittersweet Victory


In the sea of commentaries on the meaning of Barack Obama’s victory, one by Roger Angell ’42 stands out.

Last week’s New Yorker had a pithy meditation by Angell on the life of one of his classmates, Lucien Victor Alexis Jr.

Alexis was the only black member of the class of 1942; Angell describes the stir caused when the Harvard lacrosse team, of which Alexis was a member, played at Annapolis in 1940. The Navy team’s coach refused to let his team take the field until the Harvard coach pulled Alexis from the game. (The coach protested, but was overruled by the Harvard athletic director.) Angell describes the mixed reaction that followed:

There was a subsequent campus protest at Harvard, a petition was signed (I can’t remember if I signed it), and soon afterward the Harvard Athletic Association announced that Harvard would never again withdraw a player for reasons of race. Harvard’s president, James B. Conant, had been away in Europe at the time of the lacrosse incident, but when he came back he apologized to the commanding admiral at Annapolis for the breach of cordial relations that Harvard had occasioned by bringing Lucien Alexis along.

From an old reunion report, Angell pulls the facts of Alexis's later life, including a degree from Harvard Business School (he was accepted to Harvard Medical School, then told he could not attend, because there were no other black students in the class and therefore nobody for him to room with).

Read the rest of the article here.