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In 1949, William Fontaine became Penn's first fully affiliated black professor. In 1963, he received tenure -- the first black person in the University's history to do so.

Fontaine first came into contact with the University as a graduate student; he received his doctorate in philosophy from Penn in 1936. He returned to the University in 1947, becoming a lecturer in the Philosophy Department.

"He was a very gentle man, understated, learned and made an enormous impact on his students simply because he was an African American," said History professor Bruce Kuklick, who is currently working on a biography of Fontaine.

"Penn basically was a very white institution, and I think the students came here with all these very racialized ideas about knowledge, scholarship and learning. ... Just his presence on campus and his learnedness in Western culture ... undermined the categories with which they came into college," Kuklick added. "That was an enormous impact on the campus."

Fontaine graduated from Lincoln University in 1930 as president of his class and did graduate work at Harvard University, the University of Chicago and Penn.

"He was a terrific undergraduate teacher and graduate mentor," Kuklick said, adding that in 1958 Fontaine won the University award for teaching.

His books included Reflections on Segregation, Desegregation, Power and Morals and Fortune, Matter and Providence, which was his graduate thesis.

In 1970, two years after his death, Penn established the Fontaine Fellowship, which continues to provide resources and stipends for full-time black graduate students.

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