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Racial Integration at St. Mark’s: The Experience and Legacy of Ethan Anthony Loney

By Joey Lyons, VI Form

 

Racial Integration at St. Mark’s: The Experience and Legacy of Ethan Anthony Loney

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregation in public schools deprived minority children of equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.[1] The Court’s decision in Brown repudiated the “separate but equal” principle, a principle that had prevailed in the United States since Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). In his unanimous opinion, Chief Justice Earl Warren stated that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”[2] After a second decision a year later, in Brown II, the Court demanded that public schools integrate “with all deliberate speed.”[3] However, the desegregation of public schools proceeded slowly, particularly in the South, which engaged in “massive resistance” and passed laws declaring the Brown decision invalid.[4] Unlike southern states, northern states did not reject the Court’s ruling outright. Instead, northern school boards drew school zones that reflected white and black neighborhoods, thus maintaining segregated school systems.[5]

While the Supreme Court mandated the desegregation of public schools in both the North and South, the vast majority of private schools did not integrate because the Court’s decision did not interfere with private schools’ “right as institutions to distinguish based on race.”[6] Some private schools allowed black students to apply. However, most African Americans did not know about this educational opportunity. Discrimination in the admissions process and racially hostile campuses often deterred the few African Americans who considered applying to private schools. Moreover, the first African Americans to attend private schools entered all-white communities in which they were racially isolated.

One student, Ethan Anthony Loney, an African American from Brooklyn, New York, decided to enroll at St. Mark’s School in 1965. Prior to Loney’s admission, St. Mark’s, a private, boarding school founded in 1865 in Southborough, Massachusetts, had never had an African-American student. As the first African-American student at St. Mark’s, Loney struggled to adapt to the school’s community because a large group of faculty and students did not support him and some opposed integration all together. At St. Mark’s today, while African-Americans students do not suffer from the same level of racially-motivated hatred that Loney faced, they still tend to face difficulties when transitioning from backgrounds that are atypical for most St. Mark’s students into a predominantly white, privileged community.

Before Loney arrived at St. Mark’s, a majority of the school’s trustees, as well as a significant number of the teachers and students, wanted St. Mark’s to remain segregated.[7] An even greater percentage supported an admissions policy of waiting, rather than actively searching, for qualified, African-American students. Many feared that integration would not only undermine the learning experience for white students, but also place black students in an unreasonably difficult academic environment. In 1963, Horace Wood Brock, an editor of the school’s student-run newspaper, the St. Marker, expressed these concerns in his article “Education–Segregation?”.

To mix together the negro coming from his inferior background with the white would bring several drastic effects. It would substantially lower the overall standard of education, especially for white pupils; it would enrage white and negro parents alike and it would be a costly operation.[8]

Brock recognized that few African Americans knew that St. Mark’s existed and that, because the school had yet to admit a black student, an even smaller group were willing to attend. He, along with many other members of the St. Mark’s community, feared that, if the school pursued immediate integration, the admissions department would have to lower its standards to accept African American students because the pool of applicants would be so small. A few months after Brock wrote his article on integration, Andrew Grainger, a humanities teacher at St. Mark’s, echoed Brock’s sentiment in a letter to the St. Marker’s editor. He wrote that the fact “that there are more Whites than Negroes who are intellectually or financially able to apply to St. Mark’s does not imply any discrimination by the school.”[9] Both Grainger and Brock did not want the school’s admissions committee to search for black students. Grainger argued that African Americans had equal opportunity in the admissions process and that the process should not be reformed for the sole purpose of achieving integration. Brock did not want the admissions committee to find black applicants because he believed that the admission standards for African American students would be lower. Others in the community, most notably William Barber, the Headmaster from 1948 to 1968, disagreed with Grainger and Brock. Barber wanted St. Mark’s to integrate because he objected to segregation morally and because he believed that remaining segregated gave the school an antiquated reputation.[10] In 1964, Barber presented an ultimatum to the St. Mark’s Board of Trustees, a majority of whom did not want the school to integrate. Barber told the trustees that, if St. Mark’s did not adopt a more effective strategy to attract African-American students, he would resign.[11] After receiving the trustees’ approval, Barber partnered St. Mark’s with a program that matched students of color with private boarding schools.

