Manumit Closes Its Door

Comments By Mike Speer

I was at Manumit in the mid- to 1949. But I remember the 1956-57 year. The school was under attack by the state licensing agency. Inspected and re-inspected. There was reason to believe that the  inter-racial character of Manumit had something to do with the attention.  At one point 14% of Manumit students were, as we now say, African-American. This while the country as a whole was 10-11%. This was unheard of in private schools, or public schools generally. And Manumit was “multi-sexual” too! You may recall that following the 1954 Brown v Bd of Ed decision there was considerable backlash. The dominant forces in PA at the time were hardly “progressive.” There was a hearing in Harrisburg which Billy asked me to speak at as a former student who was teaching in NYC at the time. I have some of the records and will try to write up something soon and get Aulay to post it. Subsequent to formal closing, a few students remained under some sort of arrangement, as I vaguely recall, while Billy tried to sell the place and pay the debts. (Incidentally, he had put virtually all of his own money into the school over the years, including the buying of the Bristol place after the Pawling fire.) Billy ultimately (in the early 1960’s) moved to CT where he taught reading to adolescent non-readers. (He had studied this before leaving PA.) I last saw him in 1968 or 1969. He came to NYC to join me for dinner and to go to a memorial for A. J. Muste (who had presided at the funeral for his father and was a long-time “leader” of what might be called the “Christian left”) at a hall in the lower East-side where there was also organizing for an upcoming anti-war protest. Billy died a month or two later that year. (His surviving children would know the particulars.)

– Regards, Mike

Telegram

SEPTEMBER 25, 1956

THE PRESIDENT
DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER
THE WHITE HOUSE
WASHINGTON, D. C.

KNOWING OF YOUR INTEREST IN INTEGRATION IN OUR SCHOOLS I BEG YOUR INTERCEDENCE IN WHAT APPEARS TO BE LOCAL POLITICAL MANIPULATIONS THREATENING TO CLOSE MANUMIT SCHOOL IN BRISTOL, PENNSYLVANIA, AN INTERRACIAL COEDUCATIONAL NON-PROFIT PREPARATORY SCHOOL, WHERE INTEGRATION HAS BEEN WORKING IDEALLY FOR MANY YEARS.

THE PENNSYLVANIA STATE DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND INDUSTRY IN HARRISBURG, WITH A SUB-OFFICE OF FIRE INSPECTION IN PHILADELPHIA HAS POSTED SIGNS CONDEMNING THE MANUMIT SCHOOL BUILDINGS AS A FIRE HAZARD AND UNSAFE FOR THE STUDENTS. THESE BUILDINGS HAVE BEEN IN USE FOR TWELVE YEARS WITH THE APPROVAL OF THAT DEPARTMENT AND REPAIRS DURING THE PAST SUMMER HAVE PUT THEM IN BETTER SHAPE THAN EVER BEFORE. ALL DEMANDS MADE BY THAT DEPARTMENT IN WRITING LAST JUNE 26 HAVE BEEN COMPLIED WITH. SINCE THEN FURTHER VERBAL DEMANDS HAVE BEEN MADE FROM TIME TO TIME OF NUMEROUS AND CONSTANTLY VARYING DETAIL BY DIFFERENT PERSONNEL THROUGHOUT THE SUMMER.

FAILING TO ARRIVE AT ANY APPARENTLY FIXED SET OF NEW REQUIREMENTS FROM THE PHILADELPHIA BRANCH, APPEAL WAS MADE TO THE HARRISBURG OFFICE AND A FINAL REQUIREMENT FOR REPLACING TWO PREVIOUSLY APPROVED FIRE ESCAPES AND ENCLOSING AN INTERIOR STAIRWAY WAS MADE VERBALLY ONLY LAST WEEK. THERE IS STILL NOTHING IN WRITING FROM THE DEPARTMENT AS TO EXACTLY WHAT IS NEEDED.

