As the U.S. celebrates the accomplishments of Black-Americans during Black History Month, The Phillipian aims to revisit Andover’s history with Black scholars and public figures, as well as Black Andover students by publishing select works from our archives. However, The Phillipian recognizes that this is just the start of recounting the Black student experience in its totality, from celebrating Black accomplishments to acknowledging the deep-rooted presence of anti-Black racism on Andover’s campus.
In December of 1968, The Phillipian interviewed eight Black students who were selected to achieve the most representative cross-section of Black students on campus. The assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., race riots, police brutality, Black Power movements, and the election of the first Black woman to Congress all served as the backdrop of the Black Andover experience during 1968. Attempting to display the experiences of the 42 Black students at Andover, The Phillipian reported on subtle anti-Black discrimination, Black students’ desire to preserve their Black identity, and the push to augment the numbers of Black students and faculty by the administration.
Today… the [Black] student newly arrived at PA has a complex set of adjustments that he must overcome the culture shock of transition from a Black community to a mostly-white one; he must try to establish and maintain an identity in his environment; he must decide why he is at PA and what use he can make of the experience.
The cultural differences between [Black] students’ home environment and PA are often many, depending on his family’s socioeconomic position. One [Black] student from a middle-class background finds that his main problem is maintaining a [Black] identity in the midst of white friends who do not seem to care about race. He finds that his friendship with white students is shallow unless they acknowledge his race as an important part of his character.
Problems of a [Black] student at PA stem from more than racial differences. They result in the subtle discrimination of [Black] students.
Hostility here, as one [Black] student put it, is not of the “blatant Southern” type. He commented, “It’s just a feeling you get when you’re around certain people that they’re thinking, ‘There are too many N***oes here.’” One [Black student] stated, “The hate people have for you is becoming more subtle.”
Over-friendliness seems to be recognized as a type of reverse discrimination. One [Black] student remarked, “You get the feeling that he (a white student) is trying to make friends to be able to say to his parents, ‘Hey, I’ve got a colored friend!’” Another accused white students of still seeing what they want to see i.e. “the good boy, the slave.” A third commented that he gets “sick and tired” of people trying too much to be friendly.
One student commented that when the [Black] students would sit together at dinner, about the time that the Afro-American Society was founded in 1967, “it was amazing how many faculty and students came up and asked us why we were sitting together.”
A second mentioned that when he had wanted to room with another [Black student], his mother had discouraged him, saying “Oh my God, what’ll the whities think?”
But feelings on these subjects are not unanimous among the 42 [Black] students at PA. Some feel that certain whites would genuinely like to become friends and that much of the “suspicion” is merely curiosity. Other [Black students] recognize that many of PA’s white students have seen N***oes only as maids, or infrequently, as T.V. figures.
Some [Black] students are worried not so much by discrimination as by the complete lack of interest in the race question that some white students demonstrate. As one student says, most PA students think of race and racism “as a joke.” Those who take it seriously, he thinks, talk but do not act. Another adds, “People here seem so apathetic to what is going on outside. I don’t see how you stay here without caring about the outside, because eventually you’re going to have to leave.”
Airing Their Views
To provide a forum in which [Black] students could air these concerns and opinions, and to create a gathering place for [Black] students on campus, the Afro-American Society was formed in 1967. The preamble of the society’s constitution states that the society’s purpose is “to assist the N***o students entering the school in establishing their role in the Andover community and to generate among ourselves [“The Black studentry of Phillips Academy”] and this community an awareness of the concerns of the contemporary N***o-American.” According to the constitution, “membership is open to all Andover students.”
Senior Craig Weston, president of the society, states that its primary purpose is to make the campus more receptive for [Black] students. A secondary goal, he says, is to establish frank dialogue between [white and Black students]. Weston feels that the gathering of [Black] students in the Afro-American Society is not a step towards segregation, but a gathering of forces to [ensure] that there is an exchange between [white and Black students], not an assimilation of [Black students] by white [ones].
The Search For Identity
Almost all of the concerns of the [Black] students at PA seem to relate, in one way or another, to this question of identity. Many who once attempted to conform are now making a determined effort to be and act [Black].
One [Black] student notes that, when he first arrived at Andover, he “tried to be one of the guys.” Now he feels that the difference between the militant [Black] and the conservative white is the same as that between just and unjust. Another boy explained, “You’re never just another person. You’re always conscious of being a N***o.”
Many, if not most of the [Black] students seem to agree with the student who stated, “One of my goals is to remain [Black]. I am determined not to fade into white society.” Yet, for many of these same students, there is still the question of what remaining [Black] actually means.
The Meaning of Being Black
For some, remaining [Black] means to use “white education… to help [Black] people.” For others, it means involvement in a specific interest, such as city planning. For some few, it simply means succeeding in the white man’s world.
One result of the quest for identity is a strong interest among the [Black] students in courses covering the histories, languages, and literature of the [Black] peoples. As one student phrased it, “You might say that Phillips Academy has decided that there is no [Black] history. You assume that we were around until we were let free a hundred years ago, and that since then, we’ve been shiftless and lazy.”
The same student points out that the school teaches languages from every major continent except Africa. He would like to see a course on the history of N***oes in America, more emphasis on N***o literature, (perhaps even an elective in it) and a N***o language course.
With regard to the hiring of a [Black] teacher, Dean of Faculty Simeon Hyde says that the administration has “really worked on it very hard.” He has found, though, that [Black] teachers want to teach in [Black] schools, not in what they consider an “elite white school.” Black teachers with families do not want to risk a possibly uncongenial atmosphere, and those with a good standing in a public school system do not want to risk losing that standing for a position in a school with no promised advancement. For those reasons, Mr. Hyde is now seeking [Black] teaching fellows or [Black] teachers who might come for one or two years only.
Increase Black Population
The increase in the [Black] population at PA, from a maximum of three two decades ago to 42 today, can be attributed to several factors: the racial awareness accompanying the Civil Rights Movement, the development of the [A Better Chance (A.B.C.)] program, and the report of the Faculty Steering Committee.
84 by 1971?
Despite this, there is a good chance that, with the help of the A.B.C. program, PA’s [Black] population will come close to doubling by 1971.
Most of the [Black] students now on campus feel that such an increase would be excellent, though they disagree concerning the results. One felt that the increase would simply speed the arrival of what he calls the “inevitable” [Black] student versus white administration confrontation. Another noted that the increase would bring the percentage of [Black students] at PA to the national level.
More seemed to feel, however, that a doubling of PA’s [Black] population would foster a strong sense of identity among the [Black] students, and increase the school’s awareness of the [Black] community’s problems.
The [Black] population of PA today is 14 times what it was two decades ago. The school is attempting, at least to some extent, to make itself relevant to [Black students]. But a continued increase of the [Black] population of PA as present, as Dean Richards put it, “a challenge to the fabric of our whole school.”
Editor’s Note: This article has been edited and condensed for clarity. The original article was written by David Cohen and published on December 27, 1968.