In the fall of 1869, a young Black man entered Iowa Wesleyan University with the freshman class. A brief notice in the Friday, October 8, 1869, edition of "The Mount Pleasant Journal," announced his admission:

One of the best scholars in the Freshman class, of our College, is a colored boy, who was a slave five years ago. Democrats, prepare to howl.

In reply to this article, on Wednesday, October 13, 1869, "The Henry County Press" published the following response from a student who signed off as, FRESHMAN:

EDITOR PRESS: - Noticing an article in the Journal of last week, advancing the idea that "one of the smartest students in the Freshman class is a Negro," and considering it the grossest injustice to the laudable merits of that class, we deem a plain statement of the facts in the case justly due them. We are not provoked to do this through any prejudice we entertain toward the Negro, but simply desire to "give the devil his due" under all circumstances. How the editor of the Journal received the facts upon which to found such a statement is a mystery to us, as none of the Faculty nor any of the students, who are acquainted with his abilities, would desire to make such an unjust impression upon the public mind.

In the first place, the Negro referred to is not properly a member of the "Freshman class," being a year behind it in mathematics; and in some of the remaining recitations, is unqualified to recite with the "Freshmen" at all. As far as being "one of the smartest members" is concerned, if the editor refers to natural endowments, he misses the truth even farther than if reference (sic) was had only to scholastic attainments.

After having made the ungrounded statement of this colored gentleman’s position in the college, the editor closes with, "Democrats prepare to howl."

We are not one of those, whatever our political sentiments may be, who would stand in the way, or in any manner discourage the Negro in his attempts to bring himself up from the intellectual degradation consequent upon his long debasement in slavery. Upon the other hand, we would encourage him; open to him the public schools, academies and colleges, and let him derive full benefit from the high educational advantages which our country affords. Nevertheless, we do not believe that the Negro is an exception to the rule that "every man should stand or fall upon his own worth," and we can see no reason why this Negro, who has happened to attend the college and recite one or two studies with the "Freshmen," or rather, who is present occasionally at some of their classes, (for he has not had a good recitation during the term) should be called one of the best members of the class. If the editor of the Journal thinks to taunt "democrats" with specimens of Negro excellence, he will have to make better selections than he has made in the present case. The truth is, as any one who knows anything about it will tell the worthy editor, that so far from this youth of "African descent" being one of the best members of the "Freshman class," he is not a member of that class at all, and is decidedly minus in all his studies. One of the Professors remarked, upon seeing the article, that "Mr. D----- was best only in non-attendance."

But it is an old failing of the "local" of the Journal to talk about things of which he knows nothing, and that this method of proceeding often leaves a wrong impression upon the public mind there cannot be the least doubt. To denominate this individual "one of the best in the class" is a wrong and an injustice, inasmuch as those acquainted with the Negro, and unacquainted with the "Freshmen," would unhesitatingly pronounce them "non compus mentis." - "FRESHMAN."

Two days later (October 15, 1869), in rebuttal to FRESHMAN’s comments, "The Mount Pleasant Journal", published this:

In reply to FRESHMAN, who, in the "Press," takes exceptions to our item about the colored student, we will state: Senator Harlan, President of the Iowa Wesleyan University, informed us that the colored boy was a member of the Freshman Class, and that he (Senator Harlan) examined him in the studies necessary for a student to pursue as a member of such class. If he is not a member of that class, we were wrongly informed by Senator Harlan, but we have no idea that such was the case. FRESHMAN pretends to be very fair and honest, but he starts out by misquoting our item. We said, "one of the best scholars" and we meant to convey the idea that he was one of the "best" as far as being studious and attentive to his studies was concerned, but we desire to make no apology for what we wrote. It was not our intention to do injustice to any member of that class, and as FRESHMAN says, he "would not stand in the way, or, in any manner discourage the Negro in his attempts to bring himself up from intellectual degradation."

Our article upon this same subject in another column, written before we saw the "Press," will not apply to him, as we presume a gentleman entertaining such ideas as above quoted would not bluster and blow, as we hear some of the young gentlemen have done.