SCHOOL OPENING HAS ALREADY BEEN POSTPONED FROM SEPTEMBER 12 TO OCTOBER 2, AND IT IS OBVIOUSLY IMPOSSIBLE TO MAKE THE PRESENTLY REQUIRED CHANGES BEFORE SCHOOL OPENS. IF THE SCHOOL CANNOT OPEN, IT WILL GO BANKRUPT DUE TO ITS ALREADY PRECARIOUS FINANCIAL POSITION AND THE SEVENTY-ODD STUDENTS ENROLLED WILL FOREVER BE DEPRIVED OF THE SCHOOL’S EDUCATIONAL ADVANTAGES.

THE TWO CO-DIRECTORS OF THE SCHOOL, WILLIAM MANN FINCKE AND JOHN LINDLOF HAVE CONTRIBUTED HEAVILY FINANCIALLY AS WELL AS WORKED YEARS AT GREATLY BELOW NORMAL INCOME. THEY ARE DOING A MAGNIFICENT JOB EXEMPLARY OF WHAT CAN BE DONE IN AN INTERRACIAL SCHOOL.

THE SCHOOL BUILDINGS ARE DEFINITELY NOT A FIRE TRAP BY ANY STRETCH OF THE IMAGINATION. THE PRESENT FIRE ESCAPES ARE USABLE AND IN GOOD CONDITION. LOCAL POLITICAL MANIPULATIONS ARE SUSPECTED BECAUSE HOUSING PROJECTS HAVE RECENTLY SURROUNDED THE SCHOOL AND CERTAIN RESIDENTS MAY OBJECT TO THE INTERRACIAL STATUS OF THE SCHOOL OR LOCAL PROMOTERS MAY SEE THE VALUE OF THE SCHOOL PROPERTY FOR FURTHER HOUSING PROJECTS. WE HAVE NO SPECIFIC EVIDENCE BUT THE BEHAVIOR OF DEPARTMENT OF PERSONNEL WOULD SEEM TO INDICATE PRESSURE BEYOND THEIR CALL OF DUTY. IF CERTAIN PARTIES DESIRE THE REMOVAL OF THE SCHOOL THEY WILL EVENTUALLY HAVE THEIR WISH AS THE SCHOOL HOPES TO MOVE TO A MORE RURAL LOCATION AS SOON AS ONE CAN BE FOUND. A BOARD OF APPEALS OF THE DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND INDUSTRY MEETS THE SECOND THURSDAY IN OCTOBER.

ALL THAT IS NEEDED IS TO GIVE THE SCHOOL TIME TO GO BEFORE THE BOARD OF APPEALS AND THEN BE GIVEN REASONABLE TIME TO COMPLY WITH ITS DECISIONS.

TO CLOSE THE SCHOOL NOW WOULD BE A GROSS MISCARRIAGE OF JUSTICE AND CAUSE GRAVE MISGIVINGS IN THE MINDS OF ALL ITS STUDENTS AS TO THE DEMOCRATIC PRINCIPLES ON WHICH THIS COUNTRY OF THEIRS FUNCTIONS.

I BEG YOU TO REQUEST THE GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA TO ALLOW MANUMIT SCHOOL TO OPEN ON OCTOBER 2 UNTIL FURTHER INVESTIGATION CAN BE MADE AND TO SEE THAT IT IS GIVEN DUE CONSIDERATION IN THE CIRCUMSTANCES. I AM WIRING THE HONORABLE GEORGE LEADER QUOTING THIS TELEGRAM SO THAT HE MAY BE APPRISED OF THE SITUATION.

PLEASE NOTE THAT ACTION MUST BE TAKEN THIS WEEK AS THE STUDENTS ARE SCHEDULED TO ARRIVE THIS COMING SUNDAY, OCTOBER 1, AND THE SCHOOL CANNOT ADVISE THE STUDENTS TO STAY HOME AGAIN FOR AN INDEFINITE PERIOD OF TIME.

RESPECTFULLY YOURS,

A. W. HAYDON, CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF MANUMIT SCHOOL, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE A. W. HAYDON COMPANY DIVISION OF CONSOLIDATED ELECTRONICS INDUSTRIES CORP., WATERBURY, CONNECTICUT