The late 60's, early 70's were a tumultuous, ugly period in American History. Racial equality was a very, very good thing. I can't imagine how the educators must have felt during that time. I don't remember any of the ones I knew acting prejudicial toward students who weren't the same color as she/he.
The present day elementary school opened when I was in 4th grade. We had a black librarian. When we were checking out books for the first time, my hand accidentally grazed hers. I stopped and looked at my arm, and she said "No honey, it doesn't come off!"
Back to the Valentine's Day Riot (since that's what this post is suppose to be about!): I went to 3rd grade at the former black high school. I've heard in recent years that the present elementary school was built where it is because the white people didn't want their kids going to school in the black section of town. It's funny to look back and see how far we've come in just 40+ years. If my parents had any concerns, they didn't voice them. And...I'm getting off track again. Kind of.
Valentine's Day Party. 3rd Grade. 1971. (I'll make it easy and do the math for you: I'm 51.) The day was going great. We were so excited about our party! And then, something strange and very scary happened: we were let out of school. We stayed inside until our rides got there, then we were escorted out by a teacher. One of the teachers's son (who was in high school) came to the elementary school so his mom would know he was okay. We got home, and all of my siblings (except the oldest) were there.
Here is what I thought had happened: February is Black History Month. There was an assembly at the high school that was optional, so a lot of the white kids didn't go, which angered the black students and a riot ensued.
According to my oldest sister (and this is to the best of her memory!) this is what really happened:
It was February 1971 – Black History Month. The rumors were going around for a few days that someone from the Black Panthers was going to speak at a school assembly. By mid-morning of that day – I don’t remember exactly which day it was – about a third of the students had gone home for doctor’s appts, dentist appts, funerals, etc. All of a sudden there were knocks on every classroom door and all the black kids left the rooms. They began circling the hallways upstairs and down –(the school was built in an octagon)- and they kept going around and around the library upstairs and the cafeteria downstairs singing “We Shall Overcome.” After a little while, a student's dad came over the intercom and for, literally, 5 minutes kept saying “Attention all black students… Attention all black students …” I don’t remember a whole lot after that, except that they dismissed school and my boyfriend and I went to A&W and had lunch.
As it turned out, the choir from Knoxville College – which was (is?) predominantly black – was going to perform.
There were no fights that I recall. And, as far as this little white kid knew, nothing really changed. The mean black kids were still mean and the mean white kids were still mean. I had many black friends and we really never talked about – strange as that may seem now.
I had a friend (who happens to be black) at the house one day when we were in the 3rd grade. We were out riding bikes, and some little brat called out and told her to "get back on her side of town." I thought that was kind of funny, because she actually lived out in the country and didn't live "in town". I looked at her and told her not to pay any attention to him. We did go back to my house and told my mom.
Today, even though there are some blacks in the "white neighborhood" and some whites in the "black neighborhood", they aren't what I would call truly integrated. even after all these years, I honestly don't know if they ever will be. Especially for people who have grown up here, and have lived here their whole lives.