NSTMF
Biological Sciences

Our Lives, Our Laureates: Evelyn Witkin

"The Bates Seven was a designation for seven undergraduates from New York University. I was one of them."

"The Bates Seven was a designation for seven undergraduates from New York University in 1940 and 1941. I was one of them. A group of us found out that the university had made agreements with some of the southern universities that in athletic events on the southern school’s home ground, NYU would agree to keep any black athletes at home. We found this unacceptable and began circulating a petition to protest NYU’s capitulation to what we thought was blatant racism.

A group of us found out that the university had made agreements that in athletic events on southern school’s home grounds they would keep any black athletes at home. We found this unacceptable.

Bates, who was our one black player on the NYU football team was kept home in the first game with Missouri. The university was not about to give in because of the contracts, which would have meant a large financial loss if they were broken. By March of my senior year the university administrators had decided they had to stop this somehow because it was beginning to be written about in the New York papers. They decided to stop it by suspending the seven leaders of the campaign…they found a pretext on which to suspend us for three months, which meant I couldn’t graduate with my class in May.

I had planned to stay at NYU for graduate work in genetics, but I decided to go to Columbia. My having gone to Columbia was the greatest blessing that ever happened to me professionally. I’m not sure I would be [a National Medal of Science Laureate] if New York University hadn’t decided that I was a bad girl in 1941."