Mercersburg Magazine - Winter 2020

Page 38

newspaper, wrote that “Integration is really a broadening experience, a contact with people in some respect different from oneself. As such, it should be an integral part of education, and an integral part of the Mercersburg education.” Offering a different perspective, another student wrote in 1963 in support of Mississippi’s decision to stand by segregation, arguing that although integration was inevitable, Mississippi’s decision was justified since it reflected the opinions of “the majority of the people.” Although the student did not support segregation, he wrote in favor of a more gradual introduction to integration. According to Board of Regents meeting minutes recorded on October 18, 1963, there was

“Integration is

pressure from the United Church of Christ to “accept any boy who meets the admission standards

really a broadening

national origin.” In the fall of 1964, Mercersburg integrated. This was further emphasized by former

experience, a contact with people in some respect different from

and also to provide financial help where need is demonstrated, and this regardless of race, creed, or Headmaster Burgin when we interviewed him: “The school does have a way of managing to do what is right to do, even if at times it has come slowly to understand what that is.” With help from organizations like A Better Chance, a program that gives underprivileged, minority youth an opportunity to attend “high-achieving” preparatory schools, Mercersburg enrolled three black students: Leslie, Conrad Vickers ’68, and Tom Fleming ’68. Leslie, Vickers, and Fleming were all active members of the Mercersburg community. To name just a few of their contributions, according to school records, Leslie won the John Mountain Prize for the best poem published during

oneself. As such, it

his senior year, was a member of The Fifteen, and served as a dorm proctor (what we now call a

should be an integral

and Vickers lent his musical talents to various groups, including Football Band, Concert Choir, and

part of education, and an integral part of the Mercersburg education.” —Opinion piece by Alan Brody ’64 in a 1964 edition of the Mercersburg News

prefect). Fleming served as an Irving Society declaimer, a Blue Key, and vice president of Paideia, Glee Club.

The Borough’s Response

Knowing that Vanessa Youngs ’03 would be back on campus for a Board of Regents meeting this

past October, we scheduled a time to connect with her and her father, Clarence Youngs ’68. Mr. Youngs came to Mercersburg from Harlem, New York, where he found Mercersburg through A Better Chance. He shared that most of his difficulties during his Mercersburg career didn’t stem from the Academy, but from time spent in the borough. This was further supported by former Headmaster Burgin, who told us about how the town was still segregated at the time of the Academy’s integration, whether geographically or by designated seating in the local movie theater, the Star Theatre. Youngs recalled an interaction with a white child who screamed, “Oh Mommy, there’s a dark black man! I’m scared!” Although Youngs told us how most of his memories at the Academy were positive, there was tension between some Southern students and the black students. When we asked Youngs whether or not he felt he was treated like a minority, he simply said, “We knew who we were.”

Looking Ahead

As our year progresses in Parallel Histories, some of us will continue with this project, while

others will focus on other aspects of the Academy’s history. Regardless of what direction we take individually, being a part of unearthing this story has been an unforgettable experience. We appreciate the opportunity and feel fortunate to be just one small piece of its history. None of us would have this experience if not for the first female students, who bravely paved the way for future generations of girls at the school. The anniversaries of female and black student integration set the framework for this year’s theme of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, which we will continue to highlight and celebrate as the year continues.