Living History With Ted Goldsborough
The “Moment of Integration” in Lower Merion was September 5, 1963. Against the national backdrop of “I Have A Dream” and the Birmingham, Alabama church bombing, the Ardmore Avenue School was closed and its mostly black student body enrolled among four Lower Merion elementary schools. For the 50th anniversary, a historic marker for the school was dedicated, and Ted interviewed Wendell F. Holland, Esq., Distinguished Alumnus of Lower Merion High School, and Michael J. Antonoplos, both LMHS 1970, who met that day as 6th-graders. Recorded 2013.
Moment of Integration, Marker Dedication
Moment of Integration, Part 1
Ted Goldsborough Hello and welcome to another segment of Living History with Ted Goldsborough. Today we’re honored to have two guests with us, Wendell Holland, who graduated from Lower Merion in 1970, and his friend Michael Antonoplos, who also graduated from Lower Merion in 1970, and we’ll talk about the relationship between these two men. We’ll be talking with… this segment will be primarily on two topics. One is the Lower Merion school district, in particular the Ardmore Avenue school, and then the other schools involved will, we’ll mention them as we get to it and then the second part will be what happened after Ardmore Avenue School closed. So we’ll start with talking about the architecture and where the Ardmore Avenue school was and a little background about that. Wendell, when did the Ardmore Avenue School open?
Wendell Holland The Ardmore Avenue School opened in about 1870-ish. It’s one of the oldest schools, was one of the oldest schools, elementary schools, in the school district. For some time it served as the Lower Merion high school. In about 1901 there was a fire at the school, it was burnt down and the building was built. Then about 10 or 12 years later, an annex was built. So right there on Ardmore Avenue, largely across the street from the post office or St. Mary’s church, stood two old stone granite structures that looked a lot like the Knights of Columbus building that still exists there today.
TG Hmm, thank you, we have some pictures and we’ll talk about that. We don’t have an exact date but we think around 1900 we have a picture some of the students, we don’t know what age group they were, but Wendell pointed out an interesting thing to me. When we white folks took this picture we see 25 kids. Maybe when an African-American looks at the picture he sees…
WH …everybody in the back of the bus. If you notice the picture, the picture does two things. First, it reflects what the Ardmore community, South Ardmore community looked like at that time, a lot of working-class European families and there were some African-American families as well. That was largely where many of the blue-collar workers, maids and butlers of the Main Liners lived, in South Ardmore. What that picture also reflects is that while integration was still very much a northern prospect, aspects of the old segregated south largely existed, i.e., that many of the, all of the African-American students in that picture were in the back row of that photograph. But that’s just the way times were and as we’ll see over the next 30 minutes, 60 minutes, times changed, not only in in Ardmore but nationally as well.
TG In the Lower Merion Historical Society we got a question about six months ago: “When did the Lower Merion schools integrate?” Geez, we’ve always been integrated! But as you point out, why are the blacks in the back if we were integrated?
WH Exactly. Lower Merion, to its credit, was, has always been something of a progressive community, and a progressive school district. But there were signs throughout the school district that things were a little bit different. For example, beyond elementary school and in junior high school it was commonly thought that many of the African-American students were tracked in the non-college track courses, which had the effect of many students not going on to college, notwithstanding their academic performance. So there was a lot of room for improvement, yet at the same time there was a tremendous sense of accomplishment in and around Lower Merion school districts. It, for example, produced in years prior to 1963, national athletes, athletes about national acclaim in track and field and basketball and football and other sports, yet it certainly had its challenges within the classroom.
TG We don’t, to my knowledge, in the Lower Merion Historical Society, we don’t have a picture of the Ardmore Avenue school before 1900. You know there were 30 years there in the 1870s until 1900 when there was a very bad fire and this photo of the day of the fire shows that there’s not much left and the roofs are all gone and the second-floor windows are vacant or empty, they’ve collapsed. Supposedly, the fire started in a chemistry lab up on the third floor. At that time, from 1894 until the fire in 1900, Lower Merion High School was on that same site, so you had elementary and the high school there.