During the summer of 1964, despite opposition from some students, faculty, and trustees, Barber partnered St. Mark’s with the Independent School Talent Search program (ISTSP), which recommended gifted, but underprivileged students to private schools, many of whom were African Americans. Anonymous articles in the St. Marker condemned Barber’s new approach to integration. In one, a fourth former wrote, “St. Mark’s did not discriminate against Negroes simply because it was not partial to them. Now, it can be said that the new admissions policy discriminates against white applicants, who do not have the luxury of having an agency advocating for them.”[12] To respond to such criticisms, Barber defended his choice to partner with the ISTSP in St. Marker interview. He said that “If we sit back and expect Negroes to come, they just don’t come. Negro communities don’t know of this opportunity and most don’t even know of the existence of the school.”[13] Unlike his anonymous critics, Barber recognized that St. Mark’s’ isolated campus and all-white student body deterred African Americans from applying. He argued that the ISTSP helped black applicants overcome this inherent disadvantage and, thus, provided African American students equal opportunity in the admissions process. In 1964, Barber saw his efforts to integrate St. Mark’s come to fruition. After receiving a recommendation from the ISTSP, the St. Mark’s admissions committee accepted Loney, the school’s first African-American applicant.[14]

Loney came from an impoverished neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. As a result, Loney’s background differed radically from that of any other student who attended St. Mark’s at the time. Before coming to St. Mark’s as a Third Former, Loney went to “a junior high school in Brooklyn with 3,000 students, predominantly black and Latino.”[15] When he was in eighth grade, Loney met James Simons. As an ISTSP “field representative”, Simmons visited inner-city, public schools in the Northeast to find qualified students for St. Mark’s and other independent schools.[16] Simmons approached Loney because, after asking his school for recommendations and transcripts, Loney’s “excellent academic grades and extracurricular talents” impressed him.[17] Loney was not only a terrific student, but also a gifted athlete, excelling in football, basketball, and baseball.[18] Simmons believed that he had found an exceptional candidate for St. Mark’s. Before recommending Loney to the St. Mark’s admission committee, Simmons told Loney that, if accepted, he would likely be the first and, for at least some time, the only African American to attend St. Mark’s.[19] To Simmons’ surprise, Loney eagerly awaited the opportunity to enroll at a private boarding school. However, Loney experienced a considerable culture shock when he arrived on St. Mark’s’ campus.

In his first year at St. Mark’s, Loney struggled to transition from his urban, diverse neighborhood to St. Mark’s’ isolated, all-white community. In the years prior to Loney’s enrollment, the St. Mark’s community fiercely debated the prospect of integration. As a result, when he came to St. Mark’s, Loney entered a foreign and, at times, hostile environment. Reflecting on his first days at St. Mark’s decades later, Loney recalled that, “The school had no clue. It’s like you were dropped into a war zone to fend for yourself.”[20] A significant group of Loney’s peers and teachers opposed racial integration, and an even greater percentage did not want the school to partner with ISTSP, the program that introduced Loney to St. Mark’s. However, students rarely directed their anger with the school’s approach to integration at Loney himself. Loney said that, while he received a few racially-insensitive epithets and comments, “there was no hazing”. In fact, Loney found that adapting to St. Mark’s socially “was easy” for him.[21] However, Loney did have a difficult time adjusting to St. Mark’s’ demanding academic work. Having previously studied at a poorly funded, inner-city school, Loney discovered that he “was not prepared for classes the way they were at St. Mark’s.”[22] With the help of a few faculty members, particularly Loney’s football coach, Henry Large, Loney slowly adapted to St. Mark’s’ academics.[23] Large wrote that, while Loney “was not a great student”, “he was a hard worker” and “his work ethic helped him through academic difficulty.”[24] During his four years at St. Mark’s, Loney gained personal confidence and garnered the respect of his peers. Loney became a Prefect, as well as the head of the St. Mark’s Athletic Association, and, in 1968, he won the Douglas H.T. Bradlee Scholarship Prize for “firm, forthright moral courage and spiritual strength.”[25] In 1969, Loney became St. Mark’s’ first African-American graduate. The following year, he attended Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. After college, Loney became the Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion at the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC).[26] St. Mark’s, Loney would later say, “was the best experience of [his] life.”[27] While Loney excelled during his time at St. Mark’s and faced only a few issues when transitioning into the school’s community, for a number of other African-American students who followed his path, the experience was far more negative.

