Getting to Know Alexander – Part 3 of our Celebration of Black History Month
By Alexander Twilight Girls, Gabrielle (Gaby) Anzalone & Esme Kimber.
Racial discrimination is an ongoing issue in the United States. Fortunately, there are people who are willing to risk everything to make a difference in the world. Throughout the years, there have been people who crossed racial boundaries. We now believe Alexander Twilight was one of those courageous, progressive people.
We have been researching Alexander Twilight thoroughly for over a year. We spent about five months, under the instruction of Jennifer Manwell, preparing to display an exhibit at Vermont History Day. As a result, we earned the opportunity to compete at the national level in Washington D.C. We also wrote an essay to procure a spot for our exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History for a day. Next, we were asked to present at Boston History Camp to a room filled with history lovers. This opportunity allowed us to share the story of Alexander Twilight with the City of Boston and the many people who came from various states. We are scheduled to present at the Old Stone House Museum on April, 26th to celebrate volunteers in the community. We also have been asked to present at the Ryegate and Corinth Historical Societies in the upcoming season.
When we began studying Twilight, we expected his life to be ordinary; he went to college and became a school teacher. However, as we dove into our research, we uncovered many questions we wanted answered. What was Twilight’s true legacy? Why did he start appearing as white in the census records? Why did his father disappear? The Old Stone House Museum staff provided us with primary sources including census records, newspaper clippings, a painted rendition of Twilight, and the only existing tintype photo.
Twilight became known as the first African American to graduate from an American college. Of course, at the time, it is probable that the college was unaware that he was not white since his skin was so light. We discovered that, when Twilight applied to Middlebury College, he was no longer categorized in census reports as African American. In fact, Middlebury had a policy not to admit African Americans. According to Michael T. Hahn, in his book “Alexander Twilight: Vermont’s African American Pioneer”, a number of African American men, who applied not long after Twilight, were rejected on those terms. We also believe that when he joined the State Legislature, they would not have permitted him to serve if they knew he was black. He overcame so many obstacles in his young life in order to succeed so markedly as a scholar and teacher. He needed to be driven, determined, and persistent in order to be creative enough to escape the poverty of his rural location, his indentured servitude which started at age eight, and others’ biases toward people with African American heritage.
Twilight’s legacy still lives on today. He left an impact on us and how we perceive the world, giving us new insight into racial issues. We now can better identify racist comments and can stop ourselves from accidentally disparaging people affected by delicate issues. We learn new things about Twilight weekly and, as we continue to examine his life, we discover facts we can use to create an ongoing debate. Is it okay to ignore your race in order to reach your goals? Were Twilight’s students aware he was African American and would it have mattered to them? People usually take their right to an education for granted, but, after researching Twilight’s struggles in being able to receive schooling, we looked at our own education with fresh eyes.
We love sharing the story of Alexander Twilight because he played such a crucial role in our history. We encourage others to check out our blog, and we hope his story will affect our readers in the same important ways getting to know Twilight affected us.
We thank the Old Stone House Museum for providing us with many primary sources. We would also like to thank our teacher Jennifer Manwell because we never could have come this far in our research without her. We continue to study Twilight’s life and his time period. Wednesdays, we meet at 7:30 AM at Bread and Butter in St Johnsbury, Vermont and post regularly to our blog as the Alexander Twilight Girls. Visit our blog at http://alexandertwilightgirls.weebly.com
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