And a little note, sorry to keep talking, but a little note of interest several schools, three schools, Bryn Mawr Elementary, Gladwyne Elementary, which is called Merion Square, and Ardmore Avenue were offering high school courses around 1880-1888 and I guess the school district thought “this is inefficient, why don’t we have one high school instead of three elementary high schools?” So they knew who the high school kids who want to take high school classes to the Ardmore Avenue site and then they had to fire and for a year the kids were farmed out to church basements and fire houses and whatever and then as you said in your introduction in 1901, they rebuilt the school and we have several pictures of the rebuilt school and you talked about around 1914, I think, or ’12, they added an annex with the bridge across it, and that’s kind of interesting because the same thing was done at Lower Merion High School with the administration building when I was there, we had a bridge, very cold in the wintertime. But the structure was pretty impressive looking, the 1901 structure that lasts until 1965. Now, why, we had blacks there in 1900 but what happened is we’re getting closer to 1963.
WH Well, two things and before I address that let me talk about three great fires in Lower Merion township. One of course was that fire, then in the mid 50’s there was a great Autocar fire that I remember as a kid it seemed like it was a cloud of smoke hovering over Ardmore for days. And then of course in about 1980-ish, in 1985, there was a Kiddie City fire which was comparably large, perhaps as many alarms. But with respect to your question, the composition of South Ardmore began to change.
The great thing about America is that the American Dream is alive and well, so many poor working-class European families who lived in South Ardmore started to see opportunities increase, so that they could move from South Ardmore to Bryn Mawr or to Narberth or other parts of this area. And because there was low-income housing available in Ardmore, the influx of African-Americans from the south to the north began to manifest itself in South Ardmore, so many of the houses started to become inhabited with African-Americans from Virginia, from Delaware, from South Carolina, North Carolina, which is a natural migratory pattern.
So that while that picture that we saw a few minutes ago might have reflected what South Ardmore looked like in 1910-1920, and I should note that my family got here in about 1911, by the time I got to Ardmore Avenue in 1958, that picture had changed dramatically, such that it started to look perhaps the exact opposite, that maybe 8 out of 10 students were African-Americans at Ardmore Avenue, so the complexion of the neighborhood, as well as the complexion of the school, started to change.
And that was an almost unique change throughout Lower Merion school district because other neighborhoods, other school districts, started to, it didn’t show that tremendous racial change, perhaps ethnic change. Many Jewish families were moving across City Line, but the stark contrast sociologically in the ethnic makeup at Ardmore Avenue and South Ardmore community was was just that. So that by the time me and my friends made it to a Miss Connor’s class in 1961, I’d say eight out of ten of the students at Ardmore Avenue were African-American.
TG Other than the age of the building, 1901, what were some of the other problems with that site?
WH Well, first let’s talk about the positive things about the site. The site was convenient. It was a community school in their truest sense. Everybody could walk to it, the site was close to the central business district and it was a kind of a grand old structure, it was indeed a monument of Lower Merion. But there were problems at the school. Many alumni allege that the quality of education was in fact inferior, that the teachers were not the finest in the school district, that the physical facilities were lacking. We didn’t have a nice grass field to play on as elementary school kids, at recess we had a parking lot to play on.
TG And not that big a parking lot.
WH Not that big a parking lot because it was shared by the cars of the students. We had as well, just to note, the Special Ed students at Ardmore Avenue and provision absolutely and positively had to be made for them and it was, and there were some teachers that were extraordinarily strict. Their actions today would not be tolerated and in fact their actions in 1950 and 1960 were frowned upon by the community.
TG Is that physical?
WH Oh, yes, yes.
TG OK, Michael and Wendell, we’ve got to take a little break but we’ll be right back, talking about a moment of integration.
Moment of Integration, Part 2
Ted Goldsborough Welcome back to living history with Ted Goldsborough, and our guests today, Wendell Holland and Michael Antonoplos. We’re talking about Ardmore Avenue school and Lower Merion school district. So we’re back to some of the pros and cons of the Ardmore Avenue school, and Wendell, you said you had said that you didn’t have much land in the back to play on, it wasn’t a big open expanse where you can have a soccer game at a football game in a basketball game. We do have a photo here and I wonder if you could tell us about that.
Wendell Holland Sure, as kids we were creative, we had to make do, so we did the best we could with the little bit that we had. This photograph here shows the back of the school and the famous fire escape which was built for fire protection and fire safety, to help the people exit and escape the building in case of emergency. Well, us kids used it as a sliding board, a giant sliding board. We as well used the gym. You see in one of the photographs, our gym was on the third floor and as an old basketball player, I came to find out that it had one of the softest wood floors that I’ve ever played on in my life, great place. The bridge between the two schools, between the upper school in the lower school we thought that that was playtime every time we had a chance to go across the under the bridge, as well.