While Loney said he only experienced a few incidents in which white students harassed him because of his race, in the 1970s some African-American students reported that they had horrible experiences at St. Mark’s. Loney’s legacy may have opened St. Mark’s’ doors to other African Americans, but, according to the black students who followed him, integration did not topple the school’s oppressive racial hierarchy. Many black students claimed that, because of their poor socioeconomic backgrounds and race, the predominantly upper-class, white student body discriminated against and ostracized them.

In 1971, Sherman Golden, an African-American Fifth Former, wrote an article for the St. Marker titled “Arrogantly Black: Objectively Thoughtful”. In it, Golden described how constantly witnessing and experiencing hateful bigotry influenced his perception of St. Mark’s. He wrote:

I use three words which I believe encompass my feelings toward the situation I find myself in. These words are: Astonishment, Hatred and Isolation… I have mistakenly walked in on conversations in which people were relating how they think white Americans are superior to ‘colored’ Americans. I remember when I made room study for the third time in the fourth form and when I glanced at the room study sheet which was on the main bulletin board this is what I saw written beside my name, ‘Third time for him, amazing what niggers can do.’[28]

Like Loney, Golden felt isolated in a community that was predominately white and socio-economically so different from his own background. However, while Loney eventually adapted to St. Mark’s, Golden felt such hatred towards his racist peers that he never truly participated in the school community. In another St. Marker article, Eloi Kingbo, an African-American student in Golden’s class, described how he felt ostracized from the school community because of his race. He wrote, “I feel like I am on the outside of a glass enclosure with my only participation being one of observance.”[29] To some extent, when adjusting to St. Mark’s, current African-American students experience some of the same isolation that Golden and Kingbo articulated.

While African-Americans students at St. Mark’s do not suffer from the same level of racism that Loney or black students in the 1970s endured, they generally have a more difficult time acclimating to St. Mark’s’ affluent community than their white counterparts experience. African-American students often feel excluded from the student body because they are a minority. Grace Darko, an African-American student in the St. Mark’s Class of 2018, described the isolation she experienced during her first year in a way reminiscent of Golden and Kingbo’s writing. “I did not feel like I belonged here and, at times, I still feel this way. Most of the time, I feel like people see me for my race and not for my character.”[30] Grace also recognized that she “had so many [more] resources” that helped her become a part of the school community “than the black students who attended St. Mark’s before her.” Grace said that the St. Mark’s orientation process particularly helped her become more comfortable at St. Mark’s because the school administration brought positive attention to the fact that the members of her class came from a wide variety of racial and economic backgrounds. Jammil Telfort, an African-American student in the St. Mark’s Class of 2016, also emphasized the importance of institutional efforts to help black students participate meaningfully in the school community. “My race was a huge factor in my transition because I was always used to being in the ‘majority’ at my previous schools. Coming to St. Mark’s made me far more aware of my blackness. Joining the Black Student Union helped me learn to appreciate my blackness and become involved in other aspects of the St. Mark’s experience.”[31] Henry Large, Loney’s closest coach and teacher, remains involved in the St. Mark’s community. He believes that the ability for current African-American students, like Jammil, to take pride in their race at St. Mark’s is a product of Loney’s legacy. Large wrote that “Ethan helped educate [the St. Mark’s community] and that legacy helped future St. Mark’s African Americans…The example he set for newer black youngsters and the example they set for newer ones unquestionably helped establish our black community. Are we done? I doubt it, but we are much better off than we were.”[32] While many African Americans still struggle to adapt to St. Mark’s, efforts to not only recognize, but also to celebrate diversity have helped black students become more confident and more involved in school activities.

