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“Going South: William Fontaine’s Trip to Virginia, 1948”

In the following article drawn from his book, Black Philosopher, White Academy: The Career of William Fontaine, University of Pennsylvania historian Bruce Kuklick introduces us to the world of  philosopher William Fontaine, one of the few African American faculty members at an Ivy League institution in the late 1940s and the only black person then on the University of Pennsylvania faculty.     

In the spring of 1947 the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia appointed William Fontaine to a one-year visiting lectureship in its Department of Philosophy for the academic year 1947-48. The black man at once took leave of Morgan State College, an African American school in Maryland that had hired him after World War II as Professor and Chairman of its Philosophy Department. Pennsylvania repeated the arrangement for 1948-49.  As part of his entrée into the white academic world, in the summer of 1948, Fontaine applied to take a place in the American Philosophical Association, a prestigious scholarly organization that one could not merely join with a check. The APA traditionally held its annual conventions over the Christmas holidays of the collegiate world, and at the end of 1948 Fontaine made plans to attend the gathering of the premier Eastern Division of the Association. The University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia, a few hours to the south, would host the meeting where the APA would formally Fontaine accept into full membership.

Fontaine got a ride down and back with his colleague at Pennsylvania, Nelson Goodman, who was to become known as one of the most formidable professional American philosophers in the fifty years after World War II.  Morton White, regarded as an influential student of American thought, also traveled in the car. He taught at Pennsylvania for a few years in the late 1940s and later went to Harvard University and then to a lifetime appointment at the Institute of Advanced Study located near Princeton University. On the way back, Goodman filled his car by giving a lift to the