While at Harvard, Carrington was leader of the Liberal Union and a class marshal. After Harvard College, he received a law degree from Harvard Law School (’55) and later worked for the Peace Corps. Carrington went on to become U.S. ambassador to Nigeria.
Harkless, who was the first African American to be elected president of the Harvard Glee Club, attended Harvard Law School (’55) and became a distinguished labor lawyer.
Hughes, who studied mathematics at Harvard and later taught math in the Peace Corps, is the inventor of the first automated bank teller machine.
Simmons, who was the first African American to be elected president of the Harvard College Crimson, graduated from Harvard Law School and later became a captain in the U.S. Air Force and a lawyer.
These men are not only pioneers because they achieved so much as the only black undergraduates at Harvard at the time, but they also had to overcome America’s racism of that era, noted S. Allen Counter, director of the Harvard Foundation, who went on to say, “These men overcame tremendous odds and excelled in their fields to heights that only the best attain. They connect Harvard’s African-American past with its improved present and hopeful future.”
The reception, attended by more than 40 students and professors, was held in the Lowell Junior Common Room, the residence hall for Carrington and Harkless during their college years. Two of the honorees were present: Carrington and Harkless. Hughes, who was ill, was represented by his daughter, Amy S. Hughes ’78. Simmons, who was attending to his ill wife, was represented by his brother, Tom Simmons.
The reception was followed by dinner, during which the medal recipients and their families told stories about their days as undergraduates.
Carrington spoke of the many barriers that he and his fellow black classmates had to overcome at the College. He also mentioned that, although Harvard was partially segregated at the time (all four black men were separated from their peers and housed together in freshman dorms, while other ethnic groups, such as Asian Americans, were allowed to live with white students), he did not see as much blatant racism as he had expected.
Harkless expressed many of the same sentiments as Carrington. He also suggested that he had been very lucky in life and had escaped some of the manifestations of racism that had befallen many of his black peers. After his remarks, Harkless sang a stirring rendition of “Hold On,” a spiritual he had sung many times as a member of the Harvard Glee Club.
Four members of the Black Men’s Forum, Jon Barfield ’07, Lumumba Seegars ’09, Matthew Clair ’09, and Bryan Barnhill ’08, gave short tributes to each of the honorees.