For St. Mark’s to provide a valuable education in an increasingly diverse world, the school must have student and faculty bodies that are politically, socially, and racially mixed. In order to maintain and increase diversity, St. Mark’s must search for applicants from demographics that are less likely to attend. Diversity at St. Mark’s still relies on an admission policy of searching, rather than waiting, for qualified applicants from marginalized groups. St. Mark’s should not only attract students from a wide variety of backgrounds, but also provide an environment that promotes the involvement of each demographic, for diversity in education is only valuable, when every group can contribute its perspective.

Joey Lyons is a VI Form day student from Southborough, MA. Academically, Joey enjoys integrating his favorite disciplines (history and literature) in humanities classes.

 

 

 

 

Bibliography:

  1. African American Eras: Contemporary Times. Detroit: UXL, 2010.
  2. Andrew Grainger. “Letters— Integration” The St. Marker (Southboro, MA). November 22, 1963, Volume 18 No. 3 edition.
  3. Anonymous 4th Former. “Letter to the Editor” The St. Marker (Southboro, MA). November 8, 1964, Volume 19 No. 2 edition.
  4. Anonymous 5th Former. “Letter to the Editor” The St. Marker (Southboro, MA). November 8, 1963, Volume 18 No. 2 edition.
  5. Bracks, Lean’tin L. African American Almanac: 400 Years of Triumph, Courage and Excellence. Canton, Mich.: Visible Ink Press, 2012.
  6. Brock, Horace Wood. “Education — Segregation?” The St. Marker (Southboro, MA), October 19, 1962, Volume 17 No. 2 edition.
  7. Class of 1968, ed. The Lion. Compiled by Kate Harlem. N.p.: n.p., 1968.
  8. Class of 1959, ed. The Lion. Compiled by Stephen Lasnick. N.p.: n.p., 1966.
  9. Class of 1965, ed. The Lion. Compiled by Kate Harlem. N.p.: n.p., 1966.
  10. Class of 1969, ed. The Lion. Compiled by Kate Harlem. N.p.: n.p., 1969.
  11. Class of 1967, ed. The Lion. Compiled by Kate Harlem. N.p.: n.p., 1967.
  12. Class of 1966, ed. The Lion. Compiled by Kate Harlem. N.p.: n.p., 1966.
  13. Darko, Grace. E-mail interview by the author. Southborough, MA. December 2, 2015.
  14. David Braga. “Two Speakers Lead Integration Discussions at Sixth Form Seminar” The St. Marker. (Southboro, MA). November 22, 1963, Volume 18 No. 3 edition.
  15. Edward Tuck Hall and Albert Emerson Benson, Mark’s School: A Centennial History, Hall, Stinehour Press, Lunenburg, VT, 1967, 210.
  16. Eloi Kingbo. “Chapel Film Review” The St. Marker (Southboro, MA). January 29, 1971, Volume 25 No. 5 edition.
  17. Hamilton, Neil A. The 1960s. New York: Facts On File, 2006.
  18. Hamilton, Neil A. The 1970s. New York: Facts On File, 2006.
  19. Hugh Law. “Negro Militancy: Crisis for Civil Rights” The St. Marker (Southboro, MA). June 10, 1964, Volume 18 No. 10 edition.
  20. James Clark. “St. Mark’s Joins New Program: Searches for Negro Students” The St. Marker (Southboro, MA). October 30, 1964, Volume 19 No. 2 edition.
  21. Large, Henry. E-mail interview by the author. Southborough, MA. December 11, 2015.
  22. Low, W. Augustus, and Virgil A. Clift. Encyclopedia of Black America. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981.
  23. Malcolm Witter. “Profiles: Mr. and Mrs. Deon Glover” The St. Marker (Southboro, MA). November 20, 1970, Volume 25 No. 3 edition.
  24. Michael Sawyier. “Letters— Integration” The St. Marker (Southboro, MA). May 15, 1964, Volume 18 No. 9 edition.
  25. Ness, Immanuel. Encyclopedia of American Social Movements. Armonk, NY: Sharpe Reference, 2004.
  26. Noble, Richard E. The Echo of Their Voices: 150 Years of St. Mark’s School. Hollis, NH: Hollis Publishing, 2015.
  27. Noble, Richard E., ed. “St. Mark’s Spring 2014 Magazine” [The Center]. Last modified April 5, 2014. http://www.stmarksschool.org/alumniae/FlipBooks/StMarksMagazineSpring2014/files/assets/basic-html/page29.html.
  28. Nsiah, Justin. E-mail interview by the author. Southborough, MA. December 2, 2015.
  29. Nsiah, Damion. E-mail interview by the author. Southborough, MA. December 4, 2015.
  30. “Remembering Brown v. Board of Education (Special Report). ” Issues & Controversies. Infobase Learning, May 2004. 10 Dec. 2015.
  31. Salzman, Jack, David L. Smith, and Cornel West. Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. New York: Macmillan Library Reference, 1996.
  32. Sherman Golden. “Arrogantly Black: Objectively Thoughtful” The St. Marker (Southboro, MA). March 10, 1971, Volume 25 No. 7 edition.
  33. Telfort, Jammil. E-mail interview by the author. Southborough, MA. December 4, 2015.

