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Andrew Heidelberg

Andrew Heidelberg

Andrew Heidelberg was a freshman in February of 1959 when he attended Norview High School with six other African-American children.

Andrew has written a powerful memoir about his experiences (The Norfolk 17: A Personal Narrative on Desegregation in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1958-1962). At 60 years old, speaking at a program in 2004*, he said that these programs always bring emotional flashbacks from that time in the late 50s. He said while he was in school, he thought that he might end up like Emmett Till. He was terrified and didn't understand why he couldn't just go to school and be a kid.

He told the story of watching three boys play baseball at school. He loved sports and envied these boys. He knew he couldn't join them, so he just watched from a distance. They saw him and started yelling at him, calling him unspeakable names, telling him to stop looking at them -- calling him "nigger" over and over. One boy hurled the baseball at Andrew's head, but Andrew ducked in time to miss it. One with a bat said he wanted to "kill a nigger today"; he told Andrew that after school he'd better be ready to die.

Andrew said he kept thinking to himself that he couldn't understand why he had to go through this. He was just a kid who wanted to go to school and not be bothered. He looked at his hands and wondered why God made him black, why he had to suffer like this.

Near the end of the school day, the principal called him to his office and made him stay there until after 5pm. He couldn't figure out why he had to be there. Later that evening, his friend Freddy Gonsouland (a fellow Norfolk 17 member) told him about the angry mob of white students who were wielding baseball bats, saying they were "going to kill a nigger." Andrew realized that the principal held him back to save his life.

Andrew said his story is a little different than the others -- it had another side, because he turned out to be a football star. When he was a junior, they didn't allow him to play, but when he was a senior, things changed. One comment he likes to make as he recounts his experiences is that when someone asked him if he was too light (weight) to play when he was a junior, he responded: "I wasn't too light, I was too dark." He said that more people accepted him because of his ability to play football.

After high school, Andrew graduated from Norfolk State University with his B.S. degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. As with many other members of the Norfolk 17, he moved away from Norfolk (to Rhode Island), and then came back to settle in Hampton, where he served as Chief Deputy Treasurer. His children attended Norview Middle and High Schools. 

Andrew pursued an M. A. degree in Humanities at Old Dominion University after retirement, but died before finishing. At the Fall 2015 Commencement, ODU President Broderick presented Andrew's widow with a certificate of academic achievement for Andrew. His master's thesis, which was never finished, "explored how local media coverage of his high school sports career told a story about desegregation that overlooked the racism he and other black athletes encountered in favor of celebrating their individual talents." Broderick concluded his remarks: "He was a hero to many, but a great human being to all who knew him." (see article)

Andrew Heidelberg was born on November 6, 1943 and died on July 6, 2015 (Obituary).

* May 16, 2004, "Celebrating the Legacy of Brown v. Board of Education: Then and Now," Chrysler Museum.

Newspaper photo of Norview High School

Andrew Heidelberg behind Johnnie Rouse and Carol Wellington after their first day at Norview High School, February 2, 1959.


In addition to experiences recounted in his book, Andrew participated in many of the events surrounding the 50th anniversary of the opening of the schools. His recollections can be viewed on WHRO's The Norfolk 17: Their Storyin a 2018 video Norfolk, Virginia's Massive Resistance to Integration, in a C-SPAN conference Massive Resistance, Panel 1, in a WAVY-TV newscast Andrew Heidelberg on the Norfolk 17 Reunion and other documentaries.