“I am an African American female educator who helped integrate schools in Atlanta, Georgia,”

Retired educators tell their amazing stories. (edited for length and clarity)

“Receiving used books in the sixth grade from predominately white schools introduced me to segregation/integration and racism/prejudice. I opened one of the books to page 10 only to find a note at the bottom requesting that I turn to page 52 that lead me to a second handwritten request to turn to page 117. At the bottom of this page was a paragraph that read “you black and ugly, dumb and stupid go back to Africa, N**.” Other students complained of similar verbiage. My teacher, Ms. Rosalyn, told us to just cross the words out of the book and then out of our mind because we were awesome, smart and that America was our home too.

Back to the Brown v Board feature

In the tenth grade I attended an all white high school. Sixth grade did not prepare me for the harsh statements I received from many white students and some of the white teachers.

Sixth grade did not prepare me for the harsh statements I received from many white students and some of the white teachers.

Their language towards black students was far worse. In the end, I (and many others) returned to my [black] high school where I felt genuine interest in my future and development as a person. Crystal Giddings, Georgia.

***

During the fifth grade at the all-African American school, I was hidden during school because a group wanted to lynch me. I was 1 of 5 African American juniors in the first class at the “home of the rebels” in 1966, and the only African American student in honors classes. During the two years I was there, no European American students talked to me, but the teachers and vociferous reading helped to fill that void. I was inducted into the National Honor Society two weeks before graduation.

During the fifth grade at the all-African American school, I was hidden during school one day because a group wanted to lynch me.

I had to consciously go through a metamorphosis before teaching in a desegregated setting because of the events in my life.  [I was interviewed] by the Chattanooga Times/ News Free Press in 1989. I went through a catharsis with crying during the two hour interview. As a result of the article, one of my European American classmates wrote an email to me with an apology for all the students. Deborah Mapp-Embry, Tennessee.

***

My family and a white family were the only two families living down this narrow, overgrown road [in Oxford, MS]. Needlessly to say, we braved the cold and walked to school while the little yellow school bus would pass us by, with its young occupants jeering, finger pointing and throwing at us. We didn’t know why we received such treatment. My most vivid memory of the integration is that of the National Guard scattered all over town. Then, as an eleventh grader at Central High School, James Meredith integrated the University of Mississippi, providing a way for black students to receive an education there. 

My most vivid memory of the integration is that of the National Guard scattered all over town.

The sight of the military filled me with fright and trepidation. DeVoyce Morris, Mississippi.

***

I was in High School in the 1950’s in the state of Oklahoma. The schools were segregated then and so was everything else. There were separate water fountains, restrooms, bus terminals, etc. Black customers had to go to a counter farther back in some stores and then only three flavors of ice cream were sold to us, no malt or shakes could be purchased. We were able to work in restaurants and hotels but were not able to eat in the cafeterias of the businesses.

Years later I was recruited (1966) by Omaha Public Schools to teach, I was surprised to know that in the year of 1967, when I moved to Omaha, the schools were still segregated. I was with the first group of Black American teachers that were assigned in the early 1970’s to integrate the Oklahoma Public Schools staff.

I was with the first group of Black American teachers that were assigned in the early 1970’s to integrate the Oklahoma Public Schools staff.

The staff was integrated a year before the students were bused to various schools in the 1970’s.

Today, I am thankful that I have lived to see many changes in America, my home. I encourage all students to stay in school, study and work hard, set your goals high. The world needs you! Jewel Baugus Gay, Oklahoma.

***

I grew up in Canton, Ohio in schools that were integrated. My schooling was completely integrated based on neighborhood schools

My schooling was completely integrated based on neighborhood schools.

where the neighborhoods were completely integrated because of where they were located. People with money moved to completely white neighborhoods and their children went to completely white schools. Basically it was de facto segregation. I grew up with black schoolmates through 12 years of education. My parents were from Greece and came to the USA in 1920. My brother and I were first generation. Byron Leles, Ohio.

