Making Black Lives Matter 50 Years Ago
By Peter Weis ’78, P’13, ’21
It’s a yearbook like any other DIY yearbook, with photocopied pictures of seniors and younger students and lots of inside jokes and nicknames. But Black Light, produced at NMH in the spring of 1970, targets a very specific audience: the Black students of Northfield and Mount Hermon.
Editor Kenneth “Spoon” Witherspoon ’70 says that he and other Black students felt supported by the Northfield and Mount Hermon administrations, but not always understood. What was important to them was not necessarily important to their white counterparts. Witherspoon recalled that the day after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, he saw white students playing lacrosse and Frisbee on Crossley field like nothing had happened. Witherspoon says they expressed more outrage in 1970, when the National Guard killed four white undergraduates and wounded nine others during Kent State’s anti-war protests (and then were silent again 11 days later when police officers killed two Black students and wounded 12 others at Jackson State College in Mississippi).
It was during the aftermath of Kent State that Witherspoon felt the impetus to document the lives he and other Black students had lived at Northfield and Mount Hermon. “I wanted to create something we could keep, and remember one another,” he says. Witherspoon had gotten a camera from a teacher a couple of years earlier, and he knew how to use a darkroom. Art Kiendl, the headmaster at Mount Hermon, and Carroll Bailey, who headed the social program, made sure the project got funded. Suddenly, Witherspoon recalled, everyone wanted to help.
The point of Black Light was to celebrate students who so often had felt unseen. As Margaret Elizabeth Calhoun ’70 pointed out in the yearbook’s epigraph, “If you see me, don’t ask me where I’ve been for the past couple of days; ask me where I’ve been for the past four years.”