And notwithstanding the fact that we couldn’t play on the grass in front of the school, that we had to play on the macadam in the parking lot, Ardmore Avenue elementary school produced some of the finest athletes in the history of Lower Merion school district. So we tried to make do with what with what we could under the circumstances. While it was a school wrought with problems, it had one of the lowest pupil to teacher ratios in the entire school district, it was about 1 to 20 by the time I got to be in fifth and sixth grade. So it was reasonably, reasonably accommodative school but nonetheless it had its issues.
TG I guess the fact that it was a pretty big structure physically meant that there were small classrooms, but also, you mentioned Special Ed, I guess some of those children were bused in?
WH Yeah, the school served a number of purposes and one was that it was a repository or depository, repository for special students. Not only special students in in lower grades, but I believe it was also the center for special students for Montgomery County. So many of the kids with Down’s syndrome, which were diagnosed with Down’s syndrome today, were there in part of our facility, they generally occupied the basement of the upper school floor. So it was something of a, I suppose, a learning experience to be in an environment with specially abled students, as those students were.
TG Anything else about the physical structure, Michael, anything you may want to talk about?
Michael Antonoplos I wasn’t familiar with Ardmore Avenue at the time because I was down at Wynnewood Road, so Wendell can certainly relate to Ardmore Avenue, and the history for Ardmore Avenue. It’s interesting to see this picture of the third grade, because I see a lot, all the people, a lot of people that came from Wynnewood Road.
TG Let’s talk about what was happening 19, uh, I’m kind of caught on numbers here like 59 and 60 and 61. The school, I guess, because it was large, because there weren’t too many students in it, because it didn’t have much land around it, some of us say it was not well maintained and maybe some of the teachers were not as well trained. Might have been a dumping ground for teachers who had difficulty, send them over to Ardmore Avenue. What was beginning to happen in the community?
WH What was happening in the community was reflective of what was happening nationally. The country was changing. 1960, JFK was just elected. 1954, the famous Brown versus Board of Education decision by the United States Supreme Court started to trickle down around the nation and the civil rights movement started to get steam during the Kennedy administration, while at the same time the Vietnam War started to escalate, oh I’d say in about 1963. A young man from Narberth met a young woman from Silver Spring, Maryland, and a lot of things started to change.
What we noticed in South Ardmore was that the school itself started to change complexion, and many argued that the quality of education at Ardmore Avenue elementary school was indeed inferior, and many argued that the education at Ardmore Avenue was separate yet unequal. So 1961, 1962, you heard a number of people argue that because of the educational conditions and physical conditions at Ardmore Avenue elementary school, the school should in fact be closed. You saw a number of articles locally about that.
And then things started to really gain speed in 1963. Kennedy had just had the Bay of Pigs. George Wallace had just been inaugurated in January of 1963 and gave his famous speech, “segregation now, segregation today, segregation forever”, and things nationally started to escalate. The public policy issue facing the United States was not the debt crisis that we have today, but rather the civil rights issue. So that manifested itself right here in in Lower Merion school district, and what we started to see was protests about the quality of education right here in Lower Merion, and particularly right here at Ardmore Avenue elementary school.
TG We mentioned George Wallace. Unfortunately some, the federal laws were not adhered to by the states. So when I was in Biloxi, Mississippi in 1962, the state of Mississippi said that we’re going to stay with segregation. So on trains that are within the state of Mississippi, this is going to be the colored waiting room. If you’re going over to Louisiana and Georgia, okay you know the whites and the blacks can mix. So George Wallace said we’re going to keep Georgia and Alabama and Louisiana, we’re going to keep them segregated. I had a few pictures here that I took when I was a kid in college and I was just shocked, no northern white boy, I didn’t know about segregation. And there’s a picture here, “this fountain reserved for the use of colored”, and this is out on the municipal pier in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Now what was happening in Lower Merion? Who was putting pressure on, you know, what was going to bring about a change to close Ardmore Avenue?
WH The N.A.A.C.P., the local clergy. What you saw was that things really started to come to a head the spring and the summer of 1963. While we didn’t have the central figure that the South had, George Wallace, we still had issues within the community, principally education. So what the N.A.A.C.P. did was to meet with the school board time after time again, to talk about how we can eradicate the education issue facing African-American students in Ardmore.
