Furnald Hall Video Transcript

Columbia University and Slavery


[Description: video begins by panning over a drawing of King’s College, which later became Columbia University. There is no audio, only text]

Columbia Enslavers 1740-1820

According to census records, Columbia administrators, trustees, and professors enslaved at least 227 people in 1790, 148 in 1800, 70 in 1810, and 9 in 1820.

Researchers, including undergraduate members of the Columbia University and Slavery seminar, have identified over 150 individuals enslaved by King’s College and Columbia affiliates. 

The true number of men, women, and children held in bondage between 1741 and 1827 was undoubtedly much higher.


[Description: video transitions to a picture of the 2019 Columbia University & Slavery seminar meeting with President Lee Bollinger]

The Columbia University & Slavery Seminar

First offered by the History Department in 2015, the Columbia University & Slavery seminar is an undergraduate research course that runs during the fall semester. 

Student researchers in the seminar have led the way in discovering and examining Columbia’s connections to the history and legacies of enslavement.


[Description: background changes to a picture of members of the 2020 Columbia University & Slavery seminar viewing archival documents in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library]

Student researchers

Students in the Columbia University and Slavery Project seminars have spent years examining archival documents and other historical sources to discover these hidden and forgotten stories.


[Description: background changes to a picture of students in 2017 in the Columbia 1968 seminar posing while taking a walking tour of campus]


[Description: video of student on zoom talking, no audio]

Olganydia Plata Aguilera 
Columbia College '23

"Whenever I just walk around campus, I'm just kind of reminded of this research, and this history, and this knowledge…

What I would like to see on campus is more spaces where we can acknowledge that history but also make a space where we can also celebrate joy."


[Description: Old colored photograph of Furnald Hall on Columbia’s Campus with a football field and bleachers in front of the building. Photo sourced from the Historical Photograph Collection in Columbia’s Archives]

Furnald Hall
Klansmen on Campus

After midnight, on April 3, 1924, 20 figures wearing the white hoods of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) planted a large cross in front of Furnald Hall and set it on fire.

Opposed to Black and white students living together, the men, dressed in Klan costumes, hoped that their act of terrorism would intimidate Frederick W. Wells, a Black law student who had recently moved into a room in Furnald Hall, forcing him to live off campus.


[Description: video pans over Columbia Spectator article from April 15, 1908, describing activities of the Southern Club]

Racism on Campus

Racism permeated campus life in the early 20th century. Southern clubs, blackface humor, and minstrelsy were part of Columbia's culture.

There were rumors that a student branch of the Ku Klux Klan met secretly in Hartley Hall, and at the 1923 Commencement exercises, such reports appeared to be confirmed, when uniformed members of the KKK paraded, “in broad daylight, with the blistering sun overhead and no attempt at secrecy.”


[Description: video highlights title of article in the issue of the Columbia Spectator newspaper in the background. Title reads: “Southern Club Holds Social Meeting.”]


[Description: the next slide in the video shows a photo of a Columbia University elevator operator from an issue of the Columbia Spectator dated December 9, 1948. The photo shows a Black elevator operator holding the door for two male students. The title of the photo in the newspaper is ‘Hold that Elevator.” The caption reads: “Dudley McCollin, Hartley elevator operator, holds the “hoist” for one more passenger, as the unidentified student on the left voices his disapproval of the delay.”]

Furnald a Site of "Bad Feeling" 

Furnald Hall in the 1920s was known as a site of racism and "bad feeling." Roughly 15 percent of residents were white Southerners, whereas members of the staff were predominantly Black.

Incidents of racism and prejudice were common. White residents at first thought that Frederick Wells himself was a delivery person or elevator operator.

When several Southern students eventually did identify him as a resident, they made threats and demanded that he leave.


[Description: video shows newspaper clipping of article about Frederick Wells being threatened by the KKK in the Evening World, April 5, 1924]

Wells Refuses to Leave

Although he received two threatening letters from the KKK in the aftermath of the cross burning, Frederick Wells resolved to stand firm.

