Henry Brown '23, Jack Thomas '23, & Teddy Palmore '23
The story doesn’t end with Frank Snowden. Through the 50s and 60s, DC-area private schools slowly began to integrate. The Episcopal Church’s influence and growing support for integration succeeded in motivating all DMV independent schools to integrate when the Episcopal School accepted its first Black student in 1968. However, integration did by no means mean the end of segregation-era problems.
Throughout the process of integration, the state of St. Albans was a microcosm of American society at the time. The administration and the Board of Directors, like many American politicians, seemed to believe that integration was a silver bullet: a final, definite change that would repair any and all problems surrounding systemic racism. In reality, the struggle for Black students was far from over.
Many of the first Black students to attend DC-area schools in the 60s and 70s recount the great pain they felt when they had no way to report racism and harassment against them. Black students who reported offenses against them were often punished. Some were even suspended or expelled. One can only imagine the pain they had to endure: attending schools that boasted racial equality while facing persistent racism and harassment, unable to freely voice their grievances.
Another great struggle was that the faculty remained vastly and disproportionately white, so very few Black students had trusted adults who could relate to their struggles. In 1970, 13 years after Frank Snowden was accepted to St. Albans, Mr. Brooks Johnson, a track coach, and Dr. Marie Racine, a French and Spanish teacher, were the only Black faculty. More than a decade after integration, the School struggled with employing a diverse faculty, which only made the struggle for the first Black students even more profound.
If some of these issues sound familiar, that’s because they still exist. Black at STA, an Instagram account created at the start of the 2020-21 school year, helped amplify the struggles of Black students and alumni at St. Albans. With the anonymous testimonies on the account, it became crystal clear that the prevalent struggles of Black students in the early days of integrated St. Albans continue to afflict Black students to this day. St. Albans was segregated for 50 years, and structural racism is still present here. Educating students about the racism that has plagued this institution for more than a century should be a no-brainer.
Yet, few know the full story of integration at St. Albans. Throughout the past few decades, the school has hosted various events with speakers, including Dr. Snowden, and includes selections of this history in the illustrated publication St. Albans School: The First Hundred Years. While these are steps in the right direction, St. Albans still falls short of providing an in-depth, easily accessible history of its transition away from an all-white institution.
One of the primary shortcomings of the Illustrated History is that it is told from the School’s point of view. After Frank Snowden was admitted in 1957, the book states that “enrollment did not suffer, applications continued to pour in, [and] Annual Giving, still in its infancy, grew each year.” The Board of Governors had expected massive retaliation, but there wasn’t. The Illustrated History concludes the section with the statement: “with little real difficulty, St. Albans had officially become an integrated school.”
However, to this day, STA continues to grapple with the real problems facing students of color. Does the financial solvency of the institution dictate whether integration was successful? Or to put it another way, do the reactions of white parents determine whether St. Albans integrated without issue? Of course not. Racism’s legacy at St. Albans does not end with Frank Snowden as the Illustrated History suggests.
Additionally, when discussing the admissions processes, the book states that “as far as anyone could recall, no black student had ever applied.” This begs the question: were there Black applicants that went unnoticed? The uncertainty demonstrates a lack of attention to this section. Even if no Black students had applied, the Illustrated History never examines why the School was unappealing for students of color. Was it the location of STA? Did St. Albans seem unappealing to these potential applicants? How so?
The oversimplification of St. Albans’ integration paints the School in a better light than perhaps it should be. What little is shared with the community is only concerned with the heroics of the School. Frank Snowden’s well being, or lack thereof, is left out. When only one side of this story is told, the white side of the story, we are blinded to racism at St. Albans.
The first steps to reconciling with our School’s racist past is to acknowledge its failures. St. Albans, as an institution, has yet to honestly tell the story of Frank Snowden’s integration to its students and the broader community. And until that happens we should not be surprised the racism and microaggressions persist.
In acknowledging the School's past, we open ourselves up to the hard truths about St. Albans. Once the whole school community knows of them, we can work together to address these faults. It is important that articles and actions, such as this piece, continue to happen in order to continue an open dialogue about St. Albans’ history. Furthermore, it is important that this reconciliation comes from the top to show the School’s commitment to the issue.
While St. Albans has not started a conversation specific to the history of its integration, it has gotten better at recognizing racism within the community. In response to reports of microaggressions reported to the administration, the School created affinity groups where students of the same ethnic background, sexual orientation, or religion can discuss their identity freely. In addition to affinity groups, the School also held an assembly this fall in response to the Black at STA Instagram account. The student-led assembly helped students understand the posts of examples of racism, and why it was important for the account to exist.
These are hard conversations to have, but they are also necessary ones. The fact that these discussions will be difficult and uncomfortable should not deter us. St. Albans prides itself on taking the hard right over the easy wrong. These dialogues about racism in our community are the hard right that we must take.
Private Schools' Shift Was Slow, Painful for First Enrolled Blacks – Washington Post
Racism at St. Albans – 1970 Yearbook Article, Jon Farmer
St. Albans School: The First Hundred Years – An Illustrated History – Updated History of STA
What is the Alliance of White-Anti-Racist Students?
The Alliance of White Anti-Racist Students (AWAR) is a new affinity group established at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year lead by Mr. Ehrenhaft. The group consists of students who want to play an active role in supporting diversity, equity, and inclusiveness efforts at St. Albans. One of its core principles is being anti-racist, which means taking an active role in combating racism as opposed to simply “not being racist.” If you would like to join AWAR for next year, please reach out to Mr. Ehrenhaft at email@example.com
Special thanks to: