All interviews were personally conducted and transcribed.
Texas High School Class of 1970
Texas High School Class of 1970
Washington High School Class of 1954, teacher at Washington High School and Principal of Arkansas High School
Interview with Alan Harris, Texas High School Class of 1970:
When were you born?
And you were born in Texarkana?
Which schools did you attend growing up?
Grim Elementary and then F. Ben Pierce Junior High. And then Texas High School.
What year did you graduate from Texas High?
Were you at Texas High on Pine Street first?
Um, yeah, sort of. The ninth grade was, back then, part of middle school. So the Pine Street campus was right next door to us. And our ninth grade credits counted toward our high school diploma. But we were not in the actual Pine Street High School. We were the first group to go through Texas High – the new Texas High – all three years.
So what do you remember most about integration and that process?
Well, I grew up through the Jim Crow and separate but equal era, but Texarkana has always been kind of an unusual place. I don’t know if you grew up there or not, but our perspective on the “white side” I’ll call it for want of a better term was that everybody seemed to be pretty content with what was going on there. Dunbar was actually a newer school, a much newer school than Pine Street was. As I recall it was air conditioned and we were in a building that was built about 1912 and we were cooled by box fans and things like that. And I think that may have been kind of on purpose – I never heard anyone say that. I think everyone was comfortable with the status quo that the black sports teams produced – the predominantly black colleges, as I understand, gave lots of scholarships and the Dunbar students got a considerable number. And that they were pretty content with that. So when the federal government ordered integration as the law of the land, the school district tried to get by with sort of a separate but equal thing and when they finally said ‘No, you’re going to integrate.’ They came up with a freedom of choice plan, they called it. So every kid had a letter sent to their house and they picked the school they wanted to go to. So this began in my ninth grade at Pierce. And there weren’t that many kids that came over… there were three or four, five on the football team, and it was like everybody knew that we were under a microscope, and the black kids didn’t want to make any kind of a problem, and the white kids were kind of like, ‘Well, they want to be here and everybody’s behaving, everybody’s…’ I’m not going to say buddy buddy and friendly, but everybody was cordial and, you know, basically kept to themselves. Then as we, as sophomore year rolled around, as I recall they tried that again at the new school and you had a few more kids come over, but the major bulk of Dunbar stayed [at] Dunbar. Then I believe it was the ’68-’69 school year the feds shut it down and said, ‘No, you will integrate entirely.’ So we had a new school built for a certain number of students and suddenly it became crowded. But there was kind of an attitude that we were all kind of on the same boat together. The people who wanted to come over had come over, and the other guys were kind of forced to come over by the federal government so it was almost a ‘well we’re going to have to deal with this, we’re going to have to do it’ kind of attitude, if that makes sense. It was sort of like Texarkana being the city it was, it kind of worked things out, but when they combined the schools, you know I hate to point to Hollywood as having a – actually being historic, but the movie “Remember the Titans” is kind of the way it was at Texas High. You know, school boy football was the thing. It still is. Friday Night Lights is no exaggeration for Texarkana. So, you know in the beginning some of the guys who came over, the black guys who came over, were really good football players. And there is a book that you might want to google and look at, I copied a couple of pages from it… I think it’s called Thursday Night Lights… Yeah, “Thursday Night Lights: The story of black high school football in Texas.” Their coach was a guy named Dan Haskins, and I never had a lot to do with [fades out] but the guy was, he was the right guy for the moment. He was nice to everybody, he was concerned about the student’s welfare, regardless of who they were, and he was the assistant coach – he was the head coach at Dunbar, but he became the assistant coach under Watty Myers at Texas High. And in this book he actually says he thinks that was the right thing to do, so I would recommend you look at that Thursday Night Lights: The Story of Black High School Football in Texas” written by Michael Hurd, H-U-R-D. And in there he talks about how it all kind of came down but that was one of the unifying things because football was such an important thing, so these guys came out, some of them were mediocre just like the rest of us, but some of them were stars and really did a lot for us. For the team, that kind of built a camaraderie. Now, it was not hug in the hall, you know, everybody’s buddy buddy, nor was it an us against them kind of thing, it’s just we were put in this predicament and there weren’t a bunch of people with a personal agenda and things like that and we got along. Now there were a couple of fights – I’d call them. One of them was actually caused by some guys on the Arkansas side who came over from Washington High School. There were never really, they weren’t real big, they shut the school down and everything, you know, went back to normal the following day. But they weren’t deal killers, everybody kind of went back to where they were and kind of blamed it on one or two people and it was not a – it wasn’t a big deal. At least from my perspective. Um it – it was interesting though because the unifying thing was the sports, especially the football team, but the basketball and sports too. So, yeah. It worked. And I think that was one of the – a credit to the school teachers and administrators and all on both sides, because I’m sure it was tense for them figuring out who fit in where with tenure and that kind of thing. But it was not antagonistic, I’ll say. At least, if it was, it blew by me. I didn’t see that. Now not to say that everybody was close friends. That would be, I think, a misnomer and misguide you. But it worked and I think a lot of it had to do, like I said, the freedom of choice thing kind of broke the barrier and those kids were, you know, pretty much all top notch in sports or in education and things like that and the rest who had to come over were forced to deal with the situation just like we were forced to deal with the situation so, I think that had a lot to do with it. That gradual introduction rather than everybody just thrown in with each other. Anyway, that kind of sums it up, I mean if you have any specific questions…
Do you remember anything about Texarkana College integrating? That would have been in ’63.
No, no I was too young to really be involved in that.
What do you remember about non-sports, like student council? Did that integrate quickly as well, or did that take a little more time?
You know, I really don’t have a lot of vivid memories of that. I think what they did was basically carve out a position like, okay, since the black kids were outnumbered we’re going to have one position that’s relegated for the black kids – I don’t have that in writing, but that’s kind of my recollection and I may be wrong about that, but like for the cheerleaders, I know we had one black cheerleader. And, but you know as sort of a guide to give you an idea that things did seem to work, the most popular guy of our 1970 class in our yearbook is George Washington, a black football player. So you know whether or not the administrators played with numbers, I don’t know. But he certainly was a popular guy and that went across all the kids. So, I can’t reinforce enough that the way it was then was almost surreal in that it went pretty smoothly. And of course the races have always separated in Texarkana, and you would hear expressions like, ‘well they knew their place’ and whatever kind of way of putting it, but in reality we all kind of knew that – I’ll say under the microscope again – because we were, we were being watched and it was, everybody was on their best behavior. And then the familiarity, rather than familiarity breeding contempt I think familiarity bred friendships. Now we, again I’m not trying to say everybody was buddy buddy and all of that, but certainly on the teams there were working relationships and Coach Haskins had a lot to do with the transition, I’ll say. He ultimately, I don’t know if you’ve run across him in your research or whatever, he ultimately became the principal at Texas High after I left, I think ’73-’74, so you can, I don’t know what there is about him online, he died in the last couple of years, and I remember reading in his obituary, there’s a quote by George Willige, he was one of my coaches in junior high, and then he was the junior varsity coach and he’s quoted in there talking about how he was sort of an ambassador, if you will. And a lot of people give him credit for making things work behind the scenes among faculty. Coach Willige I think is, in fact I think he became the head of the school district for a while. He’s still around. I saw him at a thing a couple of years ago where they had outstanding Texas High graduates or whatever and I went up for that and he was there. He’s retired now. Yeah, in fact I’ve got a piece of this here that I kept, and it quotes Willige. It says, “‘Dan made sure he was fair to everyone, it didn’t matter who you were, he applied the same rules to everyone,’ says George Willige who served as Texas High Schools junior varsity coach while Haskins served as varsity coach. ‘Always very helpful to both teachers and students alike. He came to school as the first African American football coach, rich with energy and life.’” You know, he was like Sara Lee, nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee and nobody didn’t like Coach Haskins. You know, some of the kids that came over that I went to Junior High with, they were nice people and, like I said, there had not been a lot of mixing of the races in Texarkana. It had always been a bifurcated society, but I think that because of everyone putting on their best face, we got to be friends. As I say they didn’t come over for dinner, but we’d see, speak in the hall and I remember Bruce Sharp, and Joe Gomer and Willis Greene, some of those guys – they were just nice people. And no one was, it was sort of a neutral ground. Everybody was on their best behavior. I’m sure that there were issues. I’m not painting the perfect rosy picture, but all in all and overall I think it, the way it got introduced with the freedom of choice before the full integration I think actually helped. Other school districts I guess didn’t get that luxury. And I mean you can see how that would help as supposed to everybody just suddenly “boom” here you are. So, you know at the time I’m sure the federal government saw it as a plot to avoid integration but for Texarkana it worked.
So what do you think, looking back now what do you think has been the best thing that has come from integration of the education system?
I think it’s got people learning to cohabitate. I spent my adult career as a policeman down here in Houston and, I know this is not related to Texarkana, but I’ve had black people tell me that they felt like integration was bad for black society. And that the kids who are troubled kids were in an all black school and the teachers disciplined them, and for some of them it was the only place they saw discipline until they dropped out of school or straightened up. And that in an integrated school there was this growing political correctness or whatever that the kids didn’t get the correction that they would have gotten in a segregated school. And these were older people they’d just been burglarized or had some kind of issue – but there are interviews where I think some of the older people, talking about my age 60-70 years old, think maybe it was a bad idea. But it’s the law of the land so we had to, we made it work, and the benefit I think is that kids integrate early and there’s not, there’s not as much animosity now. Our political system right now I think, I kind of keep my mouth shut there, I think we’ve had more division since 2000 than we have ever before, especially with – since 2008.
Do you think that without Brown v. Board Texarkana would have ever integrated of its own accord? The schools? Do you think that would have ever been a natural…?
Not – I don’t think so at that time. Would they have done it if it had become a financial situation where the school districts were going “pfft” and here in Houston we have some that were going broke and doing badly – I think they might have consolidated schools, but not in 1968-69 they wouldn’t have. It would have taken years and years and years, if ever.
Interview with Gayle Brewington, teacher at Fifteenth Street during its first year of integration, and Charles Parks, Washington High School Class of 1968:
Did you grow up in Texarkana?
BREWINGTON: I did.
What schools did you go to?
BREWINGTON: Texas High, the whole Texas – Texarkana school system.
Way out on Pine [street]?
BREWINGTON: Way out on Pine. In the real Texas High. The real one.
Where did you go to elementary and junior high?
BREWINGTON: Highland Park, Pine Street was my junior high – the real junior high – the one we have the bricks from, they tore it down. And then… here he comes.
[Charles Parks enters; says he will be back in a moment]
Where did you go to college?
BREWINGTON: North Texas, University of North Texas.
And then you came back here to teach?
What year was that?
BREWINGTON: Um, ’69.
And what school did you start teaching at?
BREWINGTON: It was called Fifteenth Street [Elementary School].
What grade did you teach?
And what do you remember about that time period?
BREWINGTON: Okay, this was the first year of integration in Texarkana – or desegregation, whichever you want to call it. It was the first year, and long story short, to accomplish this they decided to take all of the fifth and sixth graders in all of TISD and put them on one campus. They mixed the black children with the white, that was Fifteenth Street campus, so it was just fifth and sixth grade students. All. From all the neighborhood schools. They bussed them. They bussed them to those campuses unless they lived in that neighborhood. And the first thing that I remember is that they put five of us brand new teachers that had never taught before on that campus. And of course we knew nothing. We thought we knew everything, but we knew nothing as it turned out. There were five of us brand new teachers. Now Fifteenth Street is in a black neighborhood and all the teachers there prior to us were black or African American. It was a little intimidating at first. They were very helpful and sweet to us. The children, the kids got along. They were all very welcoming to each other. There wasn’t – they didn’t feel – they were happy. But as far as the adults go, there were demonstrations around the school. The black neighborhood did not particularly want to welcome the whites. They were against bringing all the white students. But the white adults would demonstrate around the building saying they were protecting their kids. We had knives. If I look outside my window, there might be someone watching around the building with a knife or a gun. I don’t really know why that wasn’t stopped. I don’t remember if it was. I just remember it happening.
[Charles Parks joined the interview]
Did you grow up here?
PARKS: Well, like I was telling Mrs. Brewington, I was born in N____, Arkansas. About 20 some-odd miles up the highway here. At the age of about 6-7, we moved to Texarkana and I started the first grade here at Carver Elementary. ‘Course it’s not an Elementary school anymore, but the building is still there. Up until the time I was about, I would say 7th grade, I was at Washington High in the 7th grade and that was my last grade year there because I was a military kid and we subsequently started traveling. This was around the year 1965. We ended up in Germany for one year and then we came back here to the United States in ‘66 and early ‘67. That’s when I subsequently graduated from the school that I started in the 7th grade, which was Washington High. I graduated in 1968.
So you graduated in ‘68, so that was the last graduating class at Washington High?
PARKS: I’m not sure if it was the last year. Well it could have been, I’m not sure because after that I went into the workforce. Then subsequently got drafted back into the military. I’m not sure of the time sequence.
What grades were at Washington High? Was it 7th through 12th?
PARKS: 7th through 12th. Carver Elementary went from 1st grade to 6th grade. I know that because I remember one of my favorite 6th grade teachers. Mr. Earnest Robinson, who would turn out later to be my pastor. I knew it was 6th grade. That was the last grade year at Carver.
What do you remember about living in Texarkana specifically during that time period in the ‘60s and then going to Germany and coming back? Did you notice any big differences in the quality of the schools you attended?
PARKS: After leaving Texarkana and going into the military, the military studying is quite different from the world. Because in the world, a lot of things that people of color had to go through, you didn’t go through as much on the military base because they have a lot of guidelines and policies and procedures in place that guarded against that type of activity. So it was a whole different thing. But being on a military base… [there] wasn’t as much pressure present as it was in the world. So from the 7th grade until my senior year I was mostly on military bases. And we went to the same places, did the same thing, shopped the same stores. So forth so on. So even though I was aware of it [segregation], it did not directly affect the black person on a military base as it did a black person in the world.
When you came back to Texarkana from being on military bases, was it odd going back to a segregated school?
PARKS: Washington High was all black at the time. When I graduated, I’m thinking maybe ‘69 or the year after, they started integrating. So I didn’t get a chance to experience that, but I [was speaking] to Mrs. Brewington today and it was kind of funny the way she was describing it. It was chaos, you know, when it first happened. And I can imagine, even though I wasn’t directly a part of it. But I can imagine just being a black man in America, I’ve experienced the racism and the other things that come along with it. You know, but not to a greater extent that some of my other people because of the way I was brought up, with the military and all that. Then I went back to the military and I got back in ‘72, and of course by then, things had pretty much settled in. Prejudice and racism and things of that nature, they continued but I’m thinking now more of a confined basis. Now it’s not so wide open but it’s still there. You still have your hate groups and things of this nature. Back when I was around 7, because I think about Louis Bridges, and she was born about 5 years after I was. I’m no spring chicken, I was born in 1949 and she was born in 1954. There were things that she experienced, I saw the signs, the white, the colored. Colored goes to the back. Things of this nature. Go to the back of the bus. I experienced that but not to the extent that I got shoved and beaten and thrown around and all that because I wasn’t exposed to it like that. But I was yet aware of it. So I guess in the long run, I was kind of neutral but very much aware of what was going on.
Did you like Carver Elementary? Do you ever feel like you wished you went to a white school? Is that something that you thought about? Did you feel that the facilities were inadequate? Like the quality of your books? Were you even aware of that?
PARKS: I wasn’t aware of it in that sense but later on, I went back and I can remember basically just reading, writing information, spelling and things of that nature but I do recall the books – whereas you could have a book and open it up and there’s a name there and next year there’s another name and that book remained until it literally fell apart. And to get a new book, that was something special. You know you’re the first person to get that book and at the end of the season you turn it back in and the next person comes and they sign it out. When I look back now at what is presented to the kids nowadays, not just here at Morris [Elementary], but some of the other elementary schools where you got blacks, whites, everything going on now, the learning curriculum is totally different. We were just taught the basics. The teachers who did get an opportunity to go to college and learn, even my own teacher – he had just enough to be a teacher and I knew it goes further than that nowadays but they just taught him enough to get him into the classroom to teach us just so we can count from 1-10 and be able to read… Just the basics.
BREWINGTON: Did they have to go to college?
PARKS: Back then, they had the black colleges but even then, they weren’t adequately supplied all the necessary things you need to learn. Just enough to say we got a college for you. This is where you go and they feed them whatever they want to feed them. As far as getting them educated so they can go into the system and teach the others.
Do you remember what year you moved to Texarkana in the first grade?
PARKS: I’m gonna say about 1955-1956.
Do you remember anything about the riots that happened in 1956 in Texarkana college when they first tried to desegregate? Or were you too young?
PARKS: As I was telling Mrs. Brewington yesterday, when you grow up as a black child in a racially motivated society, you always got to listen to your parents. Your parents would say don’t do this or don’t go in this store, don’t touch that, don’t say this, don’t say that – you pretty much didn’t focus on that then. You just listened to your parents and do what they say and if they say you be in the house at six, then you be in the house at six. I guess, hindsight would suggest that point of view was – what’s going on here? Why are we having to do this and go in through the back door and you got two water fountains? Why is that? A lot of that came to my attention behind the story of Louis Bridges. I was aware of what was going on there, just in tidbits. For the most part, my parents might have not really wanted us to know too much because they wanted to keep us safe. Just like there could be at least one person in the family who could be like, “I don’t like this, I want to do something about it.” In my family structure, I remember that was a no-no. You just keep your mouth shut and do what you’re told to do and you’ll be okay. Back then, that was really the sensible thing to do because a lot of stories that I’ve heard… It was just one of those things I was just kind of neutral. And I kind of hate that in a way because even back then, a voice is a voice. MLK was a voice. But as long as I can remember, I have always been a person of peace. I just believed in doing the right thing and acting the right way and just hoping for the best. Back then, it was difficult just seeing a lot of things that was going on, racial injustice in the workplace, getting on the bus, going to the grocery store – you go in the back and you get what the man give you and you leave out the back and you go back home. I can remember this in my earlier years in Louisville. They had the country store and you’d go down there. Mama would say “y’all wait right here” and we would just wait and she would go inside with her little sack. She would come out with whatever goods she purchased. Back then – I think the word is sharecropping – whereas we have a place and my parents would work the field and cook for us. The person in charge would just give us what he felt was fair as long as you were out there working from sunup to sundown. It was sort of like something instilled within your mind. “This is the way it is so don’t try to change it. It will only get worse if you try to do anything or say anything.” When you don’t have a choice, that’s the mentality you have to embrace. As time changed… well that’s not exactly the way it should’ve been then. Some things should not be today, but things have progressively gotten better. But it’s still a problem.
BREWINGTON: I have a funny story to tell about the colored water fountains. Downtown there was a store called Belk Jones and it had an escalator, which was fun to ride up and down and me being sort of a very curious. Under the escalator there were two water fountains, one said white and one said coloreds. Well I sort of thought that the coloreds may have something special – and we were not to drink out of that water fountain. But I had to see. I had to see. It had a little wooden stool you could step up on and I was with our black housekeeper who had taken us down there shopping. I was told, “No, you can’t get a drink from that water fountain,” and that just made it all the more enticing. I knew there was something special in colored and I needed to know. So when she wasn’t looking, I stepped up on that stool and got me a big drink from that plain old water fountain. Nothing special came out. I got in so much trouble. She said, “Gayle get down from there, you know you’re not supposed to do that.” But it’s just water. I did not understand at all. But I didn’t do it again. That water fountain was removed in the early ‘60s. It was there for a long time, probably until desegregation, maybe ‘69.
PARKS: I do recall when I was a senior at Washington High, I didn’t see a lot of that anymore. I had seen it. You see the pictures but in real life, I did see it especially in downtown Texarkana. They were even in the courthouse and you say the white and black and the restrooms that were convenient for the whites that were right there but the colored ones were down the hall and around the corner. I remember that. Back when I was in high school, I didn’t see a lot of it then. I don’t recall so I think at that particular stage- might have been earlier, might have been later- I think the signs had been removed.
BREWINGTON: I can vividly recall that in Bryce’s Cafeteria, it was whites only downtown. I must have been in high school by then and that was late. I don’t know when that changed.
PARKS: And then some [law] says if a person owns a business they can do what they want with it, and I don’t think there’s any law that says you have to serve blacks in your business. If it’s all white, it’s all white. As time progressed, I guess I don’t have anything against white people. I really truly don’t but I think for the most part as time did progress, people started searching their conscience. They started realizing this is wrong and we got to stop this. I think the ones that matter voiced their opinion in that respect made a difference to their white sisters and brothers. Some were silent and didn’t want to say anything because it was a big thing. Being white and being black and in America – and then the blacks are harboring this hatred from being brought over from their country and taken away from their families in the middle of the night and being thrown on a boat in shackles and coming to a land they’ve never been to before. There’s this man standing over them with a whip and all these racial slurs… I think anybody with a conscience would see that’s simply wrong. There’s a lot of injustice there. That was then and this is now but – I use this as a phrase, hopefully it’s not offensive – it hasn’t gone away but it’s simply been modernized to where there’s a lot of undercover stuff going on in the school system, the workplace. Blacks are not yet getting their fair share of what America has to offer because it wasn’t our choice to come here but we’re here and now we got to try to make it. The barriers that had been put in place and some are yet in place prevent blacks from meeting their full potential. If [a white person] got hired into a school system making $6 an hour and I have the same qualifications, I get $4 an hour. I would call that injustice. It has a lot of levels but I try to think positive because, maybe my spirituality, it has a lot to do with it to. I try to stay positive and let go and let God. Do the best I can in whatever situation I’m in. Whatever chance that I have to make a difference then I want to be found doing that. I think that’s the best way that anyone can help make the situation better. Do what you can while you can and do the best you can at whatever it is you’re given to do. I think that in the long run will make a difference.
To what extent do you think – you talked about how anyone with a conscience can see that treatment and that discrimination is not right – to what extent do you think educating kids from a young age and desegregating schools has helped people see different races as humans and as equals? From growing up in a segregated school system and then now working in a desegregated system, do you see that integration has been beneficial?
PARKS: To a certain extent, I do believe it has been. But I have to go back to the home itself, the kids out in Morris [Elementary], they don’t know how much they actually make my day some days. I just go down and they start “Hey Mr. Parks, hey Mr. Parks!” They walk up and give me hugs and everything – and the majority of these kids are white. I’m gonna be speaking to Mrs. Neeches class next week on some – I don’t even know what I’m gonna be talking about. She asked me to do this same thing. I’ve talked to several classes but I think it starts at home. Kids are honest and they’re going to bring to the forefront what they’ve got from the house. I can see some kids, and you’re going to have some in every group, that turn the other way when you’re walking down the hall or look up at the ceiling as if something is falling down. I remember a teacher who was here and for whatever reason, she had a problem just speaking to me and I would walk down the hall and then all of a sudden, she’s about 10ft away from me and she would look around and look up. I walked up to her one day and I said, “What’s going on up there?” [laughter] It came out real positive or else I would have never done that. She said “Oh no, I just want to make sure no ceiling is falling in on anybody.”
BREWINGTON: Do you notice the children – that it is a mostly white school but we do have other races here? From my observation and just being on the playground, [the students] don’t pay any attention to what color they are.
PARKS: They really don’t.
BREWINGTON: The young ones don’t.
PARKS: You’re absolutely right. This is my fifth season here, and I have said this often, I have never worked around such a positive group of children in all my 12 years in the district.
BREWINGTON: Where were you before here?
PARKS: I started out at Texas High. I was over there for four years.
BREWINGTON: Did you notice racial tension there?