***

It was 1969, and although the laws had been on the books for years, integration had not been enforced in Florida up until then. I was one of five or six white staff members hired to teach at an elementary school that was 100% black.

I was one of five or six white staff members hired to teach at an elementary school that was 100% black.

The building was very old and in rough shape.  Our textbooks were 40 years old. The bathrooms in our building were not working when school began, so the children had to go to another building where there were three or four toilets for the entire school – over 300 students, K-5.

I had to buy most of my own supplies, including crayons and pencils. There was no air conditioning and in August, the rooms were stifling. This was shortly after Martin Luther King, Jr. had been killed, and some of the parents were still very angry at white people, so they encouraged their children to give the white teachers a hard time.

A few weeks into the school year we were invited to attend a teachers’ meeting in another elementary building in town.  It was literally on the other side of the tracks. That building, whose students were all white, was air conditioned, in very good condition, and the library was beautiful.  Their textbooks were current and it appeared that supplies were readily available. Never before had I faced such a blatant example of “separate but equal” not being equal at all. I was incredibly angry that my students were the obvious victims of discrimination, but I was so young and inexperienced, I had no idea of what to do about it. Pamela Chapell, Florida.

***

When I was in college in the 1960’s, I was on a music scholarship. A couple of my new friends were Black. After dinner our group would sit on the porch, venture to the basement of the Memorial Union to play the juke box, bowl or walk on the tree lined pedestrian mall. It was a good time to be young and in such a great environment.

One man, in particular, and I bonded over our love of baseball. We traded stories of the greats, statistics and who would prevail in the World Series. He was on a baseball scholarship and would go on to be in the pros after graduation.

Sometime later in the semester, my friend and I were summoned to the Dean’s office separately. We were intimidated and threatened that if we didn’t stop dating, they would cancel our scholarships.

We were intimidated and threatened that if we didn’t stop dating, they would cancel our scholarships.

We weren’t dating. I had a boyfriend who didn’t attend college at that time; he had a girl back home in Alabama. I told the Dean I wasn’t sure why this was any business of hers, and she explained that white girls didn’t date Negroes. And, she was in charge of my future.

We were both severely traumatized. Neither of us had money for college otherwise. After some discussion, we decided that the best thing to do would be to keep our distance. We never sat together again, never walked together. Never saw each other after graduation. The cost of a lost friendship? About $80,000. That’s what our scholarships were worth. I lost a little of my soul with that decision.

That loss impacted my life significantly. It stimulated my quest to understand how deep the bigotry and prejudice is imbedded in our history and our lives. And, how we need to speak up, root out this ugliness that still exists today. Janice Nichols, Arizona.

***

I am a Crow Indian from Montana and a retired teacher. I went to a border town high school.

I am a Crow Indian from Montana and a retired teacher. I went to a border town high school. Around 1967, us Native American eighth graders gathered to signup for high school classes. By the time we were sophomores and juniors some of my classmates wanted more college prep classes. They were told they have to bring in their parents to speak with the superintendent and school board. One of my classmate’s mother is a feisty woman, she came and gave a good “hollering” to the principal. After that, classes were open to the ones that said they would work hard at it. We have come a long way, thanks to Brown Vs. Board Of Education. Daisy Three Irons, Montana

***

Living in Birmingham Alabama we had to ride the public bus to school, sometimes the bus driver would pass us by which would cause us to be tardy because we would then have to walk about a mile to school. Teachers who traveled that route started to make a practice of traveling our way and pick us up so that we would arrive to school on time. There was a white high school down the street from our all black school. They would call in a bomb threat which would cause us to have to vacate the building. While we stood outside they would ride by and throw coke bottles filled with urine at us.

While we stood outside they would ride by and throw coke bottles filled with urine at us.

The teachers always made sure that we did not get hit with the bottles. Carol Watkins, Alabama.