And the arguments were common. On the one hand, those from the N.A.A.C.P. argued separate but unequal quality of education. Many parents on the other side argued, “Oh, busing will create higher costs to the school, it will disrupt the normal way of life, and busing itself is just disruptive.” Arguments that parents make as parents, but in some respects were misconstrued to very negative things.
So come June 1963, the school board met in June and July, and then in August 1963 at its, at an unscheduled board meeting of August nineteenth, the school board decided literally, two, two and a half weeks before school was open, that it would adopt one of four plans that it had chosen and to start the integration movement. For Michael and I, it was indeed the moment of integration.
MA What were the four plans?
WH The four plans were simple ones. The four plans were, one, where under plan, they called it the Princeton plan, Ardmore Avenue would be split with Wynnewood Road, so K through 3 would stay at Ardmore Avenue and K through 6, or 4 through 6, would go to Wynnewood Road, or vice versa. The other plan was that they would go to other schools in the school district. And one plan was that all students would go to all schools in the school district, with the exception of Gladwyne and Penn Valley, they argued they were at capacity. In fact, no school was at capacity, and in fact they adopted a plan which essentially said that the Ardmore Avenue school students would go through, would go to Wynnewood, Penn Wynne, Penn Valley and Bryn Mawr, in basically equal proportions.
We started school about two weeks after Dr. King’s famous I Have a Dream speech, and two weeks before the four little girls were bombed in Birmingham. That was the national backdrop that Ardmore Avenue was closed, and at the moment of integration started.
TG Wendell, this is a perfect time, and Michael, to say that we are going to wrap up this segment and, but we hope to have you back and continue on, this great place, because we’re just closing Ardmore Avenue school and what’s going to happen to the students? So thank you very much for joining us today and we’ll be back with another segment I hope.
Moment of Integration, Part 3
Ted Goldsborough Hello, welcome to another segment of Living History with Ted Goldsborough. Our guests today are Wendell Holland and Michael Antonoplos. We’re all graduates of the Lower Merion school district and we’ve been talking about the closing of the Ardmore Avenue school. And we are entitling this “a moment of integration”.
We left off last month with talking, we got up to, like August of 1963, when the N.A.A.C.P. had been putting pressure on the school district and in fact there had been in a report by Engelhardt, Engelhardt Report, saying that Ardmore Avenue is a discredit to the Lower Merion school district. It mentioned some other schools, the Bala school and the, what we call the Gladwyne school today, but it was called the Merion Square school at that time. So people knew that the Ardmore Avenue school was one of the older schools and it was had become predominantly black because of the black community, that kids walked to school and there weren’t too many white kids that were in there.
So the school board voted to close the school in August of 1963 and the school was demolished and of course the Main Line Chronicle had said that this was a disgrace, it was a beautiful building. But we have discussed in the previous show some of the limitations, and on that site today is subsidized housing. Lower Merion school, Lower Merion township, has some affordable housing in there and Nolan Atkinson, one of our other guests, had been instrumental in trying to get that housing in there. So this is opposite the Ardmore post office and St. Mary’s Church.
All right now, I’m going to turn it over to Wendell and Michael to talk about what happened, once Ardmore Avenue school closed.
Wendell Holland Sure. Ted, this was 50 years ago, the 50th anniversary. What happened was that it affected virtually every aspect of the community, not just the African-American students, but students, teachers, faculty members, school bus drivers, everybody in the school district. And on September 5th, 1963, I met my new friend Michael Antonoplos.
Michael Antonoplos Well, it’s interesting is that the school board made the decision to close the school, Ardmore Avenue, August 25th of 1963, and the school year started for all of us in integrating in four schools, September 5th, 1963, so I don’t know how many days that is…
TG Just a couple of weeks.
MA Just a couple weeks that the decision was made and then the implementation of the decision had to be undergone. And I don’t know what planning there could have been since the decision was made just two weeks before, but as Wendell alluded, there are a lot of factors had to come in to play: the the teachers had a curriculum, they had to write up a new curriculum, they had more students, they had more desks and more chairs, the cafeteria had to deal with it, busing, all this had to be planned in a very short period of time.
And it seemed to work out well, but as Wendell said, that September 5th is when I met Wendell and our friendship has endured for 50 years and we can give some examples of that friendship.
