WHY THEY DID NOT FIGHT BACK
Students attacked by hoodlums in a troubled section of Boston demonstrate to the world how Christian discipline can triumph over insane and brutal aggression
by Carol Cantu
JENNIFER JIMERSON, OF DETROIT, MICHIGAN, AND JOHN JONES, OF RIVERSIDE, CALIFORNIA, WERE AMONG TWELVE STUDENTS ASSAULTED NEAR BOSTON MONUMENT.
You’re too isolated,” our guest, Raymond Moore, director of Hewitt Research Center, had told us. “Let people know what you’re doing up here. . . . You need publicity.” He had just closed a summer workshop at Pine Forge Academy in August, 1977. I’m sure he was shocked, as were the rest of us, to find three months later the name of Pine Forge blazing in newspaper headlines and pictured on television news all across the nation.
Unfortunately, the incident that heralded news about Pine Forge was not exactly what Dr. Moore had in mind. Newspapers, radios, and television sets blared this story of violence at Bunker Hill: “Twelve students and two teachers beaten in racially troubled section of Boston.”
Though the facts of this incident are not unlike other racial encounters that have occurred in Boston over the past three years, the circumstances of the unprovoked attack and its implications to Pine Forge made up the greater story missed by the media but caught by us as being more important than the narrative itself.
A little more than a year ago Auldwin Humphrey, principal of Pine Forge Academy, told the student group that one day soon important people would focus their attention on Pine Forge. He had heard no announcement to that end and neither had any member of the faculty and staff, but he said merely that he was impressed this would happen.
The students laughed, for it didn’t seem to them like a plausible thing. From where they sat it was more in the realm of a Cinderella story—glittering and fanciful but out of touch with hard facts and reality. His prayer had been: “Lord send us a miracle.” This phrase rang in my mind for months. Our school needed a miracle to pull us out of the financial doldrums in which we found ourselves, especially after the September registration. Suffering from the results of a fire that completely destroyed our cafeteria, we also had a dramatic downturn in enrollment.
Even with the expertise of John Pitts, the new business manager, who had done a great job for the leprosarium in Sierra Leone, West Africa, Pine Forge would need divine intervention to see it through the financial thickets of an already troubled economy.
After two exasperating months our problem became more acute, and our plans for raising funds had to take on new momentum. Our student body rallied to the needs of the school and gave help in many ways, and these young people seemed unusually mature in their understanding of what was happening to us and to the school.
The spirit on campus was obviously serious and profoundly spiritual. Students as well as staff commented on what they felt was the indication of the Divine Presence among us.
As newly appointed director of public relations (a position certainly created out of need), I immediately busied myself making preliminary contacts with funding agencies. One response that I received on three occasions was that in order for a private institution, especially a high school, to receive money, it had to prove in a substantial way that it offered something unique in the field of secondary education. It must have a program that was not offered in public schools, a program that had proved its worth.
Of course I felt that Pine Forge did offer something unique: It presented “the harmonious development of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual powers.” But how could we measure this success for the benefit of others, and how could we convince, say, a foundation or its fact-finding agencies of the uniqueness of our program?
November 11 marked one year from the time our cafeteria burned. Since the Pottstown Mercury had carried the fire as headline news, we asked the editor to run the story of a solicitation day for which we had organized. We distributed flyers door to door in the city, advising the community of our efforts. On the day planned for solicitation, all preparations were made and everybody was geared to go, but it rained! With great disappointment we rescheduled our plans for the following
Monday, November 15. A group of students who had bookings for a field trip to Boston over the weekend urged us to wait for their return so they could participate. These students promised to include on their educational tour a Pine Forge recruitment program at a local church in Boston and to make a fund-raising contact at a travel agency.
Monday morning, November 15, 1977, began as an exciting day on campus. At the 7:55 worship we prayed fervently for our solicitation day and for the students who were to return that evening from Boston. We anticipated great and unusual developments for Pine Forge.
This was the backdrop against which we received news that four of our students, along with Charles Battles, their teacher, had been assaulted in Boston and were in the hospital being treated for multiple wounds, cuts, and lacerations. Battles had called Principal Humphrey to report the attack, but he was so composed as he related the matter that Humphrey could not imagine it was an incident of the magnitude newsmen later reported.
Battles had said they were to be examined and that he would telephone again on leaving the hospital. Before Battles could make his second call, our lines were jumping with calls from United Press International, Associated Press, and all major newspapers and television stations in the Philadelphia area. Although the media were calling us for information, they were our first real source of comprehensive facts about our students. We didn’t want to believe these reporters; hence we called the Boston police department and the hospital to verify their stories.
To our amazement, both the police department and the emergency personnel had more to say about the character of the students and teachers than about the incident. The police verified that the attack had occurred and gave a brief report on the apparent physical condition of each student. But they then elaborated on the maturity, independence, and spiritual strength of the students. They remarked that the attitude of the students toward their assailants was truly Christian and of a nature not witnessed by them before, especially in the kind of racial incidents that for months had kept Boston in perpetual turmoil. The police expressed hope that the media would capture this spiritual, nonviolent stance of our group.
When I called the hospital emergency room, I received a detailed report on the physical condition of each of our people admitted. Some were still undergoing tests at this point. When the emergency room director completed his report, he said to me, “These students and teachers are a credit to your school. They are demonstrating a training that we rarely see.” He mentioned their maturity and above all the projection of an unusual spiritual insight and moral accountability.
