Students from the Street: A Look at Dartmouth’s Foundation Years Project

A short-lived 1960s-era program that transported street-smart Chicago Vice Lords to the hallowed halls of the Ivy League school has been largely forgotten—except by those who volunteered for the ride

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Pages from the Foundation Years promotional catalog
Pages from the Foundation Years 1968 promotional catalog
 

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Meet the students from the street

Last year, I came across this Dartmouth–Vice Lords connection quite by accident while researching a story about historic graystones in North Lawndale. A real-estate lawyer with the Legal Assistance Foundation mentioned that he had been startled over the years by a few clients, relatively down-and-out by the time they got to him, who said they had gone to Dartmouth. He always wondered how the sons of North Lawndale had made it to the college of Daniel Webster and Nelson Rockefeller. He thought I should check it out.

But information was hard to find. At Dartmouth, few people remember anything of the Foundation Years—not in the administration, not in the university archives. It’s forgotten in North Lawndale, too, which is still poor and where gangs have become, if anything, more insidious than they were in the 1960s. But the subject remained fixed in my mind, and I eventually ran across an old Dartmouth brochure about the program that listed the name of Allan “Tiny” Evans as one of its early students. A local directory had a phone number for an Allan T. Evans. “That’s me,” said the voice that answered my call when I haltingly described my quest. You could say the dam broke loose with Evans, who soon volunteered himself as my “key informant” (he majored in sociology). Today, he lives in Englewood, retired from Chicago Public Schools. He’s personable, insightful, and smart—and probably one of the most unlikely members of Dartmouth’s class of ’71.

Dartmouth was founded in 1769, largely as a mission to “civilize and Christianize” Native Americans, in the New England wilderness, as Charles Dey, now retired, describes it. In fact, the college never admitted many Native Americans—rather it became the last institution of higher education founded under colonial rule and is now the nation’s ninth oldest. Among Ivy League schools, it is arguably the most lovely, with Georgian architecture around manicured greens, and it is definitely the most remote. It is also eminent for its social awareness—partly because the Tucker Foundation encourages activism and, some say, because its very isolation inspires a liberal spirit. Dartmouth has always had a disproportionate number of Peace Corps volunteers compared with other colleges. It pioneered Outward Bound. Not liberal, but also well known, the polemical Dartmouth Review enjoys a national reputation for ex-editors who go on to write for stridently conservative publications. In any case, Dartmouth has long prevailed against provincialism.

As for civil rights, the school’s history reaches back to the spring of 1967, when George Wallace, the segregationist former governor of Alabama, was invited to speak. The campus had only 20 or so blacks at the time, out of an enrollment of 3,200. But Wallace was interrupted by student hecklers who hated his separate-but-equal message. As he left the campus, his car was swarmed by angry white males.

Dartmouth’s first known contact with North Lawndale also came in 1967, when a white graduate named David Dawley, class of ’63, got a job researching the attitudes of inner-city youth about federally funded summer programs.

Through this work, he became friends with high-ranking members of the Vice Lords, the area’s most powerful gang, who used persuasion and occasional violence to expand their influence throughout the West Side. No one had illusions about government performing miracles in the neighborhood, but Dawley learned that “Vice Lord leaders wanted a change from the traditional dead-end street warfare,” as he later wrote in his book, A Nation of Lords, first published in 1973.

“We were communicating with politicians and trying to change conditions in the community. And we were opening up avenues for people to get some education,” says Bobby Gore, who was the Vice Lords’ spokesman before he went to jail in 1969 on charges that he insists were trumped up by authorities who distrusted black power of any kind.

Dawley was a deliberate catalyst in this piece of Vice Lords history. He had served in the Peace Corps after college, then moved to North Lawndale in 1967 and worked with the Vice Lords for two years. As he acquired their trust, he also secured grants from the Rockefeller Foundation and others to start legitimate businesses under an umbrella organization called CVL, for Conservative Vice Lords, a variant name for the gang. The experiment was successful for several years, later falling apart for many reasons—hard drugs topping the list.

DeWitt Beall was one year ahead of Dawley at Dartmouth. He came to Chicago to work in advertising, finding success as a filmmaker at Reach, McClinton & Co. Like many young men his age, Beall was inspired by the possibility of change and wrangled a client, American Can Company, to fund a documentary about the West Side. After Dawley blazed the trail, Beall found his way to North Lawndale, and in 1969 he completed Making It, a film about African Americans and the difficulties of transitioning from welfare to work.

Among Beall’s contacts in the neighborhood were Henry Jordan, a high-ranking Vice Lord, and Tiny Evans, a member of the Braves (a West Side gang later absorbed by the Vice Lords). Beall was particularly fascinated by these young men, who were just a year or two younger than he was but appeared to have mastered street life as respected gang elders, savvy politicians, and all-around hustlers. (Beall made a second documentary, Lord Thing, about the Vice Lords as a political-social movement; it screened at the 1970 Venice Film Festival.) He was impressed by their intelligence and ambition, and he couldn’t help but notice that they were getting $150 a week to attend Central YMCA Community College as part of a federal work-study program. Why not Dartmouth?

When Dean Dey told Beall that the school would admit the gang members, it was with the caveat that money had to be raised for their scholarships. Beall networked his Dartmouth connections and met the attorney Robert Grossman (Dartmouth, ’56), of the blue-blooded firm of Keck, Mahin & Cate. A liberal who believed deeply in affirmative action, Grossman introduced Beall to another attorney, Ken Montgomery (Dartmouth, ’25), a partner at Wilson & McIlvaine, who was heir to the C. W. Post cereal fortune and had an activist bent. He was as fascinated by gang life as Beall was.

Beall and Grossman asked Montgomery for $5,000 to fund two scholarships. “It was a time when everyone was making an effort to open doors for blacks,” Grossman says. “One of the delusions we had was that if we simply put these kids in the world we came from, they would succeed, or at least progress.” Montgomery offered them $10,000.

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Photograph: Courtesy of Dartmouth College

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