A Lesson For Our Time

The Bordentown School, a rare symbol of hope for young black citizens in the years immediately following the abolition of slavery, is the subject of a new documentary film.

Photo by Lewis Hines.

In the decades after the abolition of slavery, the nation was little concerned with educating its young black citizens. Amid this oppression, the Bordentown School was a rare symbol of hope. The school—a coed, state-supported black institution founded in 1886—is the subject of A Place Out of Time, which premieres May 24 on PBS stations.

For 70 years, Bordentown turned out talented, empowered graduates. The film documents a reunion on the school’s former campus. “You were always built up,” says one alumna. “You were told, ‘You’re somebody, you’re important, you’re unique.’”

“The story is more than a nostalgia piece,” says director Dave Davidson. “For those who went through the Bordentown School, it was life-changing.”

Ironically, the Supreme Court-decreed end of “separate but equal” education was the deathknell for Bordentown, which closed in 1955. Yet the school leaves a lesson for our time. “The Bordentown model shows us the value of giving kids an environment where learning becomes central to their lives,” says Rutgers-Newark professor Clement Price. “And not just learning, but community becomes central to their lives.”

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