Unified Committee for Afro-American Contributions
Blacks and Whites could not sit in the same area. The Black schools were pitiful because we got all of the castoffs, the junk, the broken-down desks, the bench, books with pages tore out. You got no sports equipment. You got blackboards that was chipped. You got erasures that was wore out. You did not get any new equipment in Black schools. You know, the only thing new there was if you bought a tablet or a pencil your own. Everything else was hand-me-downs and stuff that a lot of it should have been thrown in the dump. But here again, it was better than what we had because without that we had nothing. But you start reading a story or trying to study and you get to a certain page in a book and it’s not there. So then, you hope you can find another student that’s got a book that a page is tore out somewhere’s else and they got the page you need, and you got the page you need. To me, is a hell of a way to have to try to get a education, but you done what you had to do.
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We were somewhat disappointed in what we heard from the Board of Education at that time. From the chairman of the Board, she could not understand why Blacks were trying to integrate the schools because they were paying such little county taxes.
At that time, she [May Russell] was the president of St. Mary's College. Her statement was that she couldn't understand why we would want to integrate the schools because at Carver we had the cutest little toilets of anybody in the county for Black students. And I was really surprised professionals would suggest that was the reason for not wanting to integrate the schools.
They are referring to over at Carver Heights you had enlisted men club. In fact you had a club where all Black military personnel congregated sometimes. After that they turned it over to St. Mary's County Public Schools. Now the government, when they constructed the building which was a recreation facility for enlisted personnel, they had small toilets for the children at the younger age...
The first student that entered this [Great Mills High] school was the Groves kid--two of them, brother and sister. And that was in the early '60s. And we only had two, at that time, to integrate the public school system in St. Mary's County. The Board of Education decided that we would integrate Great Mills High School but it was a volunteer situation. At that time, I entered my three younger kids, the youngest I had, in Lexington Park Elementary School. . . . the Board of Education did not integrate the transportation and the school system at the same time. Transportation was a segregated transportation system. I withdrew my children from Carver Elementary School because I wanted them to have an integrated education. It wasn't that the teachers were inferior, but I wanted them to know what Black and White was all about - an integrated education.
For Joanne [Groves] and her brother--it was like being on a foreign soil where someone else is speaking one language and they were speaking another. And even if they communicated, it wasn't a friendly welcome atmosphere at all. It was a scorn, a resentful attitude as if you had taken something from me. It was disgusting how they were treated here.
And let's not forget now, we had a problem getting Blacks to attend this so-called volunteer integrated system. Blacks were not climbing the fence to integrate by no means. We did not get integration until it was consider a forcible situation from the Board of Education. If you want to say Whites wanted to go to Carver and Blacks wanted to come to Great Mills, forget it. (chuckles) It wasn't like that. No one was climbing the fence to go one way or the other. It was completely satisfied, status quo. And that's what we lived with in St. Mary's County for some time well into the '60s.
And I think back again about the superintendent of schools--had a White superintendent and a Black superintendent. And at that time the White superintendent was a Ms. Lettie Dent, I believe; Black superintendent was Mr. Ralph Waters. And somewhere along the way we began to think about segre--integration to bring these people together. And one of the things that a lot of people were not aware of--not aware of but did happen; the Black people began to think about it. If you're going to combine these two school systems--you've got a Black superintendent and a White superintendent--who is going to be out of a job? There was some concern there about that. I don't recall any of the Black teachers actually being--you know, laid off, retired, or whatever. But there was some concern there. So there was reluctance, not only from the White community but from the Black community also...
The segregation--of course it was segregated. The schools were segregated and not only the schools but it carried over into other aspects of life too. I recall the county fair--the county fair--there was a Black county fair and a White county fair. And so there was no--there was competition between the Blacks and the competition between the Whites but not the real sense of competition.
We hardly had a pen and a piece of paper to write on. A lot of the time, parents couldn't afford to buy composition books and pencils and stuff kids should have in school. Sometimes, some of the parents would, you know, buy pencils. I think they paid a penny or two cents for them. Course they would buy two or three extras so a kid that didn't have any would have a pencil. Many a time I seen a child break a pencil in two and give another child part of it.
They (teachers) shared what little bit they got. The community couldn't afford it. The community as a whole basically was just surviving theirselves. Well, it wasn't bad. We didn't think it was bad, because that was all we knew so when you're not comparing one thing against the other, you know. I realized in later years how much we were missing, you know, as far as books and this type of thin in school, but at the time you made out with what you had because you didn't realize there was something better that you were supposed to have. …And we did learn to read and write and add and subtract, and so that's better than the old folks had it. My grandfather, he couldn't read or write, either one, you know, and to see the kids at least learning to read and write, I mean it was something that they were happy about.
The bathrooms, as you see now-No. We didn't have bathrooms. We had latrines. You know what a latrine is? I think it's a military term, but the latrine was one of the light things were you go out. And, I really think it has some advantages, too. Because when you go to the latrine and it's, ah, 30o outside, you're not gonna set there and read a book or smoke a cigarette. You're going do what you need to do, wash you hands. Of course, you didn't wash your hands then. You had to come back to the classroom to wash your hands. You're gonna do what you got to do and get the heck back in there. Now, you go to the bathroom. You take your book. You take your magazine, your-whatever, your phone and you have a good time. Not then. [chuckle] So maybe, the latrine, you know, maybe it was a good idea. We need to go back to the latrine....
We played games and I'll tell you about one of them. And, one of the games was up at Maryland Springs. The place I was telling you about, the playground was in the woods? We'd play Cowboys and Indians. And sometimes this Cowboy and Indian stuff got a little rough. I remember once I was the Indian. And of course, the other guys were a little bigger. Wasn't a little bigger. They was too damn big to be fooling with me anyway. I was the Indian. I got caught. So, what did they do? Just like they did on the TV. You hang 'em. You hang-man you, so they proceeded to hang me. Mr. Butler came out jingling his little bell and I'm tied up in the damn tree. Couldn't get away. The guys went in and left me. Eventually, somebody came back and retrieved me. But you know, the idea was: You had to fend for yourself. What kind of games did we play? We played those kind of games. It was kind of rough. . . .
The sports was too rough. And anytime you're beating me up and telling me you're having a good time, well, I'm frightened half to death. I'm not having a good time, and so I think it had some influence. Maybe that's why I don't like the sports now. You have to blame it on something! ....
Had a guy that was routinely ripping off my lunch, and I got a little fed up with it. And, he was especially good at taking the dessert. You know, you take a apple or a banana or an orange or a slice of cake or something, he's gonna rip that off for sure. Anyway, I went in one evening-and I didn't tell my mother about this either-And I remember I going to try making a cake. Made this cake and didn't use chocolate. Used X-Lax. You remember? You know the little brown stuff you melt? Put it in with the icing, took it to school next day. Well anyway, to make a long story short: I didn't have any more trouble with my lunch disappearing. Had no more trouble at all.