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