PARKS: Well, there it was more visible. Especially when Obama became president…back at that time, I remember Mr. Bailey [principal] sent out a protocol about being alert after the election because he felt like it’s gonna be some racial tension. I didn’t really notice a lot of that but it was there.
BREWINGTON: I wonder if these young children who don’t notice any difference will carry that with them the older they get, because I guess the way these kids are being raised all different colors – they have never seen one… treated another one like anything other than what they are.
PARKS: What really encourages me sometimes is when I can come to the campus and a parent will come up – even today when they would come up and have lunch with their kids – I can be going down the hall and they go, “Oh you’re Mr. Parks, my kids just talk about you all the time!” That is so encouraging because I don’t care if you’re white, black, Chinese, Mexican, whatever, I’m gonna treat you like the child that you are in this system and I try to do the same with everybody that I work with. I think that itself makes a difference. They can see a black man who’s not harboring any hatred or acting ugly towards them, and I think that registers with them and they take it home. At home, it could get reversed because the parent might not want you being so friendly with that black man. It happens, but I don’t entertain that thought. I’m just a realist and I try to keep it real in my own mind about what’s really going on. This is a great atmosphere for learning and I can see where you can make a difference if you’re white or black as far as molding the minds of these children as to what’s right and what’s wrong concerning racial issues and injustices and just being a positive person in general towards your fellow man.
BREWINGTON: They’re lucky you’re here.
PARKS: I love those kids, and they are my source of encouragement. I know I’m talking a lot but I wanted to share this story. I don’t know how it happened but this one, she happened to be a little white girl. She “Mr. Parks you gonna do that dance I saw you doing?” and I don’t know where it derived from, but [the students] gave it a name. It was called the chicken dance and I don’t know what I was doing or where she saw it at, but [she said] “it looked like you was doing a chicken dance.” “You mean this?” [silly dance move] “Yes that’s it!” It took off like a rocket about 6 or 7 students would always hit me up in the cafeteria and say “Mr. Parks, you gonna do the chicken dance?” They wanted me to video it and put it up on the big screen so the whole class could see. It was something else. They bothered me about this – [it] was totally out of whack last season before the break. One had left the school, but then they were bringing it up again. So I love that it puts a smile on their face and makes them laugh – then I’m all for it. I don’t know know if I answered your question.
You did and then some! I don’t have any more questions for you but if there’s anything else you’d like to say? Your time in school on the Arkansas side or anything? Integration of schools?
PARKS: Well I’ll just end my session by saying I know as an adult, I’m 69 years old so I’ve been around a minute and I’ll be 70 on November 29th of this year. I have experiences the injustices, the racism. Some people don’t like you just because they don’t like you. You haven’t done anything to them. I’m here today to tell you that if I can make a difference by my actions and my words then I want to be found doing so. Who knows just having this conversation could make things progressively better. But right now, that’s where I stand. I’ll just be found doing all I can to try to make a difference.
Thank you so much! This was wonderfully helpful.
[discussion about thesis project]
BREWINGTON: I will say that I remember that year in ‘69 when they were bussing children all over the city, everybody wished they could go to school in their own neighborhood like they always did. They wished they would just leave us alone and let us go to school in our neighborhood. That was hard for a lot of families to have their little ones put on a bus and sent across town, black or white. It took longer to get home for everybody so everybody that year wished – there’s got to be a better way.
PARKS: I’ve got to imagine that when that was going on, it may take away from your concentration – wondering what new white kid is gonna be coming here today and just takes away from your whole curriculum – as you were saying being taken out of your environment. “Things were okay like they were, what’s going on here?” But that wasn’t a very smart statement because you got to figure with change there also comes a little bit more added to the plate. You may not have to keep using the same book, year after year. For the most part, some changes are good and I do believe that was one of them. It started out a little bumpy.
BREWINGTON: Started out so bumpy, that my husband was in basic training down in Ft. Polk, Louisiana and I would come home and tell the stories to my father-in-law. We had just bought a house before he went away to basic training and I started teaching and he offered, if I would just quit my job, he would pay my house payment until Mike got back home – because I came home with stories. It wasn’t – it was how the adults were acting. I was afraid with the demonstrations going on all around the school. I was telling her that white people were demonstrating that they wanted their kids protected, and the black people were demonstrating we don’t want the white people in our neighborhood. It was awful. I was afraid to walk to my car in the afternoons. But I saw the year through. One year. Well, Thank you, Mr. Parks!
PARKS: Thankful for the invitation.
[Mr. Parks left]
BREWINGTON: The year that they decided [combine Fifteenth Street], they brought in a white principal and a black principal. One of each. It was crazy. Mr. Fluellen was the black principal and the kids called him Mr. “flew out the window.” I’ll never forget that. The white principal was Noel Porter… And they did the best they could, I think, in handling problems. But it really was chaos because you come from different experiences and backgrounds. I told you a little fifth grade girl was raped by her brother in law, and she described it to me because she was bleeding. And I said, “Do you know if it’s your period?” and she said, “No, I was raped.” I said, “Are you sure?” And then she described it and I said, “Oh okay, thank you.” I asked if she went to the doctor and she said, “Yes, my mother took me because it’s happened two times and the doctor said if it happens again, ‘I’ll have to turn you in.’” So I went to the [black] principal – her name was ******, I’ll never forget it – and I told him about it and I said I need to report this and he said, no ma’am you don’t. I said, “Do I have a responsibility to report this?” And he said you’ll be in danger if you do because you don’t understand our culture. “The family will handle this but you can’t be the one to turn this in.” I said, “Well I’m telling you.” But he said, “You will be endangering yourself if you report this.” I’ll never forget that I didn’t report this. That’s when my father in law said “I’ll pay your house paycheck if you quit this job.” I don’t think anyone knew what to do that first year. I don’t think they knew how to do it. They desegregated but they didn’t know what they were doing.
Was it mostly the parents and the protesting?
BREWINGTON: I don’t even know if they were parents – just people. Two groups of people who would [protest], and it may have been – in my mind, looking out the window that one day… It wasn’t every day, it was random. They were younger, not teenager but not old people. They were younger. I guess from each camp they just didn’t like – this wasn’t the way to do it. “We don’t want the white kids in our school,” and the white kids – whoever those people were felt like they needed to protect them. I don’t think that lasted more than that first year. I don’t recall that it did. Something else I was gonna tell you, I did find that I made the special [education] teachers very angry with me because I put five or six kids in special ed. that had been… Just had not been… And I didn’t know that they just bumped them along [at the black schools] and it had to do with resources and funding and “we can’t serve all these kids so we’ll just put them in [a normal class].” I think that’s one thing that benefited from desegregation is that all the kids were served equally, and the special ed. kids got the help they needed.
Did you see any discrepancies in students’ preparation coming into your grade? Some say they expected the black kids not to be prepared and some say they had no problem. Or was it just like going on to the next grade but at a different school?
BREWINGTON: I had just graduated from college so I felt like I could change the world and I was just saying bring it on. I did find out that there’s not the parental support when I assigned a big project. Maybe three kids out of my five classes did it… And it was the expectations for the support they got at home that was not the same as what I was told in college that all the kids would be able to do. But I’m thinking back – was I educated to teach in a segregated society maybe? I don’t know. I mean it was “all children can learn” and if all these needs are met… I do remember taking snacks – cereal and snacks to serve to my early morning kids because they would come hungry. I’m thinking in my mind Boo Mitchell was bussed. I want to think he was one of the ones that was bussed over to Fifteenth Street… But it was a learning experience. I don’t know when they went back to neighborhood schools. Do you?
I do not, but I think now there are still some qualifications… When you were teaching at Fifteenth Street that first year, was it 50/50? What were the percentages because it had been a black school?
BREWINGTON: It wasn’t 50/50 I don’t think but it was all of the 5th and 6th grade students in Texarkana. All of them went to that campus. It was the only 5th and 6th grade campus. So I don’t know percentages… But it seemed black, I guess because there were mostly black teachers and it was in a black neighborhood. Maybe there were more black kids, I don’t know. If you went to TISD, you went to that campus for 5th and 6th. Period. The end. I don’t know how they chose teachers that first year within the district. If they transferred them or if they volunteered, that would be interesting to know, but putting five of us first-year teachers all together was probably not the best. But we paddled the kids. I broke paddles on kids. Broke them in half. That was all we had to do to discipline and the principals would not. They made me do it. If you don’t do it, they wont respect you.
A lot people that I talked to that were teachers and students on the Arkansas side, said they thought [desegregation] would last two years and then it would go back to being segregated. Did you get that vibe from administration or parents?
BREWINGTON: I got the idea from the teachers, the black teachers that had been there – and they were nothing but sweet to us – but the idea that they would go back to their own school. They were very encouraging, especially to the new teachers. But they didn’t think this was going to be the way of the future. And I don’t know why they thought that.
A lot of the people I talked to would say we never foresaw it lasting.
BREWINGTON: That’s what the black teachers thought. They may have wanted it to go back because everybody was comfortable in their own skin and their own little way they did things – so I just remember them saying “this won’t last” and “these kids don’t need to be bussed all over town. If you just leave them where they are, it’ll work out.”
Do you remember anything about sensitivity training? It was mentioned and debated in the minutes and I never got resolution as to if it happened.
BREWINGTON: No, no. We went to a new teacher training which was paperwork, fill out your stuff and I’m not even sure that I knew it was the first year – I mean, I went to my job as a new teacher and I was excited! We went to the new teacher training or whatever it was that week and then they dumped us in the classroom, writing lesson plans.
So did you expect it to be integrated?
BREWINGTON: Yes, I knew we were going to have all 5th and 6th grade kids in Texarkana so I knew I would have both, but it never occurred to me that it was going to be an issue. I was a new teacher that could change the world, and I could teach anybody to do anything. It’s sad! Your first year you teach is not something you ever want to remember! I feel sorry for the kids, and everybody says that: what did they learn? I’m sure they learned nothing and got lots of hugs. No…Your first year is hard anyway, and this was really hard. It was really hard. To even make a new plan every week and try to figure out how am I gonna get it done this week and what can I do. It was wild.
Interview with Donald Nelson, Washington High School Class of 1954, teacher at Washington and Arkansas High Schools and Principal of Arkansas High School:
When were you born?
March 2, 1937. Means I’m 81 years old. Blessed.
Were you born in Texarkana?
Where did you attend school?
I went to school at what is now the 4A Academy, but it was Booker T. Washington then, okay. I graduated in THE year. The year of Brown v. Board of Topeka, Kansas. I graduated in 1954 – I was a senior on May 17, 1954 when that decision was rendered, okay. I also went to college – if you’re interested in that too – at Central State in Wilberforce, Ohio. And then I later transferred to what is now UAPB (University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff) and got my degree in history and political science. I have since then acquired a master’s [degree] from Henderson State in history and political science. My intention was to be a college professor, but before I could get to that we got into integration, we integrated and when we integrated there was a need for some African Americans and I was selected for the first African American assistant principal at Arkansas High School. And then, once I got over into administration, I really liked teaching and when I was invited to come over because at that time the black community was actually, they were asking to see blacks in administrative and executive roles and what have you. So the community wanted to see some and I was asked to come in and to satisfy the community and be the first African American assistant principal. From 1982-1986 I was, I am the only African American principal that they have had at Arkansas High. Still to this day – they’ve had some assistant principals, but not THE principal. So instead of going back, getting what I really thought I was going to get – the Ph.D. – I wind up having to go in and take an extra 46 hours to get administratively certified as a principal and later on I retired as deputy superintendent. Served on the school board for 11 years.
You graduated in ’54, and then you were teaching…
I started teaching back in the high school where I graduated, and I taught at Booker Washington history and political science from 1961 to 1969. We integrated at the high school level with Arkansas High in 1969. The Washington campus remained a junior high for another year.
So how did you feel being a student yourself when that landmark decision was made, and then teaching in the school for so long with no action being done?
