The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon
Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon

James Breeden

James Pleasant Breeden was born on October 14, 1934 in Minneapolis, Minnesota to Florence Beatrice Thomas, a secretary and homemaker, and Pleasant George Breeden, a railroad dining car waiter. He was raised by his mother and stepfather Noah Smith and attended Harrison Elementary School and Lincoln Junior High School, both in Minneapolis. In 1952, Breeden graduated from North High School in Minneapolis and attended Dartmouth College.

In 1956, Breeden graduated cum laude from Dartmouth College with his B.A. degree. Two years later, he married Jeanne Marie Savoye in Geneva, Switzerland. The following year, Breeden obtained a certificate from the University of Geneva in connection with his work at the Ecumenical Institute World Council of Churches in Bossey, Switzerland. In 1960, Breeden graduated from Union Theological Seminary with his M.Div degree and moved to Boston, where he joined the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.

From 1960 until 1965, Breeden was a member of the Episcopal Diocese as a deacon, priest and canon at St. James Church and St. Paul’s Cathedral. He became an advisor to Bishop Anson Phelps Stokes in the area of civil rights. During this period, Breeden was heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1961, he participated in the Freedom Rides and was arrested in Jackson, Mississippi for “action likely to cause a riot.” He and others were later freed when the case was dismissed. In 1963, Breeden helped organize the first “Stay out for Freedom” event in Boston protesting the city’s lack of quality public education for African American students. The following year, Breeden was involved in rent strikes against landlords who were taking advantage of their tenants.

Breeden joined the National Council of Churches’ activist leadership in 1965, where he would remain for two years coordinating non-violent mass protests. In 1967, Breeden became the Director for the Commission on Church and Race for the Massachusetts Council of Churches during the time of the Boston race riots. In 1969, Breeden joined the faculty at Harvard Graduate School of Education, and in 1972 he earned his Ed.D. degree from the school. Breeden moved to Tanzania and became Professor of Education at the University of Dar Es Salaam in 1973, where he set up a master’s degree program in education administration.

Breeden returned to Boston two years later, joining the Citywide Coordinating Council in 1976 and monitoring the Boston Public Schools’ compliance with the federal order to desegregate. In 1980, Breeden became a Senior Officer for Planning and Policy at Boston Public Schools. Breeden became a dean at Dartmouth College in 1984 of the William Jewett Tucker Foundation. In 1994, Breeden became a visiting scholar at the Howard Graduate School of Education, and in 2001 joined the School for International Training as adjunct faculty.

Breeden was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on September 12, 2007.

Accession Number

A2007.258

Sex

Male

Interview Date

9/12/2007

Last Name

Breeden

Schools

Dartmouth College

William H. Harrison Elementary School

Abraham Lincoln Junior High School

North High School

Harvard Graduate School of Education

Union Theological Seminary

First Name

James

Birth City, State, Country

Minneapolis

HM ID

BRE02

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Minnesota

Favorite Vacation Destination

Caribbean

Favorite Quote

If You Do Anything Significant In History, It’s Because Many People Were Working On It Before You; Or, If Anything Comes Out of It, It Will Be Because There Will Be Many People Working On It After You.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Massachusetts

Birth Date

10/14/1934

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Greenfield

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Curry

Short Description

Civil rights leader, academic administrator, and priest James Breeden (1934 - ) became a dean at Dartmouth College in 1984. In 1994, Breeden became a visiting scholar at the Howard Graduate School of Education, and in 2001 joined the School for International Training as adjunct faculty.