WH It happened, though, at a time when the nation was on pins and needles with respect to race and civil rights. The backdrop: Michael and I met, our first day of school happened, two weeks after Dr. King gave his famous I Have a Dream speech and two weeks before the four little girls were bombed at the 16th Street Baptist church in Birmingham. Now that was after the George Wallace speech in January and subsequently subsequently 1963-64 was important because, well, in November John F. Kennedy was assassinated. In February The Beatles came to America. In May we had the New York World’s Fair. So you say to yourself, how much more eventful could that year have been for us to start as guinea pigs in the social education experiment here in Lower Merion township?
What were the effects? Was it a great transition, was it an easy transition and how could it have been done in the 10 to 14 days that everybody had to prepare once the school board decided this is where we’re going to go? You know it wasn’t just one plan, Ted, it was four plans and those four plans were debated very vigorously, as they should, and you ask yourself, what kind of leadership did Dr. Koop and the superintendent exhibit? What was the relationship between he and President Hipple at the time? What was the relationship and the dynamics of the board?
You know that that decision, notwithstanding the backdrop, that decision was unanimous. Seven of the nine members voted on it, 2 were absent, but it was a unanimous decision. So now they had to press that public policy throughout the school district and I can only imagine what some of the conversations were like around the kitchen table, in the teachers’ lounge, in the playground, and in various venues throughout Lower Merion Township.
TG What were the four schools that the children were being sent to?
WH Wynnewood, Bryn Mawr, Penn Valley in Penn Wynne.
TG And two of those schools are no longer in the Lower Merion school district.
TG Bryn Mawr and Wynnewood Road.
TG Yeah. We have pictures of those, before we move on. We have an artist’s rendering of what the Wynnewood Road school is going to look like and I think that was around 1926 that was, and it was pretty close to what the school became. Interesting without any vegetation around it. And you can see the old St. Paul’s, they called it the Dutch school, the Lutheran school across in St. Paul’s Church. So Wynnewood Road is in between there, which is really nice. So this is later, you’ve got some trees in there and today this is Torah Academy. So I went over a few days ago and took this. This is the Wynnewood Road side. How did you all get in? Did the buses bring you in on the side, on the Wynnewood Road side?
WH Let me just give you my knee-jerk. You see these steps here?
TG Yes sir, out front, on Argyle Road.
WH On Argyle Road. My first day of school we looked at those steps and as an eleven-year-old boy I thought I was going up the steps to the United States Supreme Court! I’ll never forget that.
TG It was an impressive building.
WH It was an impressive building. Again, we didn’t really know what to expect and in any sense, had no idea of the physical structure, but we made it and…
TG You think there was orientation for the new kids, the day before school started or something?
MA I can’t remember, I can’t recall.
WH Not that I can recall. As I tell, my famous story, just that tell my famous story in a minute, we played tackle football there the first day and a half an hour into the game we were taken to the principal’s office and we’re told, we don’t do those kind of things here at Wynnewood Road School. So I don’t think we had any orientation, yeah.
TG But you Ardmore Avenue boys, were accustomed to playing tackle football in the parking lot, right?
Everybody talking and laughing
TG Alright, so Wynnewood Road and, you know, I just want to mention the other schools, the Bryn Mawr Avenue school, which today is part of Bryn Mawr hospital, had been a Founders Bank and then sold to Bryn Mawr. Penn Valley elementary school, some of the kids were bused over there, and then finally the Penn Wynne school, which still exists on Haverford Road. All right, we’re ready to talk about Wynnewood.
MA Well, the whole thing is you had, I think, 180 kids that were being evenly distributed in four different elementary schools, so if you look at the pure logistics of 40 kids per school, if you had that today, that would be a monumental task to address, let alone back then. And that really talks to, how do, you know, the administration, how did they deal with it, the teachers, how did they deal with it, the parents, how did they deal with it? And then you had the students! I mean, I remember in third grade I was in Pittsburgh and we had one kid coming into our school from London for the year. And the dynamics of the class changed. With one kid. Can you imagine the dynamics of a class changing with three or four kids in your classroom? 40 kids in the entire school? So the dynamics changed, as I said, the DNA of our community changed that day with the integration of the schools.
TG Wendell, your thoughts about getting absorbed into Wynnewood Road school?