Excerpts from another column of the same issue, "The Mount Pleasant Journal," October 15, 1869:

We understand that some of the young men attending College are very indignant about our item concerning the colored boy who is attending that institution. We made the item as an item of news – to let the outside world know that the Iowa Wesleyan University does not close its doors to any student merely because the God who created us all saw fit to give him a dark skin. What we said was upon good authority and no amount of bluster and blowing on the part of a few young men will convince the people that such is not the case…Attend closely to your studies. If, at the examination next Spring, you prove yourselves smarter then your colored classmate, we will tell the people so. Six years ago, the N---- who you now wish to drive from the halls of the College, carried the chains of the slave. Through the workings of Providence, he now enjoys freedom and he has cast his lot in a State where the rights of all men are acknowledged…That colored boy has a scholarship, furnished him by R.M. Pickel, he underwent an examination, was admitted to the institution, and you nice little fellows can rest assured that he will remain there.

This next article, published two weeks later, seems to be the final and last to publicly report the controversy surrounding the 1869 admittance of a colored student to Iowa Wesleyan University. It appeared October 29, 1869, in "The Mount Pleasant Journal".

We publish below the correspondence which passed between the students of the College who desired the removal of the "obnoxious" colored boy now attending that institution, and R.M. Pickel.

We, the undersigned, students of the Iowa Wesleyan University, not believing in the social equalization of the races, consider the admission of Negroes into our classes in college an imposition, and an insult upon us as students, a nuisance with which, for the present term, we have thus far borne, not knowing where to apply for redress. After consideration, we now respectfully request the Hon. R.M. Pickel, if it is in his power, to remove the Negro now in our institution, and thus restore our wonted harmony. Although we bear no personal antipathy to the individual in question, we protest against his remaining, believing at the same time there are ample opportunities for his acquiring an education, and such as are far better adapted to his advancement, elsewhere. Knowing as we do the injurious effect of the present state of affairs on our Institution, and the probability of our students withdrawing their patronage, we hope to not present this in vain. John Lauder and nineteen others in the Iowa Wesleyan University.

Gentlemen: Your letter in reference to Thomas E. Dorch (colored man) asking his removal from the college is before me, and I most cheerfully reply, that before I made any arrangements to educate him, I was very careful to confer with most of the faculty belonging in the Institution, as well as in many of the most prominent citizens and friends of the Institution, and in no instance was there any objection.

I could not consent to do anything that would impose "unpleasant relations" upon any student in that University, or injure in any manner its success, but when I am asked to withdraw a student from whose education I am responsible, merely because he is a Negro and the social relation is obnoxious, I most respectfully decline the honor. My notion of the Negro question and the settlement thereof is, and must rest upon the fact that they be educated, and believing this the true policy towards these people, hence you have on my responsibility in the College this Negro.

Again, there are quite a number of colored children in our Public Schools and in classes where my own children belong, but I must confess the just inability to complain, so long as they conform to the rules of the schools.

It does occur to me, dear friends, that so long as the deportment of this Negro, conforms to the rules and regulations of the institution, and there is no complaint from the "Faculty," it would be gross injustice to deny him the right of a free race in life.

I feel sure that with a careful thought on your part, you will concur with me on the course I propose to pursue.

Should this "Student," in anything as ungentlemanly or insultingly, or in any manner treat with disrespect any "student," I pledge you all the powers and influence I have, (if any) to make the removal you desire.

With my highest wish for the prosperity and success, of each and all of you, "Students," and with the hope that you will carefully again consider the matter, which you have so gentlemanly called to attention before pressing your wish.
I am, Gentlemen,
Yours, Very Truly,

Susan Mosley (1861-1928) – Recognized as the first African American graduate of Iowa Wesleyan University in 1885, sixteen years after Thomas E. Dortch attended.
Thomas E. Dortch (1851-1900) – Born in Tennessee; does not appear in any IWU class registers; became a barber; lived for a time in Lincoln, NE, where he participated in community affairs; buried in Mt. Pleasant’s Forest Home Cemetery in an unmarked grave.
Rufus M. Pickel (1820-1878) – Born in Tennessee; teller at the Henry County Whig convention, 1844; appointed tax assessor of the First District of Iowa; real estate agent and notary public.
John W. Lauder (1850-1924) – Born in New York; appears in IWU class registers, 1869-1870, but no record of graduation from IWU; became a medical doctor.
Editor of "The Mount Pleasant Journal" – Mr. Hatton.
Editor of "The Henry County Press" – R.H. Copeland.

Information compiled by Pat White, March 2022.

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