Thursday, April 3, 2008

Zebra Woman

When I was a kid, the order came down from Washington to desegregate the Mississippi public schools. This was a huge deal but I was pretty much confused by it all, being so young.

Not only were the schools to integrate white and black students, they were to integrate white and black teachers as well. I was in the second grade.

A lot of people pulled their kids out of the public schools that year and a lot of public school teachers went to work for the private schools trying to handle the overload. That year at Casey Elementary School, they changed the teacher for my class three times.

My mother decided to try and prepare me for the third teacher because she was going to be different. Mother explained that the new teacher was half white and half black and I was to be nice to her and a good boy.

Now, I understood what white people were, and I understood what black people were, but a person half white and half black was new to me. As best I could figure, she must have stripes like a zebra or spots like a leopard or maybe she was white on one side of her body and black on the other side.

As you can imagine, I was pretty excited to meet this fantastical person.

When the new teacher arrived (I wish I could remember her name) it was quite a disappointment. She was neither striped, nor spotted, nor white on one side and black on the other. She was older than my other teachers and her skin was just a little darker than mine and she had curly hair.

Despite her lack of oddity, I tried to be nice to the new teacher, but she seemed very tired to me and uncomfortable in her new position.

The next year, I too went off to private school. Despite my father's liberal ideals, it was thought best for us kids to get away from the turmoil in the public schools. I moved to a parochial school though, not one of the Citizens Council schools.

Now that I'm grown, I wish I'd stayed in public school. My wife graduate from Murrah and she turned out pretty well. Things settled down after the first couple of years of integration and it might have done me some good to go to a school with a more diverse student body.

3 comments:

Sandi said...

There's something to be said for public schools, and I firmly believe that supporting them is the key to keeping communities strong. White flight is sad indeed. That said, though, I can't fault your parents for pulling you out; hard to get an education in the midst of turmoil.

A. Boyd C. said...

You would think there would be pressure on somebody like my dad to keep his kids in public school, but it was just the opposite.

A senior member of the state dept of education once told him he'd better get his kids in private school as fast as he can.

My dad was pretty liberal on these issues and pretty outspoken.

Sometimes there was pressure on him to shut up and play along. Sometimes there were threats too.

When it came to his own kids, I guess he just wanted to keep us out of the fight.

Sandi said...

I bet he agonized over that. On one hand he wanted to do "the right thing" and support the public school, but what parent would let their children be in danger? I don't blame him, but I know it must have been tough.