Well, that’s a great question, because… When the Supreme Court – you’re familiar with Brown v. Topeka, Kansas? And you realize that the suit actually, Oliver Brown actually made the suit in 1951 and it, they began to argue in front of the Supreme Court in 1952, even though the decision was not finally made until 1954, okay – so when the courts ruled, they said with all deliberate speed, but it just so happens that “all deliberate speed” means one thing to one person and another thing to another. In 1955, the courts came back and said we’re going to allow the states and the districts to implement it. So they [the states] were the ones to interpret “all deliberate speed” so, oddly enough, it was 15 years later, after the Brown v. Board of Topeka, Kansas decision in 1954, in 1969 before we integrated here. And when I was a senior I realized that I was not going because I was going away, but we thought that the kids at Booker Washington the next year were going to integrate. And again, as I said, when the courts decided that the local people would decide and the local people were against integration, then “all deliberate speed” meant something different. It meant “I’m going to stay out of this as long as I can.
In a lot of articles that I’ve read, especially in the Texarkana Gazette, argue that Texarkana wasn’t “ready” for integrating after the Supreme Court made that decision. Do you think that, without some sort of federal impetus, Texarkana ever would have been “ready”?
No. Because the local people, specifically in the South, were never going to be “ready.” And when we integrated, the school district – the board, the district – they made no plans for integration. They didn’t say to them, “okay guys, let’s get prepared because we have some African American kids coming, black kids at that particular time. They may be a little different… I know they look a little different but they think a little different from you. They have different backgrounds and so we’re going to have to take that kind of consideration and be a little sensitive to that.” Never. They didn’t say one thing because, what I’ve begun to realize now, is that the system to be, that was primarily white, they didn’t think it was going to last. They just… cause the black kids didn’t want to come, and the white parents and kids didn’t want them to come and it was so uncomfortable that if you had asked the black kids and the black teachers at that time, they would have gone back, okay. And the whites would have been glad. So the system did not think – those who were in charge of making it ready did not make it ready. They wanted it to be as uncomfortable as possible because they felt like it would last about two years. They never had any idea that it would last all the way to 2019. Even though we’ve gone back over a period of time in the last 10 years and re-segregated our school systems. So, they really didn’t… they did not prepare at all because they didn’t think it was going to last.
What was it like for the students and the teachers that first year of combining the two high schools?
It was very uncomfortable… On this side, and the same thing happened at Texas High because Texas High integrated in 1968, we integrated the next year in 1969… For the first two or three years there were student riots because of the fact they did not get the white kids prepared and the black kids were not prepared, so when the black schools merged and integrated – we were lions and then we were hogs, our colors at Booker Washington were maroon and white and when we got to Arkansas High they were scarlet red and white. I went later on, I did not go the first year as a teacher, they only took a handful of teachers at that particular time, I had an afro on my head and they kind of felt like at that time everybody that had an afro was militant and we didn’t pay any attention to that we just went ahead because that was something that identified blacks separately. Whites in the system were afraid of blacks who were different, as long as you assimilated and acted white and looked white, they understood you because you were like them. But when they grew afros and that kind of thing and they dressed different, it scared them to death, you know. They just totally didn’t understand it. And then, as I said, for the first three years we had student riots. The band at Arkansas High played, for their fight song, Dixie. And Dixie represents a lot of great and wonderful things for a lot of people even today, but the black kids did not feel like it represented them very well. So what they did, the kids who were in the band, they refused to play their instruments when they played that. The band director from Booker Washington came over as the assistant band director, so he was between a rock and a hard place because here was his job and he was expected to encourage the black kids to play and they said “we ain’t gonna do that” so, somewhere along the line, Arkansas school district got smart and did away with Dixie, and that’s why we have the fight song, we have the same one that the University of Arkansas has. I went the second year, and they were still having riots. In fact, we had to turn out school three days early for Christmas because we were having riots on our campus. Very fortunately for me, I was highly respected by the black kids, the white kids didn’t know me, but when I got there, I had them to understand that they were not different than me. The only thing they had different a little different shade of color – they were light green and the black kids were dark green, okay? – but they were just kids. And I had no fear of them nor their parents because I had told them I’d been to the super bowl already nine years at the black school, I know what I’m doing and I expect you to come in here and I’m going to respect you and you’re going to respect me and you’re going to get to work. Because when you come in here, it ain’t no joke. You know I had little phrases, little things like “there ain’t no pity in the naked city” that fitted them, they knew what it meant. And so I also started off too tough. And my first year as a teacher, the superintendent of schools, Mr. Ed Trice who was a great man – he was a white man before his time because he was very sensitive to integration incoming, and the school board was not and they really lamented him because of the fact he was passionate and he was fair and he said hey come on we’ve got to respect these guys too – but he said to me something I never forgot, he said “Mr. Nelson, if you’re going to be successful, you’ve got to manage students and you have to start off the first day too tough because if you are too tough later on you can loosen up, but you can’t start off too loose, because they will not let you tighten up, okay.” And so, I never forgot that. And he also said to me that you need to be able to do four things to be successful. And as I progressed after I was principal, I went in to the central office as assistant superintendent and finally I was director personnel with the responsibility of hiring all certified personnel and when I sat in front, I had a round table kind of like this, I got out from behind the desk because that scared young applicants to death, it was too structured, I wanted them to know, “hey, I’m here by you.” In fact, I didn’t ask them a lot of questions I kind of told them “hey this is what we’re looking for” and what I simply said to them was “If you’re going to be successful, there are four things you need to be able to do. And I know they work because they worked for me. And the first one is you need to be prepared. You need to be prepared every day with your students – subject matter, prepared to manage, information, what have you – and the second thing, if you’re going to win their respect, you need to be fair. And the third thing you need to be is firm. Consistently prepared, consistently fair and consistently firm. They will not allow you to be firm unless you are fair. And the fourth thing you need to be consistent. And what happens to a lot of people in a lot of areas is they’re not consistent. They’re one thing today and something else tomorrow. So, I remember those things. When we integrated I went in my classroom and taught American history I had some guys that wanted to come in and clown, I said, “hey bubba, not in here. I don’t play that.” You know. It’s obvious that the white kids had been told that the black teachers were not prepared. You know, these guys didn’t know. And we sent some of our best teachers over there and so it took them a while to understand that we were as prepared as the white teachers. We were not given that kind of credit, but we were, okay. And so eventually I handled my students, I didn’t play, you know, I loved them, I said but that’s just the way we’re gonna do, this is the way the cow ate the cabbage, we’re gonna do that, that applies to, I had black students in that class – the same thing – I didn’t make any special concessions for them. Everybody was just a student. I didn’t see a color; I didn’t care about their past or care about what their parents did because I was teaching kids. So, I was able to kind of corral because a lot of the black students were a little rebellious because they felt like they were not being treated fair and I came in and was very valuable because when the war was on and the riots was on, the white men who were teachers, they couldn’t touch the black kids because if they did they fought them just like the did the white students. So I came in and was able to say, you know, “hey guys, we’ve got some problems, but we’re not going to solve them fighting because when we fight we’re going to get put out of school. So the first two or three years were very tumultuous, but after that we began to settle down. I think whites began to say hey this ain’t going away. This is going to be. And blacks we can’t go back, we’re gon’ be here. But the first two or three years were very tumultuous in terms of physical confrontations and that kind of thing.
The physical confrontations – were they all racially motivated?
Yes. Mhmm. Yeah. Black students at that time, their hairstyles were the afro. And they would go and get the K-cutters to comb their afros, but it became a weapon when they got ready… when they got into… and those K-cutters, many of them have sharp prongs, became a weapon and so we outlawed them, they could not bring them to school. But, the system sometimes is blind to what happened with the white kids. In our parking lots we had white kids with pick-up trucks with 30-30s in the gun rack, okay. At the school. And they didn’t say anything about that until I brought that to their attention. Now you have declared that the K-cutter is a weapon, and it is – it’s a hair tool when you brush your hair but when you fight it becomes a weapon, but their kids that’s got 30-30s in the gun rack – that’s a known weapon – and what are you going to do about that? “Well we didn’t know Mr. Nelson” and I said well fine but, you know, over a period of time it finally settled down and they began to realize that black kids were worthy. I had one or two white teachers to tell me “you don’t have black cheerleaders, black majorettes, black officers because the kids haven’t proven themselves” I said, “Is that right?” I said, “I can name you five white kids who are in positions that didn’t prove themselves, but they are there because they are popular and they come from the right homes.” So we’ve got to… You know, we had to get past that. Finally, in 1979, Arkansas High selected its first black homecoming queen but, before that, in 1973/4 we had a black student boycott at Arkansas High. The kids walked out and stayed for a week. Took the football players also. And the football team lost the next six games. So that kind of got at their attention. So Swede Lee came in as coach – the previous coach was fired because he did not win, which was unfair to him because, if it had been left up to him – when the boycott was over, they refused to let the black players come back, so they played the rest of the year with only three black players on the team and they were three guys that did not help – new coach and new principal came in with new ideas, and then, at that time, we convened, while the black students were on boycott we convened a biracial council. I was assistant principal, the principal at that time was not in favor. He said “let the student council do that.” I said, “the student council doesn’t represent the black kids.” ‘cause at that time, you didn’t have any black kids on the student council, and no poor white kids. The only kids who were on the student council were the kids who were well-to-do and came… so the poor white kids and the blacks were left out, and I said that won’t fly. So we established what we called a biracial council having two representatives, two blacks and two whites, from grades 10, 11 and 12. And we met, I was asked to be one of the sponsors and a young lady whose name was Gayle Cogby at that time was the sponsor for the student council. So the two of us met with this particular group. And, oddly enough, the white kids who were on that council were fair. They just simply said “we understand what’s going on” and a couple of football players said “hey, we understand that totally” and decisions were made at that time – Texas High already, I think the year or so before, they had three black cheerleaders on their cheerleading squad. We had none at that time – and so we said, well let’s look at that system. So the next year we came up with black cheerleaders and black majorettes and from that point on, as time went by, black presidents of the student council, black officers – My daughter was president of her senior class in 1982, I was proud of her and that was my first year as principal because I got accused of promoting that, but they didn’t realize that I didn’t vote… that was done by a student vote, but people will accuse, you know. Not only that, but my first year as principal, for three years in a row the homecoming queens were black. I got accused of that, but they didn’t realize that I didn’t play football, you know. The football players elected them. And what was happening was, is that the football team was becoming more predominantly black, so. The black teachers retired. We had a lot of black teachers who retired and were replaced by white teachers. If you go to the schools now, you probably only have a handful of black teachers there now. But what happened is at one-time teacher education was the primary role for black education. Today there are other avenues and other things for them to do. But sometimes administrators don’t realize that just having a great teacher in the room who’s able to dispense information, maybe have an A transcript, that does not apply and does not answer for everybody. Black youngsters need to see blacks in leadership roles so that they can aspire to, yeah, they respect white teachers and what have you and white principals, but they like to see examples. You know, you tell them you can be this and they don’t see anybody in that particular position. We run into the same thing with kids who live in low-income areas. They see gangsters, riding around with “bling-bling” around their neck, cars with 22s, 24s on them. That’s all they see. And pretty money in their pocket. And that’s what they want to be. Unfortunately, guys like myself, black dentists, doctors, lawyers, don’t live in those areas anymore. They’ve moved out. And so those kids don’t get a chance to see us as role models.
