Show Me the Way to Northfield: Remembering MLK
Like most Hermon guys, my hormones raged, and a popular pastime was imagining how to get to Northfield to be with a girl without getting caught. I had my share of unchaperoned situations (probably more than my share, but I’m only counting the ones when I got caught), but I will never forget the time I actually made it to the Northfield campus outside of the rules. During the week. During the day. In broad daylight.
It had nothing to do with anything romantic. It was after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and the entire country seemed to be burning. Tony Garcia was the spirit and inspiration to many black students at Hermon, including me. He and Robert Jackson came up with the idea to stage a protest of our own to King’s assassination and that protest should show unity with our sisters at Northfield. We wanted to stage a joint protest with them, but the super-strictness of Northfield’s administration led us to put more of the onus on us. The way to do that? Leave campus and walk over to Northfield to meet with the sisters to jointly show our concern about King’s death as well as the plight of blacks overall in America an even in our little part of the world at NMH.
At Hermon, we were blessed to have three individuals with stature, power and influence who stood behind us as we had begun a black student movement of our own at Hermon. Those three were: Art Kiendl, Mt. Hermon headmaster; Gerald Davis, Mt. Hermon history professor and Hermon’s only black faculty member; and Rev. Jones, Mt. Hermon Chaplin. Together, they provided cover for us to meet the girls at Northfield for a sanctioned meeting. The big thing, however, was our not being punished for leaving campus and walking the five miles to Northfield. It was one of the weirdest things for this young man from the southside of Chicago to experience. I recall white people running out of their homes and gawking at us as we slowly and relatively quietly walked by. We knew it was because, for many of them, they had never seen black people before or if so, only on the news. With about a dozen blacks together right outside their door, they probably thought a riot was going to break out. I had never been or felt like a spectacle before.
And that was the first – and only – time I made it to Northfield outside of the rules.
My Most Memorable Moment at Mt. Hermon
…was actually attributed to some of the sisters at Northfield. When something is every day and common place in your life, you assume everybody knows it and you don’t give it a second thought. A bunch of us were sitting around comparing stories about being black in the midst of so much whiteness. One of the sisters (Claire?) said that a white girl asked, in pure seriousness and naivete, if the way to get an Afro was to stick your finger in an electric socket. I think I passed through surprise, astonishment, anger, contempt, empathy and plain old laughing my ass off in one microsecond. Wow. At that moment, I was like Dorothy, realizing “I’m not in Kansas anymore.”