WH The absorption process for me was relatively simple and uniquely so as an athlete. Athletes is the great healer and what I found was that athletics helped me and many of the guys from Ardmore Avenue be accepted to the new school immediately. It added a different dimension of sports and competition in the new schools and at the end of the day we became a better team and that was a very positive, and quite frankly, Ted, unexpected, aspect of the moment of integration, something I certainly never dreamed and I don’t think many of the educators dreamed during their school board debates. If I could also add…
WH What that experience also gave to me was to see teachers who seemed to perform in a different way than what we were accustomed to. The, I’ll call it corporal punishment, for lack of a better word, just didn’t happen at Wynnewood Road as it did in Ardmore Avenue. Some of the harsher disciplinary measures just didn’t happen and it seemed like we saw a kinder gentler student, excuse me, kinder gentler education, educator.
TG Wendell, Michael, we have to take a break here but we’ll be right back talking about the moment of integration with Living History and Ted Goldsborough.
Moment of Integration, Part 4
Ted Goldsborough Welcome back to living history with Ted Goldsborough and our guests today, Wendell Holland and Michael Antonoplos. We’re talking about a moment in integration, about the closing of the Ardmore Avenue school and what happened to the students from that school. And I will turn it over to Michael.
Michael Antonoplos Well, we said in the last segment that 480 children that were bused into four different elementary schools, Wynnewood Road being one of them, so the the whole dynamics of what took place. But I want to, with so many kids coming in at one time needs an individual school, but I want to point out the Wendell and I were sixth-graders, so we we were integrated one year before we otherwise would have been integrated, because we were on our way to Ardmore junior high school. The kids that were in first and second, third, fourth and fifth grade they were being integrated a lot sooner than they otherwise would have been so the dynamics changed at that time.
We could say that we were the guinea pigs, our class in sixth grade, or we could say that we hopefully provided some leadership because, being the oldest kids on the block in the, in the, upper classmen, obviously the younger kids would look up to how how we related to each other and how we were able to integrate with the school. But you know, when you’re that young from 1st to 6th grade, you’re color blind. You’re too young to know much of anything but you’re old enough to be able to begin to develop some sort of leadership skills.
And Wendell Brad really provided a great forum for all of us. As Wendell alluded to earlier, the athletics was really an integral part, at least for us and a lot of people I know, on the, you know, recess, playing touch football was a big thing, playing wall ball, that one big wall on the side of the school was a, was a big time for all of us.
TG Could you contrast space and playing fields at Wynnewood Road versus Ardmore Avenue?
MA Well, I only know Ardmore Avenue from what I’ve read and I’ve seen in photographs, but we had two large grass fields, it was almost like L-shaped, if I remember, on the side and in the back, so I can imagine for Wendell, when he said earlier, you know walking up the steps you felt like going into the Supreme Court you know walking walking around and seeing all the grass that those folks didn’t have at that time, particularly for athletes, to see that kind of, it must have been and you can all do it to that because I can’t imagine what was going through your head, yeah, you and Chunky and Michael and Robbie saw all that grass!
Wendell Holland It was like being at Veterans Stadium. It really was, but it was joyful. It helped the transition, it’s like that spoonful of medicine, spoonful of sugar, if you will, that helped the integration medicine go down. And our story was replicated in four different campuses at the other school districts. And it also gave the teachers a chance to be part of the national integration movement. Again, our story isn’t a story of one perspective but multi-dimensional, how were all segments of the community affected? Well, for those teachers who sat on the sidelines and didn’t want to be involved in an integration movement across the country, Mr. Kipple and Dr. Koopman made it your job now to be part of the dialogue and part of the activity, so that public policy that we talked about started to be pushed down throughout Lower Merion school district virtually every place early on.
Proudly, the class of ’70, our class, was the class that six years later went on to be part of the first class that was, that graduated from Lower Merion high school as a result of that a moment of integration. I think the transition went well. It didn’t look like James Meredith at Ole Miss nor the Little Rock Nine. I call it the Ardmore 59, those 59 of us who went to Wynnewood Road school, made that transition with relative grace and style, much like the transition that Mr. Mandela made in 1993 in South Africa. That’s the kind of legacy that we would like to leave with the school district, that’s the kind of U.S. history of civil rights that we’d like to share with the school district and that’s the kind of story, 50 years hence.
You know this year we’ll celebrate a number of civil rights milestones and Lower Merion has its own to celebrate in our story and in our moment of integration and how we could dissolve a segregated school in the height of racial tensions in this country. It wasn’t worse, the only time worse was during the civil right, excuse me what it was doing the Civil War, when racial tensions were really bad, but we dissolved a school and peacefully made the integration movement work and all the better for Lower Merion and its, and its students, very proud of that. I look forward to continuing to celebrate it.