The praises that thus rang in my ear I interpreted as a measure, an evaluation, of the discipline of Christian education. Our philosophy, our aim, “the harmonious development of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual powers,” was tested, and it had scored highly. When the remaining students on campus heard of the incident, their immediate response was silence, then prayer. A depression seemed to grip the entire group at lunchtime; a few began to weep softly. It was a difficult decision to continue our plans. We had no idea at that moment that radio and television networks all over the country had announced the attack on Pine Forge students in Boston. When we approached homes in the Pottstown area, hearts had been touched and people gave generously to our cause. In about five hours, less than one hundred students had raised over twelve hundred dollars. Our advanced planning of the solicitation day had alerted the community to our coming, but the Boston incident had alerted them to the merit of our cause.
The next morning I accompanied Auldwin Humphrey to Boston. Our primary aim was to be with the students, to lend moral support, and to check firsthand on their well-being.
Principal Humphrey was deeply concerned about legal ramifications of the situation and was apprehensive that this might occupy precious time in drawn-out hearings, thus diverting him from important work at the academy. In my role as director of public relations I needed to know the complete story so that I could intelligently answer questions. What happened, as reported from students and teachers, was this:
On leaving the Bunker Hill monument in the Charleston section of Boston, they noticed a car circle a few times. At first there were just two men in the car, but later there were five.
With the approach of the public bus for which the group was waiting, the men sprang from the car and began beating our tour group with golf clubs and hockey sticks. The first reaction of the Pine Forge boys was to protect the young ladies. The five male students and teacher muscled all of their strength to gather the eight girls and push them into the bus to shield them from injury. Even so, only six girls safely boarded the bus without a single blow; two ran for shelter down the street.
After Pine Forge men had protected the young ladies, they struggled to get onto the bus themselves. Only after they were safely inside did someone come to their aid. That aid was given by the bus driver, who merely closed the door against the assailants. He then took the group to the police station. Two blocks down the street he picked up the girls who had run to escape the attackers. When the group was together again, blood trickling down their faces and splotching their clothes, their first words were, “Let’s have prayer.” There on the crowded bus, spectators totally silent and unresponsive, the group joined hands for an audible prayer.
They prayed for health, strength, and protection. They gave thanks that though they were blood spattered and in pain, they were all conscious and aware of God’s mercies. They gave thanks that even though no one save the bus driver really came to their aid, God had protected them from an altercation that could have been far worse.
In the police station they intelligently and without hysteria gave their story. The injured were taken to the hospital, and the others were questioned further. During this interlude the students spotted the car and one of the assailants lurking around the police station. The officers immediately arrested three of the men.
When the Pine Forge youth were presented with photographs of these men, they were able to easily identify them.
Boston police were especially impressed that these youngsters who had undergone a tremendous episode were calm, unrevengeful, and noticeably articulate about what had transpired. Those who could make positive identifications did so. Those who had the slightest doubts refused in any way to make a judgment that might incriminate the innocent.
When the tour group had finally gathered at the hospital, they were bombarded with questions from news reporters, who were shocked that amid all the blood and physical pain there was not even a hint of anger. This maturity, alertness, and spiritual composure seemed literally to captivate them.
Mayor Kevin White also met with our young people at the hospital and expressed his embarrassment and apology on behalf of the city. He, too, admired the students and their handling of the affair, for he was aware that such a delicate situation—if allowed to get out of hand—could have resulted in a major riot. Complete strangers came forward to offer their help—some to care for dry cleaning and laundry, others to provide hotel accommodations, dinners at big restaurants, elaborate city tours, and the like. The students were advised to stay on to witness at the legal hearings, which were expedited to accommodate them. One dignitary of Boston after another expressed either by telephone, letter, or in person their apologies for
Boston and their admiration to the group for the way they responded. At the end of the first grand jury session the district attorney, his assistants, and several jurors remarked on the excellent cooperation of the students. The kinds of clues that give credence to a testimony were evident in the remarks of each who testified. One juror was so impressed with the articulation of the students that she asked one to tell her more about Pine Forge Academy.
How was it different, what was its philosophy? Fred Walters answered without hesitation, “Our school is different because we believe that true education ‘is the harmonious development of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual powers.’ ”
Reporters, jurors, Boston officials, and even the mayor himself, asked for an invitation to visit Pine Forge Academy. Massachusetts secretary of education, Paul Parks, remarked that he had just submitted to the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare a paper that proves public education in its design is not geared for the masses and especially not for those who are poor, black, or minority.
He seemed to be especially interested in a school like Pine Forge as a model of what effective education can be. The National Broadcasting Company has expressed an interest in a television special on Pine Forge and its philosophy of “true education.” As an immediate result of the Boston incident, Mayor White has consented to be a guest at a fund-raising dinner for our academy. Roy Dunfrey, owner of several exclusive hotels, has donated the ballroom of the Philadelphia Sheraton for the grand event. Singer Clifton Davis, a Pine Forge alumnus, has offered to provide entertainment along with The Brothers, a popular Adventist singing group from Washington, D.C. Donations have begun to come to the school from people in many parts of the nation.
We at Pine Forge know that the Boston incident was more than a racial attack. In a mysterious way God was letting the world get a glimpse of some results of true education. Financially, the door was opened for the academy to receive more of God’s blessings. Our enrollment will undoubtedly increase as the world evaluates and the parents and friends of our students reevaluate what Pine Forge has to offer.
God is working a miracle at Pine Forge so that we may do His will even more and exemplify even to a greater extent the meaning and substance of character education. We sometimes talk pessimistically about the future of our young people. But we at Pine Forge are more convinced than ever that God’s work is in good hands with youth who stood as these did at Bunker Hill.