Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Twilight signaled a new day for Black education

By Sister Tarpley
NDG Religion Editor

Alexander Lucius Twilight (September 23, 1795 – June 19, 1857) was an American educator, minister, politician and husband.

He is the first Black man known to have earned a bachelor’s degree from an American college or university, graduating from Middlebury College in 1823.

This did not become widely known until 1826, when Amherst College awarded a bachelor’s degree to Edward Jones and claimed that he was the first Black college graduate, which prompted Middlebury College to publicize Twilight’s earlier graduation.

He was ordained as a Congregational Minister and worked in education and ministry all of his career.


Professor Alexander Twilight

In 1829 Twilight became principal of the Orleans County Grammar School. There he designed and built Athenian Hall, the first granite public building in the state of Vermont.
In 1836 he was the first Black person elected as a state legislator, serving in the Vermont House of Representatives; he was also the only Black person ever elected to a state legislature before the Civil War.

Twilight was the son of Ichabod and Mary Twilight, and was born in Corinth, Vermont. His father, Ichabod, was biracial, listed in the 1800 census in the racially ambiguous and complicated category: Others free except Indians.

Alexander Twilight entered Middlebury in 1821 and graduated in 1823. He became a teacher, first in Peru, New York (1824-1828), then Vergennes, Vermont (1828-1829).
He was ordained a Congregational clergyman in 1829, but chose to pursue a career in education. Twilight was appointed Principal of the Orleans County Grammar School in Brownington, Vermont and reportedly built the school building eventually known as the Brownington Academy with his own hands.

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He taught in Brownington from 1829-1847. During that period, he served as a representative to the State Legislature in 1836.

Twilight briefly relocated to Canada, teaching in Shipton (1848-1850) and Hatley (1850-1852), before returning to Brownington, where he again taught from 1852-1855.
Twilight has been noted as the first person of color to graduate from an American college, based, in part, on his father’s racial identity. Recent scholarship has complicated the history of Twilight’s Black identity, without diminishing his achievements as a student and alumni of the College.

Starting around 1802 when he was eight years old, Twilight worked for a neighboring farmer in Corinth. Working from an early age was typical of working-class children of his era.

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For the next 12 years he read, studied, and learned mathematics while working in various farm labor positions.

Twilight enrolled in Randolph’s Orange County Grammar School in 1815 at the age of 20. From 1815 to 1821, he completed all the institution’s secondary school courses as well as the first two years of a college-level curriculum.

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In October, 1855 Twilight suffered a stroke which left him partially paralyzed and caused him to retire as principal of the Brownington School. He died on June 19, 1857, and was buried at the Congregational church in Brownington.

On April 20, 1826, Twilight married Mercy Ladd Merrill of Unity, New Hampshire. They remained married until his death, and had no children.

His house and Athenian Hall are included in the Brownington Village Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP)


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