[loss of recording]
So, you know, I encourage, I’m in a fraternity and we go back sort of meet – that’s where I was this afternoon down at North Heights because we had a group down there, it behooves us to go back to those communities and work with those kids and say “hey, there’s another way besides being a slick. That’s a quick way to get rich but it’s also a quick way to get killed” but I can’t blame the kids because that’s not what they see. They see that. I thought that once we integrated, that eventually, over a period of time, that we would accept it. I have grown to realize now that in many instances this country never did. That right after they integrated, from that particular time, they began to work to defeat it. What they simply did… we… they had what they call liberal, those terms do not apply to me because I am of the opinion that at one time everybody is liberal and at another time they become conservatives. Generally, people are liberal when they don’t have, and once they get it they get conservative… They want to hold on to it and don’t want nobody else to get it. But when they had so-called liberal supreme court justices and liberal so called presidents, these are titles that they gave them, integration was able to survive and whatever the case may be, but there was that undercurrent group of whites underneath who continued to work and to undo it, and once they got their presidents in place and people, governors and what have you in place, then they began to work to undo it. And that surprised me because I really thought that we had learned and, being a student of history, it says that if you don’t learn from history, you’re doomed to die from it. So we’re going to wind up perishing. I’m going to cite another example of fair play: we were getting ready to have a program in the gym, and I needed a piano moved from the cafeteria to the gym. So I went down to the study hall and I said I need ten young men to help move the piano. Well at first nobody got up. I said again I know you all understand English – I need ten young men. Two white kids got up, few minutes, three white kids got up, that was five. Two more white kids got up, that was seven. And then three more white kids got up. I said I need ten young men to move the piano. So one of the black kids who was smart he said well you’ve got ten, I said I don’t have the right ten. I don’t have the right ten. He said “what do you mean?” and I said “I’ve got all white students,” I said “and I’ve got a lot of black kids in here.” Black kids were not going to volunteer for anything because they felt like they were already… they had a history of being used… So I told five of the white guys “say, y’all go sit down,” I said, “now I want me five black young men…”
Interview with Melva Flowers, Texas High School Class of 1970:
What year were you born?
I was born in 1952.
Were you born in Texarkana?
Actually I was not, I was born in Ashdown, Arkansas.
Did you grow up in Ashdown?
Well, no. The first ten years of my life I was in Ashdown, or Ogden is where we actually lived was in Ogden, Arkansas, and we moved to Texarkana when I was in the fifth grade. So I started the fifth grade in Texarkana and I’ve been here ever since.
Which schools did you attend?
In – you’re talking about elementary, high school or what?
Yes ma’am all the way through.
Okay I started out in elementary school at what was Goree Elementary School and they’ve recently changed the name back to Goree School, it was located in the Newtown area, it was an African American or all black school. Segregation had not happened at that time, so it was Goree Elementary School. And I left there – there I attended the fifth and the sixth grade – and in the seventh grade I started at Dunbar, and that’s D U N B A R, and it’s still, it is now an elementary school and is located on Milam and West 10th Street. So I was there from the ninth grade and the tenth grade – no the ninth… I was there seventh, eighth and ninth grade, I’m sorry, I was there seventh, eighth and ninth grade and in the tenth grade I went to Texas High.
And you said that you went to Texas High under “Freedom of Choice” – can you tell me a little bit about that?
I went under Freedom of Choice in the tenth grade. And Freedom of Choice was when they integrated the schools, the other schools were still available for you and you had a choice as to whether or not you wanted to go to that school – or whether you wanted to go to an integrated school or whether you wanted to go to an all black school. Dunbar was still there, my parents told me to go to Texas High, it was the first year that Texas High opened up so I went to Texas High in the tenth grade under what was called “Freedom of Choice.” Dr. Mitchell Young at the time was one of the school board members and he called it “Equal but Separate,” so they wanted you to have – they thought they wanted you to have an equal education but they wanted you to have a separate education. They integrated the schools, and you had a choice as to which one you wanted to go to and my family chose for me to go to an integrated school, which was Texas High. But I had lots of friends who stayed at Dunbar. And then the other thing was Texas High was much closer to where we lived than Dunbar was.
About how many students do you remember going from Dunbar to Texas High under Freedom of Choice?
Probably under Freedom of Choice – it was probably no more – and that’s a really good question – probably 25, 25-30. It wasn’t that many of us that went under freedom of choice. And then the next year it was mandatory integration and Dunbar was no longer available for any of us, everybody had to go to Texas High. And all the schools became integrated. So in 11th grade all the schools were integrated.
So that first year – do you have any specific memories of what that was like socially and academically, I mean being removed from the school that you had attended for so many years and kind of being, people have described it as a guinea pig class…
And that was probably one of the biggest challenges, at Dunbar I was probably considered in the top 25 of the class if not the top 15, I was probably at least in the top 30 at Dunbar when I was in the seventh, eighth, ninth grade, when I was at Texas High in the tenth grade that number probably went from, probably in the 125th or whatever. And I struggled at Texas High, I was one of the first in the tenth grade another lady by the name of Paula Wilcox, that was – her maiden name was Wilcox, she and I were the first two African Americans to integrate the Pep Squad. And we were well accepted in the pep squad, I don’t remember any discrimination in the Pep Squad. They treated us nice – we went out of town to football games – I have no unpleasant memories at all while we were there. The only thing is that we brought a lot of the cheers from Dunbar, from the African American community into Texas High – they accepted our cheers and all that. But like I said we didn’t have any problems, the only thing that probably the negative side would be is that – and I don’t know if the teachers were harder on us or what the deal was, but it was an academic challenge, but it was not a social challenge for us at Texas High when I was in the tenth grade. Now the eleventh grade was different.
How was that different?
In the eleventh grade, when everybody was over there, they had – one of the major things that happened was they had a riot. The principal, and I don’t remember him doing it so much when I was in the tenth grade, in fact I don’t ever recall him doing it, but in the eleventh grade when he would get on the PA system he would
But anyway, in the eleventh grade the principal would get on the intercom system and he would say, he would call us “niggerers”– he never used the word “nigger,” he never used the word “negro” but he called us “niggerers” – and I can hear him saying – his name was Mr. Maguire and he would call us “niggerers” and he would say to the “niggerers students” and all that. So even though – and at that time I was not even conscious of the segregation that was actually happening at Texas High, but as I look back now I see some of the things that we were probably segregated in. When they had the riot at Texas High, I remember sitting in my English class and there was a teacher by the name of Mrs. Hurst, and Mrs. Hurst was a very soft-spoken, quiet and nice lady, she was one of my favorite teachers, and everybody jumped up out of their seats to run outside to get involved in the riot, and I – I got up and got my stuff I was going out to get in the riot too, and she looked at me and said, “Melva, your parents did not send you to school for you to go out and get involved with something like that, I really wish you wouldn’t do it.” And I did not go. So I didn’t actually get to witness the riot that was going on, but it was really really bad.
Do you remember what year that riot would have been?
Okay so I graduated in ’70, so ’69 – ’68. It must have been ’68.
And it was racially motivated, I assume?
It could have been ’67, it would have been ’67 because I was in school at Texas High that school year would have been ’69-’70 so the year before that would have been ’67-’68 so it was probably more ’67. Because school had just started and, I mean, the blacks and whites did not get along well at all. And then part of that was, you know, you come from a school where you were the bomb in the school – you were in the top 10 in the class or in the top 25, your teachers all like you, you were one of the popular students at Dunbar and then you come and you’re just a drop in the ocean at Texas High and you’re not even noticed at Texas High. And it seemed like the requirements for what it is that you needed to do were much – I don’t know if it was much higher because we had excellent teachers at Dunbar and I know that I received a quality education while I attended Dunbar, but it’s just that it was a struggle. But I did not have any problems with any of my teachers, the pep squad teacher – I saw her several years ago and she said to me that she always knew that I was going to be something and that I was going to be something positive with my life – and she never said that to me, never encouraged me, but she said she saw these qualities in me. And I had a teacher my homemaking teacher was Mrs. Wood – they said her husband was extremely prejudiced, but I never saw the prejudice side of her with me. Now you could probably talk to some other people and they maybe would give you another perspective of these people but I did not. I had an English teacher named Mrs. Brookshire, she was a very good typing teacher. I remember she called my mom and told my mom and dad she wanted me to get my typing skills up, that she needed to get me a typewriter – my mom and dad got me a typewriter so that I could get my typing skills up because that was not one of my strongholds – and so we did that and I still have some good friends now that I met while I was in pep squad and outside the pep squad I still have some people that I’m still friends with now – when I say friends I’m talking about white friends that I met then. So I didn’t have a lot of problems. Like I said the thing that echoes more to me than anything else is the principal getting on that intercom calling us niggerers. And then when I was in the twelfth grade he changed it to negroes.
So the sense of community that Dunbar had – when that school was changed to be, I think it was a middle school and then it became an elementary as it is now –
Dunbar was seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth. So all six grades were at Dunbar at that time. There was no middle school for the African American community. It was seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth at Dunbar.
The community that Dunbar had, do you feel like that was lost or diminished with the transition to Texas High in some respects? Did y’all have the same mascot and the same colors as Texas High?
No, we did not. The colors at Dunbar were blue and gold. We had our own fight song – we [Texas High] had “Hail Texas High School we are as one, standing together ’til day is done” and then Dunbar has a different song that we sang.
You talked about having a positive experience in the pep squad, was it easy for other organizations like the cheerleading and the band – did that easily integrate, too? Do you remember that or have any – and the student council?
I did, I think probably those students that excel the most have the least problems. We had a class reunion and some of the people were sharing some of the experiences that they had and you had to be – and we were raised up in a culture, a black culture that always told us that in order for us to be successful we always had to be better than the white person. That we could – our A was not as good as their A, we had to make an A+ in order to be recognized as an A student. So that’s the culture that most black kids were raised up in, especially those that have done well. We couldn’t just give it our best, we had to give it more than – we had to give our all and then some more in order to be accepted. Did I answer your question?
Yes ma’am, absolutely.
And then you talked about the culture, and see one of the other things that was lost here is that when we went to Dunbar our parents knew those teachers, they knew those black teachers, they went to church with them and a lot of those teachers lived in our neighborhood. So our parents, even though they may not have been educated – my mom had a high school diploma and my dad, I think he completed the ninth grade but he had gone to the military and no one would have ever thought that he did not have a high school diploma based on the way that he talked and the way that – ‘cause we had the newspaper, we were raised up every, in a home where you read the newspaper everyday, in fact we got the newspaper twice a day in the morning and in the evening time, I was raised up where I saw my mom and my dad both reading the newspaper, reading and all those things that helped to cultivated learning for us, for your child – but these teachers lived in our neighborhood and if you didn’t do well in school or if you showed out or whatever, those teachers knew how to get in contact with your parents and let them know and – but when you went to Texas High, you had white teachers and of course when you left the school you didn’t see them anymore. And they didn’t know your parents and all that. So that made a difference. There was so much accountability with these – with the black teachers versus, you know, in an integrated society. ‘Cause we – When I was in the tenth grade I don’t remember having an African American teacher, and in eleventh grade I think I had a biology teacher that was black – in eleventh grade I think I had a black biology teacher, and I don’t remember a black teacher in the twelfth grade.
So when you came over with Freedom of Choice, was that decision solely based off of your parents? Or did you want to go that first year?
I wanted to go. They had built the school, and we lived less than a mile away from the school. And when they were building the school, on Sunday afternoons we would go up there and peep in the school and look in the school and all that. And we were actually excited to be going there. And race relationship was not talked about like it is today. So my mom never said “you’re going to be going to school with those white kids, you need to be careful” and “they may not like you because of your colored skin” – we were not taught that. We were just taught to be the best that we could be and do what we needed to do – so I didn’t go there with any fear and that may be one of the reasons why I was accepted as well as I was accepted. I just saw them – and it wasn’t like I had never been around white folks before, I just didn’t have any fear and I wanted to go. Now, but I will tell you this – if they had not integrated fully, I would have gone back to Dunbar in the eleventh grade. I would have gone back to Dunbar. Because I would have been able to do some things that I wasn’t able to do at Texas High.
What kind of things?
Well, I was in the pep squad [at Texas High], but I probably would have been in the student council and I may even have been able to be a cheerleader [at Dunbar], but that was – you know I was not going to be able to do that at Texas High, the competition was too steep and all that. So at Dunbar I was competing against people of African American descent, my own people, but at Texas High I not only had to compete against some of my African American friends, but then I had all these white folks I had to compete against too to be able to do things.