Employment

Diocese of Massachusetts

St. James Episcopal Church

Cathedral Church of St. Paul

University of Dar es Salaam

Citywide Coordinating Council

Boston Public Schools

Harvard Graduate School of Education

Howard University

School for International Training Graduate Institute

Favorite Color

Fall Colors

Timing Pairs
0,0:11463,104:12473,118:18080,151:18520,156:25022,213:27090,246:37006,395:37852,406:51145,503:57635,553:67600,637:73190,691:75936,706:76331,712:94084,926:95585,947:97876,997:99693,1075:100799,1094:107450,1138:108230,1153:108490,1158:109075,1169:109595,1179:113537,1214:114265,1224:117788,1248:125430,1301:126442,1313:128282,1340:129202,1351:134434,1397:148184,1567:159310,1706:165350,1764:166520,1782:174023,1856:174646,1865:177356,1891:179520,1909$0,0:0,6:320,11:640,16:960,28:3680,93:4960,109:5440,116:13676,164:15608,185:16160,192:17080,203:20790,217:21170,222:22405,263:24590,302:26812,314:27586,326:28790,343:29736,355:30596,367:31542,381:32058,388:36150,399:36510,404:39050,421:40562,441:41654,456:43082,474:43586,481:48002,494:52600,518:54532,534:57476,572:57844,577:60972,613:61800,623:62536,633:67715,651:69125,663:78428,741:78800,746:83391,763:84103,773:84459,781:85082,790:91110,821:92034,836:92790,847:93294,860:93966,870:95898,904:96402,912:97410,930:97830,936:102366,1014:109574,1081:111275,1107:111842,1116:113057,1238:113786,1249:114758,1264:115163,1270:123270,1346:125830,1355:126478,1365:126766,1370:131780,1416:133205,1432:134345,1446:135200,1453:135865,1462:136340,1468:140115,1491:143810,1529:146870,1565:147590,1574:148760,1589:159958,1668:165040,1805:165348,1810:166349,1828:167196,1844:168274,1861:168736,1871:169352,1883:170122,1894:171662,1919:175820,1929:176450,1938:176810,1943:177530,1953:185255,2039:185579,2044:186065,2052:197737,2191:207924,2303:213850,2348:215140,2356
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of James Breeden's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - James Breeden lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - James Breeden describes his mother's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - James Breeden describes his mother's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - James Breeden describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - James Breeden talk about how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - James Breeden describes his parents' personalities

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - James Breeden describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - James Breeden describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - James Breeden talks about the politics of Minneapolis, Minnesota

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - James Breeden describes his home life

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - James Breeden recalls the role of religion in his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - James Breeden describes his involvement in the Boy Scouts of America

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - James Breeden recalls the entertainment of his youth

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - James Breeden remembers William H. Harrison Elementary School in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - James Breeden recalls Abraham Lincoln Junior High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - James Breeden describes North High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - James Breeden remembers the World Scout Jamboree in Austria

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - James Breeden describes his social life at North High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - James Breeden remembers graduating as salutatorian

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - James Breeden describes his experiences at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - James Breeden describes the political climate at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - James Breeden recalls his experiences of racial discrimination at Dartmouth College

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - James Breeden remembers the Dartmouth Christian Union

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - James Breeden recalls his mentors at Dartmouth College

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - James Breeden recalls his induction to the Palaeopitus Senior Society

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - James Breeden recalls the Union Theological Seminary in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - James Breeden talks about Operation Crossroads Africa

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - James Breeden recalls his trip to Nigeria with Operation Crossroads Africa

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - James Breeden reflects upon his experiences in Nigeria

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - James Breeden remembers his wedding in Switzerland

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - James Breeden talks about his travels in Africa

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - James Breeden recalls his mentors at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - James Breeden remembers the Civil Rights Movement in New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - James Breeden recalls his involvement in the Freedom Rides, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - James Breeden recalls his involvement in the Freedom Rides, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - James Breeden describes his role in the Civil Rights Movement in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - James Breeden remember Bishop Anson Phelps Stokes III

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - James Breeden recalls the civil rights issues in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - James Breeden recalls organizing rent strikes in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - James Breeden remembers the Highlander Folk School in New Market, Tennessee

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - James Breeden talks about his training as a community organizer

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - James Breeden recalls his role in Massachusetts Governor John A. Volpe's election, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - James Breeden recalls his role in Massachusetts Governor John A. Volpe's election, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - James Breeden describes the school desegregation crisis in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - James Breeden talks about the activist community in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - James Breeden reflects upon the desegregation of schools in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - James Breeden reflects upon the legacy of desegregation in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - James Breeden describes his role at Harvard Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - James Breeden recalls teaching abroad in Tanzania

