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 Record Group
Identifier: R-MC 082

Walton R. Johnson Papers


  • 1949-2001, bulk 1995-1999

Scope and Content Note

The Walton R. Johnson Papers consist of eleven manuscript boxes containing material that span the years between 1949 and 2001, with a concentration of material dating from 1995 to 1999. The events of the spring of 1995 is the focal point of the collection and is thoroughly documented.

The Personal Papers series includes correspondence, drafts of works in progress, newsletters, and research material on Francis Lawrence and Rutgers prior to 1995.

The Reaction series contains material that documents the reactions and events of spring 1995. Lawrence's statement on the "genetic hereditary background" of African Americans provoked a storm of debate and protest. Johnson made a determined effort to collect a comprehensive file of the press coverage of the events at Rutgers during the spring of 1995. He also compiled a record of the statements and public responses offered by individuals and organizations involved to the crisis. This material consists of copies of news stories, published reports, meeting minutes, official statements, and correspondence.

The Bomb Story series covers the bombing incidents that plagued the University in April and May of 1995 and consists largely of the official FBI report.

The Research Material series contains research material compiled by Johnson relating to the premises of the controversial book The Bell Curve (by Herrnstein and Murray) and race relations. A study of minority issues and race related topics form the substantive portion of the research material.


4.4 Cubic Feet (11 manuscript boxes)

Language of Materials


Acquisition Note

This collection was donated to Rutgers University Archives by Walton R. Johnson.


The papers of Walton R. Johnson, Professor of Social Anthropology, Department of Africana Studies at Rutgers University, contain material dated between 1949 and 2001. The bulk of the material covers the years 1995 to 1999. The collection was largely assembled by Johnson to chronicle the events at Rutgers University during the spring of 1995, a semester of crisis for the university ignited by racially insensitive remarks made by then Rutgers President Francis L. Lawrence. Johnson gathered copies of the extensive news coverage occasioned by the events at Rutgers. He also gathered research material on minority and race issues that are included in this collection along with some personal papers relating to course work and his own writings. In general, the papers consist of copies of news stories, draft copies, correspondence, position papers, and articles of interest.

<emph render="bold">Biographical Sketch</emph>

Walton R. Johnson was born in 1938. He trained in social anthropology. He received his PhD from the University of London in 1971. His areas of concentration include African political economy, South African race relations and U. S. race relations. Extensive field work in Africa resulted in the creation of some of his major works: Worship and Freedom: A Black American Church in Zambia (1977) and Dismantling Apartheid: A South African Town in Transition (1994). Johnson is also the editor of African Christianity: Patterns of Religious Continuity (1979) and Inside the Mixed Marriage: Accounts of Changing Attitudes, Patterns, and Perceptions of Cross-Cultural and Interracial Marriages (1994).

In addition to his teaching, Johnson as served as an Admission Counselor and as a former Dean of Livingston College. Johnson was teaching on the Livingston Campus during the spring of 1995 when reaction to Rutgers President Francis L. Lawrence's racially insensitive statement surfaced (see Historical Background below). He was instrumental in the formation of the Coalition of Black and Latino Faculty and Staff, which was a direct response to the situation. He also gathered and saved newspaper articles that were published almost daily on the state of affairs at Rutgers that serves as an important part of the collection chronicling the events of 1995.

Historical Background

The Statement:

". . . When you're looking at assessment, you got to look at the input. Do we assess in the same way at Rutgers that we would in an open admissions county college? Do we assess—let's look at the SATs. The average SAT for African-Americans is 750. Do we set standards in the future so that we don't admit anybody with the national test? Or do we deal with a disadvantaged population that doesn't have that genetic hereditary background to have a higher average."

-Francis L. Lawrence to Camden Faculty, November 11, 1994

Francis L. Lawrence became the eighteenth president of Rutgers, in the fall of 1990. His administration was not a popular one. Students and faculty had expressed dissatisfaction on various issues such as tuition and administrative policy during his term in office. However, it was his utterance of three words, "genetic hereditary background," which ignited a firestorm of protest and criticism.

President Lawrence addressed a Camden faculty meeting on November 11, 1994. During his speech, he made comments that included the phrase, "genetic hereditary background," referring to low African-American SAT scores. It was not until January 31, 1995 when Robert Braun, a Rutgers College graduate and a columnist for the Star-Ledger, made the remarks public that the controversy erupted. Reaction was swift and widespread. There were apologies, calls for his resignation, and statements of support for the beleaguered president. Rallies and protests were held both on and off campus. Demonstrations disrupted the Board of Governors meeting, caused the suspension of a February 7th men's basketball game, and blocked traffic on Route 18 leading to the arrest and trial of Rutgers University students. A hunger strike was held. Tensions on campus were high and the situation built up racial divides among the student population. There was an increase in reported bias incidents. The media spotlight was intense and race relations at Rutgers were closely examined in the press. A bomb exploded in the basement of the Mabel Douglass Library on the Douglass College campus of Rutgers and two more explosive devices were found in Rutgers libraries, as numerous bomb threats were received throughout the semester. The calm of the commencement exercises in May 1995 brought the turbulent semester to an end. However, it was not the end of trouble for President Lawrence. A decline in African-American enrollment at Rutgers and fewer black students accepting aid or scholarships to attend Rutgers were attributed to Lawrence's remarks. A diversity program proposed to heal wounds was initiated with the dissemination of a report titled the Multicultural Blueprint. Faculty dissatisfaction with Lawrence on academic issues and the university budget continued. There was a call by the NAACP for Lawrence's resignation in August 1995. The Board of Governors reaffirmed support for Lawrence in September 1995. Lawrence continued as president of Rutgers until his resignation in 2002, after which he stayed at Rutgers in the capacity of University Professor.

President Lawrence's controversial remarks which so inflamed the Rutgers community and beyond were perceived by many as reflecting theories proposed in the The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life by R. J. Herrnstein and C. Murray (1994). Their controversial conjectures linking genetics and performance prompted much discussion, articles and research.

Biographical / Historical

Chronology of Events

November 11, 1994
Dr. Francis L. Lawrence, President of Rutgers University, in an address before Camden faculty uses the phrase "genetic hereditary background" to explain low SAT scores for African-Americans.
January 31, 1995
The Rutgers Council of the AAUP distributes tapes of Lawrence's remarks. Robert Braun breaks the story in the Star-Ledger.
February 1, 1995
Lawrence issues formal apology. 500 students march through campus and demand his resignation. 700 students gather at the Busch Campus Center to plan action.
February 2, 1995
Lawrence appears at Newark and New Brunswick campuses and apologizes to students, faculty, and staff. Some students walk out rejecting his apology.
February 5, 1995
Universitywide Black and Latino Coalition formed at New Brunswick Meeting
February 6, 1995
Paul Robeson, Jr. requests forgiveness for Lawrence's remarks and asks for calm.
February 7, 1995
Rutgers vs. U Mass men's basketball game at the Louis Brown Athletic Center disrupted by student protest sit-in, causing suspension of the game.
February 10, 1995
The Rutgers Board of Governors issues statement of support for University President Lawrence while some students scuffle with police.
February 27, 1995
Protest rally led by former NAACP head, Benjamin Chavis, held on steps of State House in Trenton calling for Lawrence's resignation.
March 17, 1995
Lawrence announces creation of a multicultural college-based committee.
April 4, 1995
Small bomb explodes in an unoccupied basement level of the Mabel Smith Douglass Library on the Douglass College campus. No injuries are reported.
April 5, 1995
Several bomb threats are received following the Douglass Library blast.
April 7, 1995
A second bomb placed inside hollowed-out book in Douglass Library is removed without incident.
April 12, 1995
Students participate in "Day of Outrage" calling for Lawrence's resignation. Protestors disrupt traffic during Route 18 demonstration.
May 12, 1995
Eleven Rutgers University students charged with disorderly conduct stemming from April 12th protest.
May 21, 1995
Commencement exercises proceed without incident
May 24, 1995
Third bomb discovered among books in the Paul Robeson Library on the Rutgers-Camden campus. This is the third time in two months that an explosive device has been planted on Rutgers. The FBI, city and county authorities, and the Rutgers police investigate.
June 9, 1995
Board of Governors adopts the Multicultural Blueprint, an outline of a diversity program submitted by Lawrence to ease tensions around the university.
August 1995
NAACP calls for Lawrence's resignation.
September 18, 1995
Board of Governors issue statement of support for Lawrence in response to faculty petition calling for his removal.
February 29, 1996
Trial begins for three students for charges stemming from April 12, 1995 protest.

Arrangement Note

The Papers of Walton R. Johnson are arranged in the following series:

  1. I. Personal Papers, 1990-2001
  2. II. Reaction, 1990-2001
  3. III. Bomb Story, 1995-2000
  4. IV. Research Material, 1949-2001

Related Material

The Records of the Faculty Alliance for Rutgers (FAR), R-MC 069 contain material related to Rutgers faculty members who were dissatisfied with President Lawrence. For more information, see The Inventory to the Records of the Faculty Alliance for Rutgers (FAR).

Separated Material

The following bound publications were removed from the collection:

  1. Council on Foreign Relations Inc. Foreign Affairs 77 No. 5 (September/October 1998).
  2. Southern Poverty Law Center, Intelligence Report Issue 90 (Spring 1998).
  3. Southern Poverty Law Center, Intelligence Report Issue 98 (Spring 2000).
  4. Southern Poverty Law Center, Intelligence Report Issue 99 (Summer 2000).
  5. Southern Poverty Law Center, Intelligence Report, Issue 101 (Spring 2001).
  6. Journal of Blacks in Higher Education No. 18 (Winter 1997/1998).
  7. Symbols, Social Action and Human Peace: Papers in Honor of Mary Lecron Foster: Special Edition of Human Peace 11, No. 4 (Summer 1998).

Processing Note

Johnson used whatever paper was on hand to print articles and other research material. This practice led to some interesting reverse sides in the collection. Some reverses have previously printed passages or student papers and others have personal papers including draft copies of Johnson's own writing. Some sheets with news stories printed on both sides or when text shared a page were photocopied; a pencil note was made on reverse of the side that was copied and filed (this reverse copied/filed or "News Organization's Init" text copied/filed: as appropriate) or copy already in collection: filed. An effort was made to keep the side with highlights by Johnson as file original. When this was not possible because both sides were highlighted and the highlight did not show up on the photocopies, then the side with the least highlights was copied and brackets were drawn by pencil around formerly highlighted portions and pencil note made by the arranger (bracketed section highlighted on original by WJ).

Copies were made of all original newspaper articles. Folders where original articles still exists are tagged by a pink slip. Staples showing signs of rust were removed.

Folders are arranged alphabetically within series and items in each folder are set in chronological order. Any exceptions are noted in series descriptions below.

Guide to the Walton R. Johnson Papers, 1949-2001 R-MC 082
Edited Full Draft
Catherine Kayola
March 2006
Language of description note
Finding aid is written in English.

Part of the Rutgers University Archives Repository

Rutgers University Libraries
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