And do you feel like you were – you would have been disadvantaged in those competitions purely because of your race?
Oh yes. Definitely.
So, looking back from today’s point of view, what do you think was the best thing that has come out of integration of educational systems specifically?
Well, together we are stronger when we live in a diverse community. And anytime that there is diversity we are better off. When we were at Dunbar we got the – they [Texas High] used the books for a couple of years and then the books were handed down to us [Dunbar]. When we went to Texas High we got the same books that they got, we got the same – and one of the things I remember my mom always saying to me is, “When you go to class, if you sit there and listen, when they teach that white student, they’re teaching you too.” So my mom always reminded me that I couldn’t use the fact that I was black or something in the classroom because the white teacher teaching what she was going to teach the white students, I was getting the same information that they were getting. How I choose to use that and how I choose to process that and how I choose to act was on me. So we got a better quality education there because we didn’t get the secondhand books, we got the same books that they were getting, there were more opportunities, like the football players, they probably outshined – and that was probably the discriminatory, or that was probably the loss for the white boys because the black boys were better athletes, so that probably hurt them more than it helped them. It helped the school because our athletes were so good, if you understand what I’m saying. And then – but the main thing is that we got a, not that our black teachers did not give us a quality education, I don’t ever want you to leave there, because they went beyond to make sure that we got a quality education. But whenever new technology came out, if they bought it for Texas High, I was able to take advantage of it. But when I was at Dunbar, if they bought new technology, unless they sent that technology to Dunbar, then I was disadvantaged. So those were some advantages that we had by going to Texas High because they wanted the best for their kids and we were there so therefore we could take advantage of the best too.
Do you think that Texarkana schools would have ever integrated without the Brown v. Board decision? Do you think that would have ever happened naturally?
It would eventually have to happen with the changing of the times, it would have to happen. It may not have happened as quickly as it happened, but it would have happened.
Well I don’t have anymore questions, is there anything else that you would like to add?
Well, the only thing that I would like to add is I want to say thank you for allowing me to participate in your survey, number one. Number two, I’m proud to be an African American, I’m proud of the standards that my mom and my dad set for me, the requirements that they had for me to need to be successful. I have two sisters and all three of us have gone to college and all three of us have master’s degrees and we all consider ourselves successful in our own right so – one sister may think she’s more successful than the other but we all know that we’re successful – and it’s because of the foundation, because I think foundation is so important. I had a good, strong foundation at home, but those African American teachers set a strong foundation. I remember when I was in the fifth grade – and I’ll even go back to when I was in the first, second and third grade – I didn’t share that experience with you – when I was in Ogden, and I attended middle school there, this is going to be hard for you to believe, but the first and second grade were in the same classroom, the third and fourth were in the same classroom, and the fifth and sixth were in the same classroom. So the teacher would teach the first grade morning session for the first half of the day and the second half she taught the second grade. They would give you assignments to do while she taught the other one. My mom always taught me while I was in the first grade, she said if you listen to what she’s saying to the second graders, when you get in the second grade you’ll be already knowledgeable of the things that she’s already taught the grade that’s ahead of you. So – and I remember my teacher when I was in the first and second, maybe more like the third and fourth grade over at Ogden, she would even bring us home with her. She lived in Texarkana and she would bring us home with her, four or five students – that’s unheard of now for students would accuse her of sexual impropriety or something if she did that – but we would come home with her and she would expose us to things at the house and play games with us and teach us math and science and all that after hours, so they went to that extra effort. So that’s what happened to me when I was in Ogden. When I came to Texarkana in the fifth grade, we did leadership skills. I remember I was president of the Girl Scouts, and we were taught how to conduct a meeting and how to count money when we sold Girl Scout cookies and how we would take care of the business of that, so she taught – the fifth grade taught me that. These are not things that kids get today. And then when I was at Dunbar in the seventh grade and eighth grade and ninth grade, we had teachers that, when we had assemblies, there are things that you could say in an all black setting that you can’t say in a white setting, or an integrated setting. So they would take us when we’d have assembly and they would just lay it out on the line and tell us that if we wanted to be something we could be something and you had to say poems, one of my favorite poems is “I have to live with myself and so I want to be fit for myself to know. I have to be able as days go by, always to look myself straight in the eye; I don’t want to leave on a closet shelf a lot of secrets about myself, and fool myself into thinking that nobody knows the kind of person that I am.” So that’s one of the poems we had to learn. We had to learn “If I can keep my head all about me when others are losing…” whatever, I’ve forgotten that as much as myself, for myself is the one I remember the most, but we had those poems that we had to learn because not only were they interested in the academic part of your life, they wanted to build character is what they wanted to do. And my mom and dad used to tell me all the time that your word is your bond and you know when you give your word, you need to keep your word. Those African American teachers, they taught us those things too and they reinforced the things that our black parents were telling us at home – that helped us to have strong characters, have strong values. To believe in yourself and to not let people, no matter what they said to you keep you from dreaming big and accomplishing the goals that you wanted to accomplish. That you could be anything and anybody and all that. So you don’t hear teachers saying that now because they can’t say some of the things – they tell you “boy if you don’t get yourself together…” and the principal will take you out in the hall and whip your butt, it wasn’t about sending you to the office and somebody in the office disciplining you – that principal or that teacher – that teacher would discipline you right there. I remember one time that I was in the ninth grade and there was one girl back there, she would tell jokes and she’d never crack a smile and everybody else would be laughing, and I remember my science teacher was Mr. McClure and I was laughing and he said “all you all laughing go out there in the hall ‘cause you’re fixing to get a whipping.” And I got out there in that hall and I begged for life, I said “if you don’t whip me” – ‘cause I cannot stand pain, I didn’t want no whipping, I didn’t want my mom and daddy whipping me, I always tried to do the right thing because I couldn’t stand whipping – I begged him, and he said “anybody as big and pitiful as you are, you don’t never need to get in trouble anymore. You get back in there and don’t you ever have him put you in this hall again.” [laughing] But they’d whip you. You know, they had belts and they had a strap and they’d put that strap on your butt if you did not do the right thing. So we, and they didn’t care about your – you got another whipping when you got home ‘cause they’d called your parents and told your parents or left your parents a note and let them know and they’d storm in the grocery store and tell them about how you were acting. So all these are the things that are missing in the African American community now. Now, these kids – there’s a little girl in school who told her teacher “you can’t tell me what to do, my mom is the only somebody who can tell me what to do” – back when I was a kid if you said that to a teacher, everybody would be telling you what to do after that. [laughing] So, I hope I’m letting you know as to what the African American teachers did for us back then, not only academically but building character. And sometimes we get so caught up on academics that we forget about the character part of a person and helping them to be successful. ‘Cause you can be the smartest person and can’t be successful on the job if you don’t know how to act, don’t have the right attitude, you don’t have the character, the morals, the values and all that. So it was a combination of those things when we were going to school.
Interview with Ike Forte, Texas High School Class of 1972:
What year were you born?
I was born March 8, 1954.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Texarkana. This is home. Texarkana, Texas.
Do you remember what schools you went to?
I started off, as far as elementary school, I went to Sunset Elementary School. Right up on Lake Drive. And, uh, when I finished with Sunset I went up to Dunbar High School, because the elementary school went from the first to the sixth grade and seven through the twelfth went to Dunbar. Dunbar High School. And, of course you know… seventh grade, eighth grade… and then integration started in 1968. And they left Dunbar a junior high school, seventh, eighth and ninth grade. So I was in junior high school at Dunbar and we started playing the guys that were white. Pine Street, Westlawn, the Arkansas schools – two of them – College Hill and North Heights. Well that was our first time ever, you know, playing [football] against guys who were white because, you know, when you had Dunbar you played the other black schools. So, it was a change. And we won our city championship – we beat all the schools in that area. And then, tenth grade of course we had to go to Texas High. And I don’t remember any discomfort because Watty Myers was still the head coach there and, from my understanding, I was the first sophomore that Watty Myers let play on his football team. And we didn’t encounter any type of racial problems on the football team. Matter of fact, being a sophomore and playing with those senior guys, well you know I’m kind of young and didn’t know too much and I’m the youngest guy there… And so I’m kinda… And I was shy… So I’d just kinda sit back and all I did was play football. Now as far as if there was any racial tension going on, I didn’t know about it. Of course, I do remember, I didn’t have a car. I didn’t have a way to get from where I lived, which was South Lake Drive to Texas Senior High School, and I do remember walking a lot with no problem. Uh, one thing happened when daddy and I and one of his friends were down at Lake Texarkana. I guess this was about this time, and we was fishing and we was getting ready to pack our poles and stick them in the back window – you know ’cause we had those, I forget what you call them, they weren’t rod and reels but they were just poles where you sit on the side and put your hook in the water – we were just putting them in the back and it was three or four white guys drove by and threw firecrackers at us. Well daddy – he got real mad and he chased them – our old car couldn’t go too fast nowhere – and I don’t remember catching… I don’t remember… I think he might have caught up to them at the EZ mart or something and they exchanged words. But, you know, we grew up in the… what we called the hood which was the neighborhood which was all black and we had a lady who had a store – a white lady who had a store – Mrs. Hall – Mrs. Hall had a store and, matter of fact, it was right dab in our neighborhood, and she was a really nice lady so we never had no problem. I do remember when daddy got his paycheck on Fridays – my dad made $60 a week – and we would go up to the grocery store on Lake Drive and we would buy groceries for the week, and of course dad owed Mr. Olived money, so Mr. Olived took all his paycheck, but he let him get groceries on credit, so that was something we looked forward to because we got chili and some candy to eat, you know, but you know, being in high school of course, I’m still not aware because that’s the way things were, just the way they were. Going to the Paramount Theater downtown, it’s the Perot [Theater] now, but it was the Paramount, and all you had to do was get six bottle tops of RC Cola and you could see a movie – for six bottle tops – but we had to go upstairs, enter through the side door and walk upstairs and we sit on the top balcony. We didn’t know what was going down down below, you know, and there really wasn’t nothing bad about that going on. But I guess my – I can’t remember if it was my junior year or senior year at Texas High – there was a big riot. The blacks and the whites started fighting. Well it was that morning and it was, I don’t know what started it, but we just heard a “FIGHT” and I guess everybody ran to the parking lot – of course I didn’t go. And when you don’t get involved with some things, especially when it’s white and black, you get labelled. You’ll be called an “Uncle Tom” which, I don’t know what that had to do – the meaning of it, but it means that you are, as far as being black, that you cater to the whites and you don’t follow your group or whatever, but all the kids who ran out and fought at Texas High that day in the parking lot – they closed all the doors. Of course I’m inside, but they closed all the doors and everybody who got locked out was suspended. And I’m going to say this was in 1971, and of course it was a big city thing going on then because all of the important peoples in the school district or in the city got involved, especially because kids were getting expelled. For how long, I don’t know. Of course I didn’t get expelled, and that was… I got schooled by a lot of people who came and gave me their opinion about different things of what – they’re glad I didn’t go out and fought – and of course I heard my friends who – ‘where were you, man?’ and ‘you should’ve been out there’ – and so of course I never was a fighter and didn’t believe in that… Mama didn’t raise us that way no way, and dad… We never was raised to hate. Mom, she worked for a white lady. She cleaned her house. There was a couple of them, she’d ride the bus and… wherever she had to