***

My father was in the military and we moved around the US quite a bit. In the early 1970’s, I lived in Virginia. Integration had been court-ordered and students were bussed from segregated districts.  My most intense memory was waiting outside for the bus.  I saw a crowd of parents, angry at the forced bussing of their children. They began to hurl rocks, bits of cement, anything at a passing bus of African-American kindergarteners.

They began to hurl rocks, bits of cement, anything at a passing bus of African-American kindergarteners.

  The fear in the children’s eyes, watching them cry and and duck away from the hurling objects, haunts me to this day. I can’t believe adults hurled their anger at 5 year-olds.  I think it’s one of the reasons I became an educator. Ginger Packet Ohio

***

My education experience during the 1950s and 1960s was in the state of Connecticut and the schools in Tolland County were not segregated. My teachers always presented a view of equal education for all without the need for segregated schools. Growing up in an integrated education system, allows for greater human understanding,

Growing up in an integrated education system, allows for greater human understanding,

development and tolerance. Barbara Churilla, Connecticut.

***

I was in Tuskegee, Alabama. Born in 1950. I attended elementary school through eighth grade totally segregated. However, I believe we received a first class education due to the high quality of the black teachers and the school’s relationship to Tuskegee Institute. We not only learned our ABCs, but we were instilled with moral values, high expectations, and a sense of pride in our Black heritage and culture.

The desegregation of schools began in 1963-64, when Governor George Wallace was in office. On the first day of school, my sister along with twelve other brave Black students, arrived at the local white high school only to find that no teachers, administrators, or students were there. However, with no faculty on site, the students were forced to attempt to integrate two other neighboring white high schools. One of these other schools was burned down; the school bus they traveled on was burned.

One of these other schools was burned down; the school bus they traveled on was burned.

Therefore, my sister and her peers received their education through a program on the campus of Tuskegee Institute. Eventually though, the school reopened and white students trickled back alongside Black students and formed an integrated high school. On the side, however, the governor was instrumental in building an academy for those white students who did not want to integrate.

My goals were to attend college, which was discouraged by my counselor who told me that I should aspire to be a secretary. My parents had other aspirations for me. I graduated valedictorian from my elementary and high schools and received a full scholarship to Vassar College, where I graduated in 1972.

I became a high school teacher and taught English to speakers of other languages as my career. I have always been a minority in the integrated school systems where I worked. In retrospect, I can see the benefit of my experiences. Dena Henderson-Sewell, Alabama.

***

I attended an all Black school until 4th grade. My teachers were strict and focused. Failure was not an option.

I attended an all Black school until 4th grade. My teachers were strict and focused. Failure was not an option. By 5th grade however, schools were under mandatory integration in Arizona. My memory of that time was that the transition was smooth and uneventful. I did not come face to face with racism until 7th Grade. I had several teachers who used Brown vs. the Board of Education as their platform for everything that was wrong in America’s schools.

In 1969, at the end my senior year in high school, my guidance counselor completed an aptitude test which was designed to determine what career field I might consider as I prepared to enter college. Although I graduated with good grades, sang in the school choir,  was a member of several academic and social clubs on campus, this man advised that according to the aptitude test, college for me would be a waste of time and taxpayer money. The only career that I was eligible for was in housekeeping. I think Brown vs. Board of Education is still a work in progress. Barbara Hatcher, Arizona.

***

1966 was my first full year of teaching and I was teaching in a small Texas school that had about 200 students. It was the first year for this school to have black students attend with white students.

The incident I want to relate was a contest among the homerooms to earn money for the school. The class that earned the most got to choose the “King and Queen” and the king escorted the queen down the rolled out carpet to the stage and they got to give a speech for the graduating 8th graders.

My homeroom was filled with 9th graders and they earned the most money. As the winners, my students got to vote on the king and queen from their homeroom. A very smart and popular black boy was voted king and a popular white girl was voted queen. When I turned in the results to the superintendent,

I was told that we couldn’t have a black boy escort a white girl and that I needed to make some changes

. I was told that we couldn’t have a black boy escort a white girl and that I needed to make some changes. I responded that I didn’t know how to do that because I had counted the votes in front of the class with them as witnesses. He sighed and indicated that I should have thought ahead and not done that. In fact, knowing the classroom dynamics, that was exactly why I counted the votes as I did, although I didn’t tell him that.