 

[1]Lean’tin L Bracks. African American Almanac: 400 Years of Triumph, Courage and Excellence. (Canton, Mich.: Visible Ink Press, 2012), 94-96.

[2]“Remembering Brown v. Board of Education (Special Report). ” Issues & Controversies. Infobase Learning, May 2004. 10 Dec. 2015.

[3] African American Eras: Contemporary Times. Detroit: UXL, 2010, 346.

[4] W. Augustus Low and Virgil A. Clift. Encyclopedia of Black America. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981), 348.

[5] African American Eras: Contemporary Times. Detroit: UXL, 2010, 347.

[6] Bracks. African American Almanac, 96.

[7] Edward Tuck Hall and Albert Emerson Benson, St. Mark’s School: A Centennial History, (Hall, Stinehour Press, Lunenburg, VT, 1967), 210.

[8] Horace Wood Brock. “Education — Segregation?” The St. Marker (Southboro, MA). October 19, 1962, Volume 17 No. 2 edition.

[9] Andrew Grainger. “Letters— Integration” The St. Marker (Southboro, MA). November 22, 1963, Volume 18 No. 3 edition.

[10] Hall, St. Mark’s School, 209.

[11]ibid.

[12] Anonymous 4th Former. “Letter to the Editor” The St. Marker (Southboro, MA). November 8, 1964, Volume 19 No. 2 edition.

[13] James Clark. “St. Mark’s Joins New Program: Searches for Negro Students” The St. Marker (Southboro, MA). October 30, 1964, Volume 19 No. 2 edition.

[14] Richard E Noble. The Echo of Their Voices: 150 Years of St. Mark’s School. (Hollis, NH: Hollis Publishing, 2015), 486.

[15]ibid., 487.

[16] James Clark. “St. Mark’s Joins New Program”.

[17]ibid.

[18] Noble. The Echo of Their Voices, 487.

[19] James Clark. “St. Mark’s Joins New Program”.

[20] Noble. The Echo of Their Voices, 487.

[21] James Clark. “St. Mark’s Joins New Program”.

[22] Noble. The Echo of Their Voices, 487.

[23] Hall, St. Mark’s School, 211.

[24] Henry Large. E-mail interview by the author. Southborough, MA. December 11, 2015.

[25] Hall, St. Mark’s School, 211.

[26] Noble. The Echo of Their Voices, 516.;

Richard E. Noble, ed. “St. Mark’s Spring 2014 Magazine” [The Center]. Last modified April 5, 2014, 29. http://www.stmarksschool.org/alumniae/FlipBooks/StMarksMagazineSpring2014/files/assets/basic-html/page29.html.

[27] Noble. The Echo of Their Voices, 516.

[28] Sherman Golden. “Arrogantly Black: Objectively Thoughtful” The St. Marker (Southboro, MA). March 10, 1971, Volume 25 No. 7 edition.

[29] Eloi Kingbo. “Chapel Film Review” The St. Marker (Southboro, MA). January 29, 1971, Volume 25 No. 5 edition.

[30] Grace Darko. E-mail interview by the author. Southborough, MA. December 2, 2015.

[31] Jammil Telfort. E-mail interview by the author. Southborough, MA. December 4, 2015.

[32] Henry Large. E-mail interview by the author. Southborough, MA. December 11, 2015.


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