go… And my dad, he worked at a saw mill and, of course, I got the opportunity to work at a saw mill, too. I don’t think nothing of it now and I didn’t think nothing of it then, but it was a white guy who, he’d stand up on top of the lumber, and if it’s a good piece he’ll put a check on it and one black guy on the one end and another, I’m on the other end… if he put an x on it then I’d pull it off and stack it and if it’s a check mark he’d pull it off and stack it… and that’s the way it was. Determined the good from the bad. And I made a dollar and some cents an hour, which was very good. This was in, I guess it was summer when I was a senior in high school, or a junior in high school going to be a senior. But as far as racism, of course you heard the n-word a lot, which blacks and whites use it. You’d hear blacks calling whites names… But I guess that’s the way… I don’t know, it was the law that we had to [desegregate] so, you know, a lot of the blacks… I didn’t hear any of the blacks complain about having to go to Texas High, which was good for us because Texas High was just being built pretty much. It was new. Mostly I was into sports so I heard a lot of the black guys saying they heard they wouldn’t get a chance to play because – white coaches. And they didn’t like us coming over there. I didn’t see that with Watty Myers because Watty Myers wanted to win, so he was going to put his best people he had on the field. And the first year that they integrated, I don’t know much about because I wasn’t there. So I don’t know how – I know we had some guys we looked up to who was juniors and seniors who was good football players, some of them didn’t play when they went to Texas High. Why? We don’t know. But we were just concerned about what we was doing at the junior high. Now, I don’t know of anything that would be important because, I was sports minded. That’s all I wanted to do. Matter of fact, I wanted to play pro football when I was in the sixth grade. Now I can remember earlier I wanted to be a doctor, but I found out I wasn’t smart enough. And then I got to the point where I wanted to be a barber, but I found out later on that I wanted to play pro football. And we didn’t have games to play with so we was always outside playing, you know, sometimes we didn’t have shoes because we had Sunday shoes but we couldn’t play in those, so we played barefoot. Of course, summertime we didn’t wear a shirt… We just had fun. That’s all I can tell you, we had fun in our neighborhood. You know, there wasn’t any whites – growing up – so we didn’t associate with any whites but now there was a time, I do remember, that they had what they called a “Milk Bowl” ‘cause we played flag football at Sunset elementary school, and I’m sure the other school played it because we could walk from one part of town to the another part of town and we could – go past Grim Stadium and we see these little white guys, same size we are, and they’re playing tackle! With uniforms! Wow! So we on the fence looking in. Man that was, wow. And the Milk Bowl, I guess that’s something that they played, I don’t know why they called it that, I don’t know, but we wanted to play. But we couldn’t. I don’t know, I can’t tell you why. But maybe they had a flag football, we don’t know. But I do know that they played tackle at the end of the year. Cause we… You had Sunset School, black, but then you had Newtown which is a section of town… So you could walk from Sunset to Newtown, or you could walk from Newtown to Rose Hill which, that’s what Dunbar was over in Rose Hill area, and it was… We didn’t go around in Beverly. Beverly, you know where Beverly is? Don’t go to Beverly… You could go around, but you couldn’t go through it because that’s where all the whites lived. We knew that. Couldn’t go. You didn’t want to be caught over there neither. So – it was – that’s just the way it was. We didn’t have no choice. But now, I still don’t want to go to Beverly now… I’m telling you. But I don’t know if there’s anything else you would be interested in as far as… In 1972, of course, our football team was close knit and our basketball team was close knitted, and I got, as a member of the Church of Christ, well there’s members on the team that were Church of Christ, and their families would invite us over – matter of fact, there was a doctor, William Shields, who was our team doctor who lived right down the street, and if I got hurt on Friday night he would bring me into his home and doctor on me that weekend. I thought that was great. Matter of fact, he was going to help me go to the University of Oklahoma, but my grades weren’t good enough that I’d had to sit out my first year to get my grades up. Well I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to play football. So I went to the junior college. And I felt bad because that hurt Dr. Shields’ feelings. He wanted me to go to Oklahoma. But members of the church, we had people like Doris Osterveen. She was Bruce Osterveen’s mother, who – we could come over any time Bruce took us over and there was no… We was friends. A white guy and a black guy, we was friends. And the conversation come up about that, but that didn’t matter. Which that’s the way life should have been anyway, but… I don’t remember experiencing any bad discomfort as far as integration and segregation. People started realizing that’s the way it’s going to have to be and it turned out good for me. I have no regrets. I just know that… I didn’t know it then, but God took care of me and as far as any bad bad things happening – no, it wasn’t there.
Do you remember there being – do you remember the cheer squad being predominantly white? And the majorettes? I know football was well integrated, but what about the band?
Yeah, all the cheerleaders was white – we did have one that was, I don’t know if she was standby, that was black. Now homecoming court was integrated, it had black homecoming court. I can – matter of fact, that happened two years that I can remember: my junior year and senior year. But my junior year the cheerleaders was all white, of course the pep squad had some blacks in it, I remember that. Student Council was all white. Of course there are some pictures I could probably look at and remember, but I don’t remember, even being a senior, that we had any student council [members] that was black. But when they did the most handsome, they had a black and white, most beautiful had a black and white, you know, stuff like that. Which, I guess that would be I guess the way to do it because I guess we saw beauty and saw things differently I guess.
Did you – You never had any issues – I mean obviously you didn’t fight – but you never had any issues with white teachers or anything like that?
No – Matter of fact my first white teacher was at the Dunbar school. Which, he taught woodwork, the shop. And I had the opportunity to see him – I couldn’t think of his name now – he was a real nice guy – but we did have issues one time on the bus. I can remember we had to ride the city bus from where I lived to Dunbar at times, and the bus driver was white and they did something to him – I don’t know – did to his head or something, whatever it was, but it was – I don’t remember what happened after that but I remember that – I don’t know why I thought of that, but that was… instead of school bus pick us up and bring us they sent the city bus. And I can remember – why that, I don’t know. Maybe that’s the only one they had, only thing they had, sometimes we got kind of rowdy because we didn’t have supervision on there, just students and the bus driver.
Did they bus from your neighborhood to Texas High School?
Yes. And then, when that happened – when the bus driver got attacked – then they cut it out. So you had to get there the best way you could. I do remember walking a couple times.
Was Dunbar High School where Dunbar Elementary school is? Is it the same building?
Yes. And I had the opportunity to go there last semester, of course they had renovated it and that was one of the best – I just said wow. Cause I remember – seventh grade, eighth grade walking down that hallway and then the gym, gymnasium, cafeteria, you know, wow. And I got teary-eyed, you know. Cause that was my first time in there since we left back in 1969. 1968 and 1969 I was in the ninth grade, and when we left I didn’t, we didn’t go back over there, didn’t go back in the building. That’s a long time.
So when you were in the ninth grade would have been the first year that they desegregated – did any white middle schoolers, or junior high students, go to Dunbar?
So it was still completely black?
Right. But there were one or two black guys who went to Pine Street [Junior High], I don’t remember any going to Westlawn [Junior High]. But I do know there were at least one, I do know, that went to Pine Street. I don’t remember any as far as the Arkansas side neither, because – as far as the football team – cause when we played them they was all white.
Did you ever consider petitioning to go to a white school? Or did you care?
No, we – no. My mom and dad had a sixth grade/seventh grade education. They always had to work. We went where we was told to go. Of course, we’d had no choice from the first to the eighth grade. Ninth grade we could’ve went but – yeah, I mean. And Dunbar was still there, matter of fact it was closer to our neighborhood than any other school. And that’s where we went. My life wasn’t exciting; it was just – we went along with the flow. Didn’t cause any ruckus, I didn’t, wasn’t that type of militant – just, at that time we stayed in our place.
What do you think about being born in 1954 – the year that the Supreme Court said ‘desegregate with all deliberate speed’ – and then when you were in the ninth grade and, more effectively, in the tenth grade is when it actually happened?
No thought whatsoever, at that time or now. It didn’t have anything to… well inadvertently it had something to do with me, but at that time it didn’t. And, at that time, we still had to stay in our place in 1954 until, I know 67-68. There were certain things, certain places where we couldn’t go. That’s the way it was. And we didn’t – couldn’t go too far no ways cause, you know, we couldn’t get around. Wherever we went we had to walk. We couldn’t go to Spring Lake Park – Spring Lake Park had a city pool.
You couldn’t go to Spring Lake Park?
And swim – no. We had to walk all the way to the Arkansas side, I don’t know, over where the old Washington High School is, they had a park right past there, and we’d walk from Lake Drive – all the way over there to swim because that’s the only place we could swim. We weren’t allowed [to swim] in Spring Lake Park.
That’s a long walk! Especially with Spring Lake Park so close.
Well we wanted to swim. And that was a big thing too because the pool’d be full of people. I can’t remember what it cost to get in there, if it was free or not, but we didn’t do it all the time. Just when we had the time and, fourteen-fifteen years old, we’d go over there and swim.
But you enjoyed your time at Sunset and Dunbar?
And you liked your time at Texas High? Or did you wish that you could have stayed?
Do you feel like you missed out on anything by going to Texas High?
Uhhh, no. It opened the doors for us, too, going to Texas High. Because, at the all black school, most of the really good athletes they could only go to – get scholarships and went to all black colleges. Our idols that we, guys we looked up to who were seniors – Take that back, I take that back. We did have a guy who graduated Dunbar, and he was probably one of the first basketball black athletes to enter the University of Arkansas – from Dunbar. And every now and then, he’d come to Walnut [Church of Christ] and worship with us. And of course, if you’d ever meet him he’d let you know that he was probably the first black basketball player – he’s got to bring that up with everybody he meets… Most of the black guys that graduated Dunbar had to go to a black college and, if they got a scholarship or if they wanted to play football or whatever, run track, they had to go there. But, what a blessing it was for me to go to Texas High and to be able to go to any university for a scholarship.
What do you think was the best thing to come out of integration long term? I know there’s lots of wonderful things, but, in your opinion, kind of having gone through it, what do you think is the best thing?
The best thing is that we have a better opportunity to get a better education, which, at the time we didn’t know that, but looking back – to go to a better school to get a better education and as athletes, our parents weren’t able to pay our way, and we got scholarships. I think, on my behalf, and a few more of the guys that I know as far as black guys that had the opportunity to go to major universities and at least try to get our education. So that was better for us. I’m not saying that blacks at Dunbar didn’t get an opportunity, because a lot of them got the chance to get their education and became good educators, men and women in the political field and leaders in the community, so it was – I guess if you had the ability and the brains even in a black school or a white school, you could make it. Just better opportunities at a different time. It was… Wow, just you know when I just sit here and think about that – life was good though. And I can understand why some whites didn’t want blacks in the school. That was their way of life. And I can understand why some blacks didn’t want to integrate ‘cause that was their way of life. But everybody, I guess, who lives in this country – I like that speech that Martin Luther King made that “you judge a person by its character, not the color of his skin” and how true that is. You’ve got ‘em in all shapes and sizes and colors. And I never thought that I, fifty years later, that I’d be sitting talking to a white lady about integration. Yeah.
Do you remember – at Arkansas High there were protesters – do you remember anything like that?
No. Nothing like that. And if I did hear of anything it didn’t register in my memory… I don’t have anything about that. Now remember we were stuck over there at Sunset. That was our world. And, as far as newspaper, TV… well, TV, we did watch TV and we had three channels. The only big thing I remember about, two things I remember on the TV at that time, being in this dirt, this street used to be dirt and rocks and then the city came through and paved it. And I’m a little boy and I do remember some people had TVs and the Wizard of Oz come on and somebody in the neighborhood had a colored TV – a TV with something plastic painted on it with red, blue, yellow, green [stripes] that made it look like it was colored, and I’m watching the Wizard of Oz for the first time, but that was the best movie I ever saw. And as I grew older, I kept watching the Wizard of Oz, and I can see Dorothy now kicking her heels together, and she says “no place like home.” That was our home. And Mohammed Ali won the heavyweight championship of the world and that was a big thing in our neighborhood. And I believe that was 68-69 somewhere in there.