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - James Breeden remembers Charles Willie

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - James Breeden recalls the William Jewett Tucker Foundation in Hanover, New Hampshire

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - James Breeden talks about The Dartmouth Review

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - James Breeden remembers his retirement

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - James Breeden talks about a former student

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - James Breeden describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - James Breeden reflects upon his life

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - James Breeden reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - James Breeden reflects upon his family

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - James Breeden talks about the black experience

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - James Breeden describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - James Breeden narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$4

DAStory

6$9

DATitle
James Breeden recalls his involvement in the Freedom Rides, pt. 2
James Breeden recalls the civil rights issues in Boston, Massachusetts
Transcript
We were immediately arrested and taken to Jackson city jail [Jackson, Mississippi]. We stayed there six days 'til the trial occurred. One of the guys from Washington, D.C. was a very dark with short cut hair and when they asked him his race, he said, "Human." And so they interrogated him for about an hour to try to figure out which cell to put him in (laughter) and they finally figured out, correctly, that he was white (unclear) so they got him into the right cell unit. We were put on trial; the judge was an Episcopalian. He read to us from the prayer book about how we were supposed to obey the civil authorities. And found us guilty of, in some kind of weird thing, like behavior that was--that might cause civil disturbance or something like that, very vague kind of thing. And, anyway, there wasn't anybody there to disturb the civil (laughter) whatever, so we got bailed out, two stayed in. We got bailed--the rest got bailed out, several went to Detroit [Michigan] to the General Convention [General Convention of the Episcopal Church LX] to try to get some energy around some motions in the Episcopal--for the Episcopal church to take some positions, which was successful. They stopped off at a suburb of Detroit, which was a no blacks, probably no Jews, quota suburb, and probably significant number of Episcopalians to illustrate northern, you know, behavior of the Episcopal church. We stopped--I can't remember if it was that trip or not, but there had been a big controversy at Sewanee University [The University of the South], the Episcopal school in Tennessee [Sewanee, Tennessee] that had a theological unit to it. And all the theological faculty had resigned because the, the university wouldn't change its policies on race. We went there and visited with the, with the whatever rector or president of that, but at any rate, that was part of the, of the, of a kind of continuum.$Well, what were some of the issues here in Boston [Massachusetts] that you--$$Well, the, the biggest one was school desegregation. And twice I was to serve at the center of a a--an--a effort successful effort to get kids from the Roxbury [Boston, Massachusetts] schools, these would be the segregated schools, to stay out of school and go to alternative schools and churches, and social centers to call attention to the quality and lack of integration of schools in Boston Public Schools. So that was a big one. In housing, I paid most attention--my, I should say is a more general thing. My--I saw myself as primarily trying to figure out how to make things public and nonviolent and big so that I, I was always trying to figure how to make something larger enough so that it could be seen. So, for instance, when, when there was started to show up that there was trouble with landlords not taking care of their houses, and there were the housing that they were renting to people and so that housing was not meeting code. It was--there were, you know, vermin infesting it. People, women, who I knew from our parish [St. James Episcopal Church; St. John and St. James' Episcopal Church, Boston, Massachusetts], would be telling me stories of staying up all night with a, with a cast iron pan to hit a rat before it would bite one of their children something like that. And so, I learned that, you know, that these codes are just were not being, were not being enforced either out of laziness or bribery or whatever. So, what we did was adopt a--I think it actually started in New Jersey, rent strike. And the money would--for the rent would come to me and I would deposit it somewhere and then and (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) So you'd hold it in escrow for them--$$Yes, exactly right. And then that way we'd get leverage on the landlords to get them into court. And eventually that, that resulted in a state law that was much easier to enforce and made it legal. It was illegal to hold rent in escrow when we started it, that made it legal to do that so you could come into court and say the reason I haven't paid rent in X number of months is that there's this, you know, electricity cord is frayed or there're vermin in the apartment or whatever. And gave quite a considerable lev- leverage to, to people and, you know, to, to renters.