The king and the queen practiced their speeches and the crowning and escorting down the carpet went forward without incident. Marylin Alexander, Oklahoma.
***

I was going to a one-room school house in Tate, County, MS. We walked to and from school by way of the pastures and creeks. We watched the school bus pass nearby on the paved road as it took the white students to their school. We were threaten by our plantation owner and my parents chose to keep the family safe and flee during the early morning, leaving everything behind. We started over in Tennessee.

I wanted more, and was determined to make a difference for my father, whom I had watched work on the plantation all of my life and never owned anything but his family and dignity. Therefore, I became very focused and through all of the degrading remarks, or hurtful expressions by others, I became an elementary teacher. There was always that one person in my corner, the Principal at the school. He told me that I could become anything that I wanted to be, if I keep on trying.

My life as an educator, afforded me the opportunity to be the first black teacher to teach at an all-white school. This experience was a great challenge.

My life as an educator, afforded me the opportunity to be the first black teacher to teach at an all-white school. This experience was a great challenge.

Even though, I didn’t see any difference with the kids, the parents were rather guarded, but polite. Since then, I have taught in various schools in the same area, and have earned the respect and reputation as a caring teacher by most parents.

All children just want to be educated in a safe and caring atmosphere. The ugly sting of prejudice has to be taught by someone, before it is brought into the classroom. I am so glad that we were given a chance to integrate schools and end segregation. However, lest we forget the past, we may repeat it in the future! Eugenia Williams, Tennessee.

***

I was a white male who, after attending segregated public school systems in North Carolina, graduated in 1959. Every morning while waiting for my school bus to provide me transportation to high school I would witness the “colored” school bus passing by transporting the students a considerable distance to the one “colored” high school in the county.  Increasingly I became aware of the unfairness and the injustice of the legally and culturally sanctioned practice of racial segregation, not only in education, but in practically all aspects of life.

When I attended my 50th high school class reunion, seeing only white faces forcefully reminded me that my being a white student in a racially segregated school system had deprived me of friendships, relationships, and experiences

being a white student in a racially segregated school system had deprived me of friendships, relationships, and experiences

which undoubtedly would have been highly beneficial to my development and thinking for the rest of my entire life.  Racial segregation victimized everyone.  Nick Minton, North Carolina.

***

I was attending a segregated black school in Alabama. I will never forget the fall of 1965 what it was like moving to a once segregated white school. All students met in the gymnasium on the first day to receive the homeroom assignments and class schedules. On the first day there was not any drama, just a bunch of scared black students.

Our first high school principal was not too supportive. The next year we had a new principal and everything changed. He made sure that black students were involved in all aspects of the school, including student council, the annual staff, school newspaper, athletics, etc. I was appointed to the student council initial, but before I graduated I was elected as a homeroom representative.

Initially I dreaded transferring; but I now know that it was for the best. I was hired as a Title I teacher in Cullman County Schools in the fall of 1973, where I taught for 30 years. There were only a few black teachers and staff in Cullman County because it was predominantly white. However, I would not take anything for the experience because I excelled with the help of my peers in the teaching profession. JoAnne Minnitt, Alabama.

***

Our public schools did not integrate until about 1964. I was a junior in high school. I remember traveling to a state conference where we were to sing. Our pianist was a terrifically talented African-American girl. We stopped at a restaurant and as we went in, our teacher asked if there was a problem serving her. They said they could not serve her. So we all left and got back on the bus.

Our teacher asked if there was a problem serving her. They said they could not serve her.

To this day, I would defend her against anyone. JoAnn Bryson, North Carolina.

