GUSET COLUMN: Offering a long-overdue apology
On Monday, we celebrated the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I can think of no better time to write this than on the day we celebrate his accomplishments of making all people aware of the equality in each of us.
In 1960, my parents enrolled me in The Westminster Schools as a boarding
student. At that time, the school leased Glenridge Hall, the 1930s era English manor mansion that Thomas K. Glen built in 1929. The home was huge – on one end of the house were the bedrooms, one quarter for the wife and another separate quarter for her husband. The wife’s bedroom area was large enough to house six or seven girls; an additional two lived in her sitting room and two on her enclosed sitting porch. The master bedroom suite could accompany a similar number of girls. The servants house held all the boarding boys, plus the football coach and his wife and two children.
Today, I would be proud to have a home as nice as those servant’s quarters. Living off site were the servants, maids who cleaned the main house and a family of three who cooked for us and who drove the school’s vehicles.
I am ashamed to say that I cannot recall the names of those people, but I do remember their faces. Their son, who drove the school’s station wagon that often took us to the store, laundromat or other places we needed to go, is a young man I do recall. We called him Spook. He was always pleasant, had impeccable
manners and never seemed to take offense to what we called him.
Certainly, it was not the fault of the students that all of us were from affluent white families, and that we had not a inkling of an idea what life was like for those not as privileged as we were. Westminster was an academically challenging school, and our evenings were spent studying. We even had study hall in the dorms on Saturday mornings and Sunday evenings.
There was little time for television and frivolities. We rarely watched the news or television at all. Our job was to excel academically, and we devoted all our days and most of our evenings to accomplishing this goal.
Our evening study halls were from 7-10 p.m. Lights out at 11 p.m. Many
mornings I was up and studying by 3 or 4 a.m. I graduated high school in
1963, knowing virtually nothing about the Civil Rights Movement, as it didn’t encompass any of my life and, so I ignorantly thought, had nothing to do
So here it is, some 56 years later, and I hope I am not the same ignorant, arrogant, spoiled, privileged white teenager I was then. I would like you to know that I am vocal about human rights, belong to the local NAACP and am the first white woman to be invited to join to an all-black non-profit that educates the public about African-American history.
But above all, if you were an employee of the boarding department of the Westminster Schools in the 1960s, or if your parents were, I hope you will accept my belated heartfelt apology for taking your services for granted, for assuming your services were somehow our due and, above all, for the inexcusable nickname we called you.
The writer is a resident of Andrews.