Napoleon Andrews was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. In this interview, Napoleon talks about the history of his family's migration from the farms of Virginia to Baltimore. Napoleon discusses his admiration for his mother who worked as a maid and survived two husbands by the age of 43. Her first husband died of tuberculosis at age 22 and Napoleon's father passed away when Napoleon was only 9 years old. Napoleon's father worked for Bethlehem Steel and was part of a repressive system which would employ workers for a period of 6 months and then lay them off to avoid having workers become eligible for full-time benefits.
Despite these hardships, Napoleon's neighborhood was a vibrant black community in West Baltimore. Ultimately, Napoleon asserts that the community was destroyed by two factors - a failed "urban renewal" project and the Vietnam War. A highway construction project -designed to aid access to the city center for suburbanites - cut right through the heart of the black community in West Baltimore and displaced thousands of residents. This ill-fated project ultimately became known as the "Highway to Nowhere" because construction on the project was halted and has never been completed. The Vietnam War also took a toll on the community as many young men in Napoleon's neighborhood who had gone to serve in the war returned devastated by what they had experienced. Napoleon remembers an epidemic of suicides among these men with as many as 9 or 10 suicides taking place in one square block.
Napoleon was identified early on as a young man with a great deal of academic promise and was encouraged to test for the Independent School Talent Search Program. Feeling as though there was nothing for him in Baltimore, Napoleon accepted a scholarship to the Deveaux School in Niagra Falls, New York, and completed his high school education there. Upon his counselor's recommendation, Napoleon applied to Villanova University and enrolled in the Fall of 1970.
As Napoleon recounts in his interview, he lived in Room #1 in Austin Hall for four years and became an active member of the Black Student League (BSL), serving as president of BSL from 1973-1974. Napoleon discusses the important role the organization played in making black students feel welcomed on campus. Napoleon fondly recalls the lounge of Austin Hall as a place where black Villanova students socialized, played pinochle and found a supportive community. In this interview, Napoleon also describes with pride the accomplishments of the Black Panther intramural basketball team.
As president of the Black Student League, Napoleon served during a tumultuous period in Villanova's history as students confronted the administration over a variety of issues. Most notably, Napoleon helped to lead a student take-over of Tolentine Hall in 1974 in which 1200 Villanova students occupied the main administration building over the issue of parietals. Napoleon recalls how students of other colleges and universities, feeling the types of protests had run their course, reacted with shock when they heard of the sit-in. Indeed, the Villanovan observed that Villanova students finally "made it into the 1960s."
In this interview, Napoleon describes how Watergate had an impact on his career choice. As a result of the criminal activities and unethical behavior displayed by many government officials during the scandal, Napoleon felt the profession of an attorney was not the noble vocation it once appeared to be and he lost his enthusiasm for the profession. Napoleon describes how he now regrets not taking advantage of the resources that Villanova had to offer, such as career services. However, at the time, Napoleon felt that it was a matter of separation by choice and that his goal was to do well academically, maintain his black identity and graduate on time. On graduation day, Napoleon remembers feeling that his time at Villanova was "time served in the country club", which is to say that it was "not an unpleasant experience" but that it was time to move on. At the commencement ceremony, Napoleon recalls that, despite instructions to line up alphabetically, when his name was called all 17 black students who were graduating that day lined up behind him in one final demonstration of the solidarity of black Villanovans.
Napoleon is currently enjoying a successful career in the financial planning business and now lives in Columbia, Maryland.
In the first excerpt, Andrews begins his interview by describing his family's move to Baltimore from Virginia as part of the migration of African Americans to the north and to the west.
In the second excerpt, Andrews describes the strong work ethic of his parents and their influence on him.
Andrews traces the history of his neighborhood in Baltimore which went from a strong community to one that was wracked by the Vietnam War and failed urban renewal projects.
Andrews describes his experiences at the Deveaux School in upstate New York, where received a scholarship to attend the prep school. In this segment he talks about the culture change about being in a predominantly white school.
In this section of the interview Andrews recounts his first day at Villanova where he showed up wearing a coat and tie. Andrews also describes his early experiences in Austin Hall.
Andrews describes the feelings of being a black student on a predominantly white campus. He details how black students claimed the Austin Hall lounge and turned it into the center of black student culture at Villanova.
In this section of the interview Andrews expresses his thoughts on the involvement of black students in the Black Student League.
In this segment Andrews talks about the impact that older black students had on him and other black students at Villanova.
Andrews shares his perceptions of the Villanova administration's feelings toward black students during his time as a student.
Andrews recounts the issues which led a coalition of students to take over Tolentine in February 1974.
Andrews discusses the success of the Black Panthers, the intramural basketball team comprised of black Villanova students.
Andrews describes his thoughts and feelings on the day of his commencement in 1974. He also describes a dramatic display of solidarity by black Villanova students during the commencement exercises.
In these two excerpts Andrews takes a look at how being a black man in a predominantly white institution prepared him for life after graduation. He also expresses some thoughts on the feelings of black alums from this era.