Do you remember when Martin Luther King died? Do you remember anything…
Yeah, I was in the fourth grade. And our teachers really pretty much got affected by it. And they was all… You could see them talking about it, you know. And then John F. Kennedy, you know. And that was a big thing because the blacks liked John F. Kennedy. You’d go in people’s homes, and you’d see a picture of Jesus – now when I say that I’m just so you’ll know what I’m talking about ‘cause now I don’t look at it like that ‘cause we don’t know how Jesus looked, we know that Jesus wasn’t blonde haired and blue eyed… – and then there was a picture of Martin Luther King and then there was a picture of John F. Kennedy in most homes in our neighborhood. That I do remember. And as far as, you know, every now and then something else will pop up, but I didn’t have a life that was, I guess, worth talking about, but this is what little bit I have. We didn’t have much, we had to go [gestures in backyard] about to that trampoline to use the restroom. That’s the kind of life we lived. And when I went from, well I guess I got in the… I guess when I started going to Texas High, tenth grade, we moved across Lake Drive, 59, and we got us a commode on the back porch. And you ask me how, how did y’all take baths, well we had a hydrant and put water in it, in the bucket. Carried it and put in on the stove to heat it up. And we had a little tub and you’d take it in the bedroom and you’d poor your hot water in there then get in and take a bath. When you’d get through with the tub, you’d take it out and dump it off the back porch. And when I went to Texas High – when I played ball at Dunbar – but we could take showers then, which saved us from having to do all that work at home, but of course our families still had to do that. That’s the way life was for us, in our neighborhood. And, you know, growing up and people talk about the good old days – it was alright at that time. I don’t want to go back to them. I know, I can’t imagine when America was great from 1968 to even 1979… That’s when I started playing pro football. Things was rough for us then, you know. But we made it through, some kind of way. The way that is was. Then when I got old enough to marry, have my own family, I tried my best to make it better than the way it was when I was coming up from a kid. I don’t let nothing bother me now. Life is… I’m at this stage now where I’m enjoying life, I’m enjoying… I have no problem with anybody, no matter what color their skins are. No matter how much money they’ve got. Some people have problems with that, and I listen to them, and racism still goes on on both sides. I realize that. Nothing I can do about it. But I know what I can do, I know what I’m supposed to do. And I let God guide me. It’s all good.
Interview with Reverend Tony Patterson, Texas High School Class of 1969:
When were you born?
I was born in June of 1951
And did you grow up in Texarkana?
Yes, I did.
On the Texas side or Arkansas side?
On the Texas side.
Where did you go to school, from elementary?
I went to Theron Jones Elementary School
And then from there you went to Dunbar?
And from there I went to Dunbar Junior and Senior High. That was seventh through twelfth.
What do you remember most about Dunbar and your experience there? And your experience in the segregated school system kind of in general.
It was, oh perhaps the happiest times of my secondary school education. It was the place that my father had gone to school and graduated from, and my mother was a teacher there, a home economics teacher. And so it really meant quite a bit to me to be there in that atmosphere, and in that surrounding. It was something I had been looking forward to for most of my childhood life. I was just glad to be there, and that was something that was encouraged that you – in my particular family – would get an education and get a good education, and that is something that was being able to be provided from Dunbar High School and graduating from Dunbar High School. In addition to that were all of the extracurricular activities that students could be involved in like sports and the band, cheerleading squads – those things that make up the high school and make the experience more enjoyable and fulfilling. And it was something that we also looked forward to, that I also looked forward to in being there – so that was a very very favorable experience and a part of my life and as far as it related to the relationship with the TISD, with the school district, we were kind of insulated in that regard. I’m sure my parents knew more about it because they were working for the school district, but that wasn’t really something in our school of knowledge, if you will, about what was going on in the school district and our surroundings at that time. We kind of had a – an isolated microcosm if you will.
What year did you graduate from Dunbar?
No – I was actually, and in that regard – that’s probably one reason that Mrs. Jones gave you my name, one reason. Another reason is that I’m currently the president of the Dunbar Alumni Association. But the other reason that I instantly probably popped into her mind is that I was in the first class – the class of ’69 – that graduated from Texas High. So I went to Dunbar from the seventh grade to the eleventh grade and my final year was spent at Texas High School and I graduated from Texas High School.
So what do you remember most about the transition, and especially it being your senior and final year after having all of those wonderful years at Dunbar and that sense of community and your father had gone there, your mother was a teacher and there were extracurriculars and kind of having to go in to a very different environment that last year?
It was – it was short of traumatic. It was not traumatic but it was very disconcerting for, for not only me of course, but for my whole class. Because we had come up with certain aspiration and expectations of what our senior year would be like and then it was – you know, positions that we had worked hard to, you know as hard as a high schooler can work, in achieving and as the result of integration we lost that work, that effort we put in to be in those positions because we were integrated into another system. And we were, in that regard, perhaps the class that lost the most in going over to Texas High. And I’m sure that that’s the way that me and my class look at that and I mean, we’re not too bitter about it or bitter at all, but we were very disappointed that we had to go and really, as it turns out, we were kind of early in going because all of the other schools, including the schools in the northeast Texas school districts – Tyler and Longview and Marshall – they didn’t integrate until the next year. And the same was true for our contemporary on the on the other side of town. They did not integrate in Arkansas until the next year. And we are not quite sure why it was such a rush and our class in particular are not quite sure why it was such a rush to – for us to go at that particular time. And we could not have waited another year then certainly – and that might sound a little bit selfish and it did actually had to happen eventually and we just kind of felt like we wish it had been delayed another year.
When you speak of loss and how you feel that your class would agree that you “lost” the most by being a senior class integrating what exactly are you referring to losing, like the community, or…?
Well, that’s a good question and what I was referencing was we lost our positions, we lost our… we lost our secondary school education identity if you will by – when we had to go over there. We were – many of us were on the student council, when we went over there we were no longer a part of student council where you had influence. You had football, I played football and I was, a good example, I was most likely and surely to be the starting quarterback the next year. Well when I got over there I was on the football team, but I was relegated to a lower position. So I lost that, in other words. We had cheerleaders, no cheerleaders were on the cheerleading squad – no black cheerleaders. We had eight or ten cheerleaders, in our class we probably had three or four. Band members… That’s what I mean when I said we lost. We lost our positions.
Do you remember any – I’m sure it was there – but do you remember any hostility or specific instances of hostility or aggression shown between the white and African American students that first year?
Very definitely there was and it probably did not affect us on – well me and my brother in particular, he was a class behind me – because we rode to school with my mother. And this is where I think most of the aggression and discrimination occurred. And the other classmates told us we were kind of, in that sense, insulated from a lot of it personally. But there were many reports of the discrimination and the hostilities that many of my classmates encountered in transition – because there was a great bus ministry, a great bus effort had to be employed to get us from our neighborhood over to that neighborhood. So the bussing many people that hadn’t been riding the bus found themselves riding the bus our senior year. And as a result there were many reported incidences of racial hostility and there were sporadic confrontations with the students once we got there – we didn’t, it’s like the longer we were there the less it happened – I think it was kind of to be expected initially in the transition, but truthfully it did tend to go down as time went by and I don’t know if that’s growing used to each other or what the explanation may be – You know, I’m sure that’s it because you begin, once you go to class you begin to know people sitting next to you, even if you hadn’t been talking by the end of the semester at least you’re speaking, “how’re you doing” “good morning” you know, and the barriers begin to, the walls begin to break down. And I think because of my class we certainly were instrumental in beginning to help to break those walls down.
When you were at Dunbar, I wasn’t a very socially conscious elementary child, but maybe when you were at Theron Jones, did you ever notice or were you aware of the inequality of the supplies and the textbooks that the African American schools and the white schools had?
Yes, we were aware in that – they would provide the books for the grade levels during the elementary experience and I guess during the high school experience they provided books, and they were, there were some new books in there but the majority of them were used and signed by – you used to have to sign your books when they gave it to you because when you turned it in, if you damaged it too much there was a book fine and I can remember, and we haven’t talked about this in a long time with my classmates, but when they’d give you a book they’d give you a book cover which was a sheet of paper, a thick sheet of coated paper that you were to cover those books with to try to help preserve them, but they weren’t – in answer to your question, we did kind of notice that and me particularly going over to the Texas High my senior year, a good example is the football equipment. They had excellent football equipment when we were hard pressed to have decent pads for protection. And many – and we got a lot of their secondhand football pads and shoulder pads, thigh pads, those sort things – they were obviously secondhand when we would get some of them. And so it was, there was some new in both the books and in the sports supplies, but there was also some obvious secondhand supplies and materials being passed down to us.
As a graduate of Texas High, why is the Dunbar Alumni Association – you said you’re the President – why is that important to you and why is that an association that you’re involved in personally?
I’m glad you asked that question because that institution that affected so many lives had been in existence since the early to mid 1900s and done a tremendous amount of good in the community by producing graduates that went on to higher education, higher educational institutions and went on in to society and flourished, and certainly as a result of a good basic education it was providing. And something like that needs to be remembered, it needs to be memorialized as much as possible because case in point is – and this is really something that I think will be good to you – we’re having a tri-school alumni association banquet this weekend, this Saturday at Liberty-Eylau middle school and now Liberty-Eylau was the school district where Macedonia High School, which was a black high school, that’s another name you probably ought to remember and maybe be able to use in your thesis, was Macedonia School District was the kind of rural school district of Texarkana then but it was the only black school district in the state of Texas. Yes, it was a black school district, they had their own school district and professor A.L. Johnson was the superintendent of that school district when it integrated in 1970 and all those students had to go to Liberty-Eylau. And so we’re having that banquet – it’s the fourteenth annual, we didn’t have it last year or the year before because the president, Dan Haskins, he passed away and some other surrounding circumstances, we haven’t had it in a couple of years so we’re bringing that back – and where the three high schools come together to perpetuate the legacy of those three high schools that, African American high schools, that impacted society as much as they did from the City of Texarkana on both sides of the line. That needs to be remembered, and unless we do things like this, unless we organize and do things to perpetuate that memory and that vacancy it will eventually be forgotten. It’s already going to be a challenge enough when all of us die that actually went to these schools, it’s gonna be difficult enough for our posterity to take it on, but hopefully they will, they will see the value, someone will see the value of stepping in and trying to make sure it does survive. So that’s it in a nutshell. It needs to be preserved for those reasons.
One more question and I’ll let you go and get back to your day, what do you think has been the best thing long term that has come out of integration? I know that you saw and lived most of your primary and secondary education in a segregated system and then transitioned to an integrated one, and now looking back, what do you think has been the greatest contribution from that?
Don’t let me forget that question, I just thought of something else on the end of the other question. We here in Texarkana are… We here in Texarkana, and I just kind of had this revelation, we are fortunate in the sense that our institutions as far as the buildings are concerned are still standing. That is Washington High, the old Washington High High School is still standing, Dunbar is still standing and Macedonia is still standing. Liberty-Eylau is using Macedonia. TISD is using Dunbar, it’s an elementary school now. Same thing with Washington High. When many, I’m pretty sure that… at least I think so… I’ve heard that like with Marshall, Tyler and even Longview, I think those schools have been torn down. So that might be worth researching and it might be worth – but as a result, they kind of stand as pearls in the community, as they are really, and you know there’s been a lot of blight around some of our schools in that sense. But it hasn’t been so much as I think in other cities, as it has in other cities and in fact and in Rose Hill, I don’t know if you’re aware, but they’ve had quite a renaissance of housing there so the tearing down of a lot of houses has gone on and some public housing project have come in around that community called Rose Hill and that is continuing to make us more and more proud that our school is still there in that community. And so now, what was that question? Oh what was – what do I see coming out, did I see anything positive coming out is that the question?
Yes, looking back now what do you think has been the best and most positive impact to have come from integration?
I think it has been – it has been just a tragedy that it had to be segregated in the first place, that’s kind of water under the bridge, and so it had to happen at some point I guess is what I’m saying and yeah it kind of might sound a little selfish – I hate it was us in 69 – but what it did, I think there was some positives that came… we kind of mainstreamed, it helped with we mainstreamed into society, as a result more black people went into otherwise segregated or certainly high white populations of students, universities and colleges, as a result of that, and so I think it main – it just mainstreamed us as a more cohesive and integrated society, and I think that’s what the intent was and so it was achieved. And there were some personal sacrifices that had to be made, some personal injuries, not physical but emotional injuries had to be made with classes like mine, but overall it was probably the best thing to do.