Jake Fife '23 & Will Spector '23
In 1964, Dr. Frank M. Snowden III graduated from St. Albans. Dr. Snowden was the first Black student to attend St. Albans following the decision of the school to integrate. Despite the reassuring nature of an article presented in the Illustrated History of St. Albans, which suggests that Dr. Snowden's experience at the school had "little real difficulty," he himself confessed that his life as a Black student at STA in the 1960s was anything but easy.
In March 2021, Dr. Snowden addressed the viewers of St. Albans' annual alumni dinner over Zoom. He began his speech by providing a synopsis of his views on the COVID-19 pandemic as a long time epidemiologist. Later in the dinner, alumnus Dr. Carter Mitchell '93 presented the "2021 Gillchrist-Holleman" award to Dr. Snowden, inviting him to share his experience as the first Black student at St. Albans. The following stories are taken from Dr. Snowden's speech succeeding the award ceremony.
Dr. Snowden matriculated at St. Albans coming into A Form after leaving “The Slow School,” which was all-Black. He also attended an international school during his youngest years. At neither school did Dr. Snowden think about the concept of race. In his talk, he revealed that his father's goal for him at St. Albans was to prove that a Black child could find success in a rigorous academic environment – a situation which was not believed to be possible by many at the time. He was thought of as a social experiment. Dr. Snowden made friends quickly upon his arrival at St. Albans, but faced numerous challenges especially concerning racism. He was in a world he had never known before, a world dominated by racial stereotypes. As a middle schooler, Dr. Snowden received notes in his desk saying "Go back to Africa," and was regularly challenged to physical fights by classmates. He had no desire to engage in these fights because he felt as though he needed to reflect a positive image. He was often denied participation in athletic events with schools that had not integrated yet. Dr. Snowden felt that the school did not stand up for him in these instances, as he was often “unceremoniously dropped” from his teams. When Dr. Snowden was in Form II (eighth grade), he started a science fair project with a friend, and visited the friend's house to discuss the project. After his arrival, the parents of the white friend approached Dr. Snowden. He was no longer welcome at their home. "Before you know it, there are mixed race marriages, and mixed race children," they said. He was only 12 at the time.
In his senior year, Dr. Snowden was approached by a student who had been the most “viscerally racist” towards him every day for seven years of his St. Albans life. In Dr. Snowden’s senior year, the student embraced him, asking "can you forgive me?" At that moment, Dr. Snowden understood for the first time that racism not only hurts its victims, but is also detrimental to those who employ it as a weapon. He saw that this student had been damaged by his years of racism; by his years of looking in the mirror and seeing hatred staring back at him. The two students had a peculiar bond, both of them aware that learning only comes after suffering – in this case, the suffering caused by very different reasons. Dr. Snowden's response to the student was spontaneous: "Oh, but I already have."