"I came here to get an education and went through the customary procedure in obtaining my room," he said.


[Description: video of student speaking on zoom, no audio]

Tommy Song
Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism '22

"I hope these histories may inspire all of us to be vigilant about how our actions and behaviors are influencing others, because I think any systemic change starts with the personal and the interpersonal, and–eventually–the political."


[Description: black and white photo of Furnald Hall in background, with young men playing sports on the field in front of the building]

The NAACP Supports Wells

Wells's stand earned attention from across the country, including from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which sent Wells a telegram of support:

I wish to express the admiration which the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People feels for the manly stand which you have taken in the matter of the protest against your presence as a resident in Furnald Hall, Columbia University. We feel that you appreciate that in this case you are not merely an individual, but you are representing the hopes and aims of the best and bravest in the Negro race today. (April 3, 1924)


[Description: video transitions to article clipping from Columbia Spectator on April 4, 1924. The article title reads: “COLUMBIA RESIDENTS DID NOT BURN CROSS, AUTHORITIES BELIEVE.” The subtitle reads: “Faculty Deprecates Theory Involving Students in Flaming Protest Against Negro.” The third heading reads: “UNDERGRADUATES SIGN PAPER BACKING WELLS.” The fourth section reads: “150 Furnald Men Approve Statement Condemning Hall Committee’s Action.” Under this heading the article snippet reads: “It was the sentiment of University authorities yesterday that Columbia students were not implicated in the burning of a cross on South Field]

Columbia's Cover-Up

Columbia's leaders took the cross-burning seriously enough to have three NYPD detectives stationed at Furnald Hall to protect Wells against future attacks.

Publicly, however, the University hoped to get past the incident as quickly as possible.

No formal investigation appears to have been made to discover the identity of the hooded men, and administrators flatly denied that the figures in Klan robes could have possibly been students. Moving on was the primary goal.

"I hope that the whole matter will blow over in the course of a day or two and that the University will not be injured by the incident," a dean wrote to an important institutional benefactor.

[Description: new slide with picture of Frederick Wells]

Wells's Career after Columbia

Frederick Wells finished the term in Furnald Hall. Although he had already paid for summer accommodations in Hartley Hall–and had reserved his room in Furnald for the following year– he did not return to Columbia Law School.

Instead, he left the University to complete his law studies at Cornell. Wells's dramatic encounter with residential segregation influenced the rest of his career.

He spent his professional life working to improve living conditions for disadvantaged people. His efforts led to several model housing developments in Harlem and the

Bronx. Frederick W. Wells died in 1979.


[Description: partial picture of Columbia University application asking for a photograph showing the applicant’s full face, as well as asking for other personal details]

A 1932 college application included a space for a photo of the applicant's face. This allowed administrators to identify prospective students by race, without having to ask directly.


[Description: picture of first page of Columbia College application for admission from early 20th Century, taken from the Columbia University Archives]

Columbia Institutes Formal Segregation

In the summer of 1925, a few months after the cross-burning, Columbia's residence hall submission forms–for the first time ever–included a space for applicants to identify themselves by race. This line in the application was accompanied by an explanation that the information was required, "in order to assist in congenial grouping in the halls."

As Black students at the time noted, this represented a major step backward in race relations at Columbia University.


[Description: video of student on zoom talking, no audio]

Stella Kazibwe
Columbia College '22

"Yes, we're talking about history. But, at the same time, a lot of this is still happening, and it's very current."


[Description: video proceeds to closing words against picture of Columbia University in the background]

Next Steps

Learn More at the Columbia University & Slavery website.


Take the Seminars and research Columbia University's historical connections to enslavement and its legacies.




Information in this presentation was researched by the following individuals:

Charlette Caldwell

Thomas Germain

Trey Greenough

Thai Jones

Stella Kazibwe

Joshua Morrison

Olganydia Plata Aguilera

Tommy Song

and by participants in the Columbia University & Slavery and Columbia 1968 seminars


With Support From

Columbia University Office of the President

Columbia University Office of the Provost


Columbia University Libraries