Tracing the History and Legacy of Black Students at Andover

In 1970, black students at Andover were described as a “group of admirable human beings, though beset with many more problems than the white students” by F.A. Peterson, the Director of the Office of Research and Evaluation after he examined data from the 1970 Black Student Survey.

According to a document dated 1969 and stored in the Archives, Samuel Codes Watson, class of 1849, was the first recorded black student on campus. Following Watson, Richard T. Greener, class of 1865, was the second black Andover student. According to a brief analysis of Greener’s time at Andover by Gosia Stergios, Greener was a “keen debater, ready writer, and fluent speaker,” and participated in the Philomathean society. Although Greener was the only recorded black student on campus at the time, Stergios found no evidence to suggest that Greener did not get along with his classmates. Stergios partly attributes this to the strict nature of then principal Samuel Harvey Taylor, who expected Greener to be treated like any other student.

Prior to 1967, the number of black students at Andover did not exceed 12, according to the Office of Research and Evaluation in 1969, though the data is noted to potentially contain inconsistencies. For 29 years between 1870 and 1955, there were no black students on campus. In 1969, the black student population increased to 54 students from the 28 black students in 1968. At the end of the 1969-1970 school year, ten black students out of the 54 were dismissed or voluntarily withdrew. According to Peterson, the remaining 44 seemed to enjoy their experience at Andover, despite any racial discrimination.

With the rise of black power movements, the Afro-American Society (Af-Am), now known as African-Latinx-American Society (Af-Lat-Am), was founded in 1967 to provide an outlet for students of color on campus, according to the brochure for the 50th Anniversary of Af-Lat-Am Society in 2018. Due to the culture of Andover being predominantly that of the white upper class, Af-Am helped black students find unity in a community not made for them, according to “The Phillips Academy Afro-Latino-American Society, An Early Tool for Black Survival at Phillips Academy” by Jason Young ’15.

Young wrote, “In a community where their presence was not duly noted, the 24 black boys in attendance during the 1967-68 Phillips Academy school year, decided that it was time to come together to express their opinions and, more specifically, their power.”

“The largest issue that brought many of the boys together was that they did not have a barber that could cut their hair. So they gathered during the middle of each term to give each other haircuts. Despite their poor cuts, they formed a strong bond as a group. These students had small discussions about their experiences and similarities on campus, but they did not share these ideas with their white peers,” continued Young.

A Phillipian article in 1968, “PA Blacks: Finding a Place in Society,” detailed the more subtle form of discrimination that black students encountered, and Af-Am sought to address. According to the article, white students seemed to only want to be friends with black students for the sake of simply having a “black friend.”

“These relationships felt shallow, as the other students often tried to ignore the students’ blackness, disregarding a vital portion of their characters. If they were not attempting to get a “black friend”, black students felt that their white classmates still perceived them as “the good boy, the slave”. This mockery proved to several black students that they were not being taken earnestly by those around them,” wrote Young.

As no white students participated in Af-Am, the leaders decided to apply to become an affinity group in 1969. However, after the proposal was brought to light in a 1969 issue of The Phillipian, many of the black students were accused of being “reverse racists” as the leaders of Af-Am would take away their ability to go, according to Young. Deciding that it would further student division and be unfavored by the faculty, the Af-Am members repealed their petition.

“The students, along with some faculty, grew very nervous about black students meeting together. There seemed to be a fear, for some a curiosity, as to what the black boys were discussing. Some boys would take offense, believing that they were being excluded from discussions when in reality the black students just felt that it was easier to be around each other,” wrote Young.

However, Af-Am found other ways to thrive on campus, including choosing Peabody House as their designated meeting place, reinforcing a permanent role on campus, according to Young. Additionally, they founded a newspaper, The Black Andover Caucus, which last published in 1980 and was reformed as the Publication of the Afro-Latino-American Society (P.A.L.A.S.) in 1987. The P.A.L.A.S. died out around 1992, according to documents in the Archives.

“Through this newspaper, the Af-Am students were able to voice their opinions through commentary, creative essays, and poetry. This magazine assisted the students in bringing their issues to light and showing each other that their black classmates shared similar experiences,” wrote Young.

Af-Am continued to grow in prominence after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. After a vigil and a service dedicated to his death, Andover became more supportive of Af-Am, appointing a pair of faculty advisors and granting the society its own space. Changing its name to Afro-Latino-American Society to include Latinx students in 1973, the society continued to be a community for people of color. By the 90’s, Af-Lat-Am hosted Black Arts and Latin Arts weekends, anti-racism workshops, and guest speakers such as Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, according to the 50th Anniversary Brochure. The Office of Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD) was also created in the 90’s.

According to the brochure, “By the 1990s, Af-Lat-Am’s role, not only as a support group for Black and Latino students, but also as a catalyst for social change on Andover’s campus, was firmly established. Students from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds joined the organization, which celebrated African American and Hispanic cultures while educating the broader Andover community.”

However, in regards to academics, G.P.A. disparities between white and black students continued to be prevalent, according to a letter addressed to Donald W. McNemar, 13th Headmaster of Andover, in 1984. Although the administration introduced more representation of black history and culture in the History Department during the 60’s, English teachers failed to successfully add black literature to the curriculum, according to Young.

“Many of the teachers, although they tried teaching black literature to the best of their abilities, could not truly appreciate the quality and meaning of the cultural principles that were being preached by black authors. This raised a question about the presence of African Americans within the faculty, spurring the faculty to consider hiring teachers of color. Although the faculty tried diligently to hire faculty in 1969 and 1970, they found that most black teachers wanted to teach black students. With the few black students that were present at Andover, they did not see the purpose of taking long term positions at Andover,” wrote Young.

According to Abigail Ndikum ’20, Co-President of Af-Lat-Am, current discrimination towards black students on campus largely comes in the form of microaggressions. Ndikum believes that one existing problem is that many black students on campus are often mistaken for other black students, and this can have harmful effects on the black community.

“In a sense, when you mix two black girls, you’re removing their identity and you’re renaming it for yourself, and I often felt like, to them, to the greater institution, I am not Abigail Ndikum, and I didn’t like that feeling. It kind of took away some of the confidence that I had in myself,” said Ndikum.

Ndikum continued, “Currently, in my own part as a black student at Andover, I find myself often holding myself back and making sure I cater to the needs of the population because as a black woman, I often feel that I am seen as a threat to other people. And this is my personal narrative, I cannot speak for the entire black population because it depends on each individual person, but I know for me, I want to present my best self so I don’t seem to contradict someone else’s journey or I don’t seem to fit in certain stereotypes, such as being seen as an angry black woman.”

Although black students remain a minority on campus, Amara Neal ’22 attributes the small number of black students to a stronger sense of community.

“Coming from a place where there were no black people, I feel more included, even though I am still a minority on campus, it’s definitely better than being one of two black kids in my grade. So I feel like I get to embrace my culture more,” said Neal.

According to Ndikum, it is important to acknowledge that a lot of leadership positions at Andover are held by black men and women. Additionally, Ndikum emphasized that celebrating Black History Month recognizes the contributions of black culture and arts to mainstream society.

“It’s critical to celebrate Black History Month through the form of black arts because black arts is essentially black culture. Black culture is currently mainstream culture, starting dances and music and the way you present yourself to hoop earrings to getting braids done. I think we have to acknowledge the root to many of America’s trends back to black culture and at Andover, it’s crucial because we are at an institution that wasn’t made for black students. We came to this institution and we are taking the ropes… I am so proud to be black at [Andover] because I know I am paving the way for future black students to come here and do the [expletive] thing,” said Ndikum.