Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

March 14, 2013

Andover stories column

Andover Stories
Norman ViehmannAndover Historical Society

---- — This is the first of two parts.

Andover’s ABC (A Better Chance) program is entering its 46th year at Andover High. It provides equal educational opportunity for exceptional disadvantaged students. Andover’s ABC students are accepted as part of the community without second thoughts. It hasn’t always been that way. ABC’s beginnings were far from simple.

In 1956 students who lived less then one mile from Andover High School walked to school. The speed limit on Elm Street was 20 mph. All Andover telephone numbers began with GR5 (Greenleaf5). Hundreds of engineers and scientists moved their families to Andover and surrounding towns in the years following 1956 when Bell Telephone Laboratories and the Western Electric Company completed their massive facilities in North Andover. Within six years more than 10,000 were employed at the site. Raytheon also expanded.

The increased population drew more doctors, lawyers, dentists and retailers. The new families began to make an impact in their communities. Andover’s first nursery school opened at the Free Christian Church in 1958, the result of efforts by two young mothers, Elaine Viehmann and Connie Durham. They hired Bernice Warshaw who directed it for more than 20 years. Foreign student programs were initiated in 1963 when a Bell Laboratories engineer, Bob Klie, organized Andover’s American Field Service (AFS) chapter. Horace Seldon, minister of Free Church, resigned to found Community Change, an organization dedicated to assisting Boston area communities in addressing racial discrimination.

Back then, Jewish families who sought homes in Andover were shown properties in small selected areas. There were no, or at least very few, blacks seeking homes. Awareness of discrimination grew in the white community as men like Adam Clayton Powell, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King made headlines and appeared on magazine covers. The civil rights movement blossomed. Voices spoke out in Andover pulpits. The liberal minded began to respond to the call for equal opportunity for minorities. Members of younger families, many of them from Andover’s religious communities, became proactive.

Andover’s Activists

“Honey, Jane and I have decided to go to Washington to the demonstration next week” was heard in more than a few of families among the hundreds who had moved to the Andovers during the expansion of the plant in North Andover. Wives attended rallies in Washington, a few young men joined marches in the deep South. Civil rights dominated the messages from many pulpits. Accounts of meetings appeared in the local news and letters to the editor.

The Boston City Missionary Society started a summer program for children who lived in the black community at Columbia Point in South Boston. Homes in Boston suburbs volunteered to host a child for a week. The kids from 17 families in on our cul-de-sac accepted our “camper.” One couple in particular clouded the air with their outward racist feelings, which were not uncommon in the summer of ‘63. At that time the Andover Council of Equal Opportunity (ACEO) was organized. Under the leadership of Dick Marciano and others they sought to promote the acceptance of people of color in the community. It’s active membership spanned Andover’s congregations. At West Parish, Bruce Van Blair inspired the founding of REACH (Realty Equality in Andover Community Housing), which sought to develop equal opportunity apartment housing in an area by the Horn Bridge. The project was dropped when it was found that more than 100 housing units were required for financial viability. Then The Fishermen were organized to promote initiatives that would further equal opportunities for members of minorities in the area.

In 1965, Josh Miner, new director of admissions at Phillips Academy initiated efforts to found Outward Bound in the U.S. This effective program has changed the lives of more than 600,000 youth and now serves 70,000 students and teachers a year. The Fishermen provided a scholarship to Outward Bound for a Lawrence youth as part of its efforts to address inequality of opportunity in the greater Lawrence community. The support of the needs of local youth and families by dozens of non-profits, volunteer organizations and churches has become a hallmark of Merrimack Valley communities since the social awakening began with the civil rights movement in the ‘60s.

Andover was ripe for a well-defined program that addressed civil rights. The members of ACEO had not found a way to go beyond promoting an open housing market in Andover. The need for a way to introduce black families into the community was apparent in the fall of 1966 when a call came to Bruce Van Blair concerning a program for qualified disadvantaged high school students, “ABC.”

Events originating in 1964-65 at the national level of ABC led to the inquiry about an ABC program for Andover. At that time 19 private secondary schools, including Phillips, had become hosts to some six hundred ABC students. An affiliate of the ABC, the Independent Schools Talent Search Program, publicized ABC at high schools populated by disadvantaged minority students. Their representatives provided opportunities for motivated students to apply. By 1964, six thousand qualified students had applied. There was capacity for only 600 at the 19 private schools. It was decided to introduce the ABC program to public schools such as Andover High.

Next Week: The town rallies support.