Williston Northampton’s Upper School hears an annual lecture on some aspect of school history. The event is popularly known as the “button speech,” even though most years no mention is made of Samuel and Emily Williston’s button-derived philanthropy at all. On January 30, 2013, Archivist Rick Teller ’70 spoke about diversity issues.
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Good morning. I’m here to talk about Diversity in Williston Northampton’s past. How did we get to where we are? Perhaps I should warn you: what you’re about to hear will not always be pretty. History, including our own, shouldn’t come with perfume or blinders.
It is hard to pin down when Williston first enrolled students of color. Student records simply no longer exist prior to the 1860′s. But it appears that African American students first began to attend Williston sometime in the 1870s. I can’t tell you who our earliest African American student was. The first I can name is Robert Bradford Williams, who arrived in the fall of 1877 and graduated in 1881. Williams was from Augusta, Georgia. He was a protégé of Miss Lucy Laney, who ran an Augusta school for black children, and who worked tirelessly to find places in Northern schools for students of promise. Miss Laney managed to get funding for Williams from the Reverend Joseph Twichell, a prominent Hartford clergyman and close friend of Mark Twain.
Guest blogger Peter Valine has taught history and social science at Williston Northampton since 1998, and was appointed Dean of the Faculty in 2010. He presented the following at the opening-of-school faculty meeting on August 30, 2012.
Thinking about how to start the year, I wanted an opening that was inspirational — something to fuel and direct the positive energy of this moment. I wanted an opening that would engage us — and hold our interest. I wanted an opening with an underlying message — that gave context and meaning to our gathering together at the beginning of the year. In thinking about how to accomplish these aims (inspiration, engagement, and an underlying message), I came to the realization that I needed to tell a story.
Charles Fred. White in 1908 (Click all images to enlarge)
I’ll be honest, I wanted to start the year with an Olympic story — a Williston Olympian who through purpose, passion, and integrity rose to the ranks of an Olympic medal winner — but my research revealed that the Olympic legacy of Williston athletes is actually quite modest. So I went to the Archives for inspiration, and was led to the life of Charles Fred. White, whose story serves my purposes perhaps even better than a Williston athlete who gained Olympic fame and glory.