***

My first position as a young teacher was in the projects and surrounding area in San Francisco. College did not prepare us for this, but somehow we all survived, adapted, and I had some outstanding students there.  I was later taught when the two-way busing was implemented by law to increase diversity.

The main problem with this busing was that children were attending schools far from their homes; if they became ill at school they had to stay until dismissal and the bus took them home. Few parents could come the great distance to retrieve a sick child. The bus schedule did not allow for any extra after school help, play rehearsals, sports, etc

The bus schedule did not allow for any extra after school help, play rehearsals, sports, etc.

. This was the time when some parents tried to form private schools, which was mainly to avoid integration. I think many charter schools are motivated by the same desire, if people will admit it. Dorothy Clazie, California.

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We were a segregated community with elementary schools for whites and different ones for blacks. I attended a predominately white school until 5th grade, when I was bussed to a black school.

I attended a predominately white school until 5th grade, when I was bussed to a black school.

There were about 12 of us who would continue on the bus to the black school after we had dropped off everyone else. I remember thinking that I better not get into trouble on the bus because that was a long way to walk! I was now part of the minority at school. I don’t remember being treated differently. When I was a junior and senior in high school, there was racial unrest and the school was shut down a few times. Sheila Stasack, Michigan.

***

I went to school in Riverside, California from 1946 through 1958 and was not aware of a segregation issue during that time. We had blacks, whites and Hispanics mixed together in classes with no problems. It wasn’t until I was in college in the 1960’s that I began to hear about places like Selma and Little Rock and began wondering what was going on in the South. David Cox, California.

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I attended a small, consolidated high school, in the central part of Illinois, from 1954 through 1958. The student enrollment was about 360 students and a good one third of them were black, from a rural all black community near by.

I can hardly believe now, looking back, that the unfair treatment of those black students wasn’t more obvious to me at the time.The star football player on the team was black and should have simply been named Captain

The star football player on the team was black and should have simply been named Captain

of the team. However, he had to share the title with a white boy as co captains. This was because the captain always kissed the homecoming queen, who of course would be white! Mary Ann Jimenez, Illinois.

***
I was in fourth grade when our schools were integrated, and I remember it vividly. Things went very calmly, and to me it didn’t seem to be the momentous occasion that it actually was. My father, the principal, was supportive of the decision. On several occasions a black student would miss the bus in the afternoon for one reason or another, and my father would give the student a ride home. I am sure my experience was very sedate compared to that of others, but it also serves as testimony that desegregation in some places occurred without excitement or conflict.  As I later taught first and second grade students myself, I marveled at how they were so surprised such a thing as desegregation and other discriminatory practices ever occurred in our country. They were also fascinated to know that I had witnessed that particular historic event firsthand. I think that shows how very far we have come, and how much better off we are for it. Mary Evelyn Poole, Kentucky.

In the late 1950s my high school was already integrated.

In the late 1950s my high school was already integrated.

(Michigan) The president of the Student Council was African American. Later on he was an All American Basketball player. His brother played for the Globe Trotters after high school. My high school experience with all kinds of people helped prepare me to work with all people from working class to middle class of all races. It has been a full and rich experience. Fred Overeem, Michigan.

***

I remember the day that my homeroom teacher stood in front of our class of 36 white students and announced, “Lincoln School (all black) will be closing and some of those students will be coming to school here.” We were excited but puzzled. If our parents knew about this integration why did they keep it a secret? The topic was concluded when the teacher reminded us that “the N word” would not be tolerated. Usage would result in punishment.

On their first day of integration each student was introduced in their classroom, given books and class resumed as any other day. Immediately there were two separate groups, always polite to each other but wanting to remain with their old friends. After becoming a teacher I have often wondered, what happened to the teachers from the Lincoln School?

After becoming a teacher I have often wondered, what happened to the teachers from the Lincoln School?