TG What plans, maybe this is premature, but what plans do you have for the community to celebrate this milestone of 50 years?
WH Well, quite a number of things, Ted, and thank you for letting us kick off, if you will, our project, our moment of integration. To its credit, and we’re most grateful, the school district, the school board has blessed our project. Michael and I presented our very same project of integration to the school board last spring and it has assigned a task of administrators and teachers to work with us to tell our story in a documentary kind of form. We’ll be working with Lower Merion high school seniors going forward and we will have them and work with them to interview the various stakeholders in our communities, retired teachers, living parents, members of the Lower Merion classes of ’70 through ’76, those kids who were part of the Ardmore Avenue school who were bused. We hope as well to have a virtual history museum you were kind enough to share with us and with your audience some pictures of the past. Well, we have a few pictures that we would like to share with the Lower Merion community and, quite frankly, to the world.
Why to the world? Because this is Kobe High. If Lower Merion is famous for Kobe Bryant, Lower Merion is also famous for some of the other marvelous things that it did that it did, like our project. We, as well, intend to have a reunion, if you will, in September or third quarter of 2013, this year, so we can bring back the stories. Gee, wouldn’t it be nice if Michael and I could join others and go back to the elementary schools and sit down sometime in September and tell the little kids what it was like, much like the Little Rock Nine has done, much like James Meredith has done with their respective alma maters, we expect to do that so we have a number of celebrations that that we plan to do. But what’s important, Ted, and you as a historian should know this, is that we have a story to tell and our story is as good or as bad as anybody else’s and we’re here to tell it, wouldn’t you say, Mike?
MA Well, yeah, and I think that the thing is, this was a success story. I mean whatever the, whether the motivations were right wrong or indifferent, it turned out to be a success. Remember, integration back in 1963 in, on the Main Line of Philadelphia was an anomaly. When people thought of integration, they were thinking of integration in the South, Alabama, Mississippi or in South Carolina, not the Main Line of Philadelphia and I think it’s important to reflect upon it’s, you know, the 50th anniversary of an event in integration but it’s celebrating the success of what occurred.
The fact that Wendell and I have remained friends for 50 years, we’ve been involved in and working on three reunions over the last 15 years, this being, would be the fourth that we’ve worked on together, of sorts, and we reflect back on, you know, I want to bring up 7th grade, we had, he was, I was a quarterback, he was a halfback and he was a great athlete and we were playing Radnor, I think it was at our field. Harry Donald, my father, was sitting on the sideline. The first play of the game was a statute of liberty, Wendell ran 70 yards, and scored a touchdown, we missed the extra point, lost 7-6. But, boy, seeing him run the ball was a thing of beauty!
WH We’d like to reenact that!
TG Well, thinking about our shows, we’ve done a couple shows here now, and reflecting back, teacher trying to wrap up the class, our lesson here. The Lower Merion school district had an old school building was built in 1901 and we’re talking about 1960s, so it was a 50-year-old school building that needed repairs. Because the community around that school is mostly African-American, the school became predominantly African-American and what could the school district do? Did they want to tear down the school and put another one there? Well, there wasn’t enough room for that.
So in a way, the N.A.A.C.P. did a favor by saying do something, you just can’t continue the way this has been going on. And so the N.A.A.C.P. put pressure on the school district, and a decision was made quickly, and the children were sent to other school, and it seems as though,from our perspective fifty years later, that it worked out quite well. Wendell, any closing thoughts?
WH Well, we have a story to tell. It’s a story of success and promise. It’s classically Lower Merion and we invite you and your audience to share our experience throughout the next eight months here in the school district.
MA Well, I want to mention that two weeks before the integration and when all the schools, Dr. King had a speech and one of the defining components of that speech is he said that he hoped there will be a day when one is judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. And I think that to me that defines what we’re celebrating here, because this couldn’t have been the success that it was if it had not had been for all of us looking at each other because of who we were but not the color of our skin.
TG Thank you, Wendell Holland and Michael Antonoplos, this is Living History with Ted Goldsborough, thank you very much for joining us.
- School Desegregation in Lower Merion
Ted interviews Samuel and Dorothy Edgerton, local NAACP members in 1963.