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  Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical

REMEMBERING INTEGRATION

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman

While the 1954 Supreme Court decision to desegregate public schools "at all deliberate speed" was a moral victory for America, there was another story that has been largely neglected by historians.

It is the story of the closure of African American schools that were loved by their students, built scholastic and athletic pride, and were the core of their communities.

Thanks to a partnership of the Texas Council for the Humanities, the Texas Association of Developing Colleges, and the Texas African American Heritage Organization, this unique part of East Texas history is being recorded for future scholars to study.

On a recent Saturday afternoon in Hawkins, former teachers and students of black schools in Hawkins and Big Sandy shared their reactions to the 1954 decision and the resulting changes which characterized integration in East Texas.

Many of the memories came from oral histories assembled by Jarvis Christian College students.

Before integration, Big Sandy's Excelsior Elementary School stretched beyond grade school to the tenth grade, requiring those who hoped to graduate to attend a succession of schools in nearby towns.

In 1965, a consolidated black high school, Fouke-Hawkins, with its sixteen teachers, three bus drivers, and a dietitian, provided the impetus for the construction of new school, called Southside. Although it was segregated, its existence anticipated integration.

Thirteen years after the Supreme CourtĻs decision, Big Sandy and Hawkins were integrated into a new school system made up of Southside, Hawkins Elementary, Hawkins Middle School and Hawkins High School.

As desegregation came to the two communities, the process was peaceful, as contrasted with other schools in the South, but it brought complex changes in the black communities, the loss of respected black teachers, and the end to long-established traditions.

For black students, the merger with white schools meant "a loss in close relationships with teachers who were our role models," said Clara Kay. "Our language and customs changed in one year,"she said.

Mrs. Kay recalled that her school days in a black school started with the pledge of allegiance, and the Lord's Prayer. "We had hand-me-down books from the white schools, but we had a positive outlook and some wonderful teachers who inspired us," she said.

Anthony Porter said he had mixed emotions about integration, but "it turned out to be a period of enlightenment and exploration." He said he and his fellow students were "afraid of losing friends and our traditions, afraid of keeping up with white students, and afraid of making the grade." Like Kay and Withell Hall, another black student who grew up in the fifties and sixties, Porter bemoaned the loss of black teachers who had a strong bond with black students and their parents. "In those days, if you didn't know a Bible verse, you had a date with a willow switch you cut yourself," said Porter.

The oral histories collected by Jarvis Christian College are touchstones for Hawkins and Big Sandy and, hopefully, similar memories will be gathered in other East Texas communities.

All Things Historical
August 11-17, 2002 Column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
(Bob Bowman is author of Pioneers, Poke Sallet and Politics with Archie McDonald. It is available through the East Texas Historical Association, Nacogdoches)



Bob Bowman's East Texas
A timely gift for any East Texan. Sample a little of East Texas here, a little there--and come away with a good helping of stories you might not know if you didnít read this book.
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