Ruth Robinson KY

***

I attended a very small, four room country school in the Central Valley of California from 1951 until 1958. The total enrollment was about 100 students. Everyone from the farms around the school attended with no regard for ethnicity or race. We were Anglo, Hispanic, Portuguese, African-American, Asian, and mixed race. No one was discriminated against, unless you count being picked last for the softball team because your sports skills were hopeless! Luella Cole, California

***

My father was the principal at Mayo High School (black) the year that Darlington, SC integrated its schools (1967). I was one of 50 children selected to go to St. John’s High School (white). My father told me that 50 names were drawn from a hat and I was selected.

My father told me that 50 names were drawn from a hat and I was selected.

Really!!!

It was a miserable time for me. I cried everyday. At the end of the first semester, I was sent back to Mayo High after the district lines were drawn. I was glad to be back in a familiar environment. Later St. John’s name was changed to Darlington High School and Mayo became the magnet school for Science and Technology. This started a period of unity for Darlington, SC. Cheryl Roussel, South Carolina.

***

Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s I went to a fully integrated neighborhood school. There were children of newly arrived Europeans, Puerto Ricans, African Americans and Mexicans. I remember having positive experiences in such an atmosphere. Having arrived from Mexico as an 8 year old, this system of integration helped me learn English more quickly.

Having arrived from Mexico as an 8 year old, this system of integration helped me learn English more quickly.

I became friends with black children as well as white European children and learned to appreciate their friendship without the prejudiced constraints that existed in the larger community. We had no bilingual education, so for the school year, I would hide behind a Puerto Rican child so the teacher would not see me and call on me to answer questions since I had no idea what she was asking.

Earlier I had spent my first year in in 1952 in corpus Christi, Texas. Looking back, I now realize that it had not been integrated. I don’t remember any black or white children in those schools. Quite sad, because I later learned that people my age talked about being hit with a ruler if they dared to speak Spanish in class. I consider myself quite lucky as this never happened to me in Indiana. Julianne Gustafson-Lira, Indiana

***

From 1965-1966, I attended an all-white high school as a sophomore in my local school system in Georgia. I was the only black student at the school that year. Teachers were cordial and respectful of me and of my school work; students were somewhat tolerant, but not friendly, so I had no friends that year. I was alone all day. One senior did sit at my table with me during study hall, even though we did not have any communication.

Two other students had chosen to attend the school with me, but because their landlords threatened to make then move, they had to withdraw.

Two other students had chosen to attend the school with me, but because their landlords threatened to make then move, they had to withdraw.

Because I had a desire to keep my commitment and my parents were supportive of my decision, I went to the all-white school alone.

When I finished high school in 1968, I attended an all-black state college in Georgia. Graduating from college led to my 30-year career as an educator (teacher and middle school counselor) in the public schools of Georgia. Amazingly, I had the opportunity to teach many of the children of students who attended school with me at the all-white school. By then, some attitudes had changed and I was able to work with these parents in peace and harmony. These parents always knew who I was without my having to tell them. Some of them literally responded to me apologetically because of their reluctance to reach out to me while I was at the all-white school with them. Above all, I thank God that he has kept me from having any feelings of anger or hate about the situation, then or even now, as I write. Gwendolyn Edmond, Georgia.

***
I was raised by my mother’s parents while my mother moved to New York city to work doing domestic housework. She would send money to help our grandparents provide for me and my two other sisters. We attended the colored school. I had to travel out of town to attend the colored high school in Winfall, NC. I lived on the same street that the Perquimans High School was on, but since it was for whites only, I had to walk to the colored elementary school and catch the bus to Perquimans County Union School, which was approximately 2 – 4 miles away.

The books that we were assigned were mostly used books. The teachers that I had, for the most part, were dedicated to providing their best teaching techniques for us, as well as, motivating us to do our very best in becoming worthwhile citizens. I always had the desire to become an elementary teacher, and that is what I did.

Growing up did not provide me an opportunity to be associated with those of different ethic backgrounds, but as a teacher, I have had an opportunity to work with others who were not of African descent. I feel that all people should have an opportunity to have the same educational experiences collectively. JoAnn Gee, North Carolina