Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Episode 16: 1979: A Part of History and Not Even Realizing It

Lobos, Blue Devils, and Mustangs presents: Episode 16

1979: A Part of History and Not Even Realizing It

In 1970, Longview ISD schools were one of the last in the state to integrate.  It was a trying and difficult process, and there were many on both sides who did not embrace the change. In the summer of 1970, some of the school buses at the bus barn were dynamited and set on fire as a response to the upcoming busing of students to different schools in order to “integrate” them. Some schools, mostly black, were closed to set up the integration process. Womack High School, Janie Daniels Northside Elementary School, and Rollins Elementary School were closed down. The black middle school became Hudson Pep Elementary. Black principals, teachers, and coaches at these schools were relocated and transferred to other schools. And of course, students, mainly black students, had to be shifted to different schools in order to “integrate” them.

I put the term “integrate” in quotes on purpose because the term means to bring (people or groups with particular characteristics or needs) into equal participation in or membership of a social group or institution.  Whether many of us choose to admit or realize it or not, this actually did not happen for a long time. Sure, Longview schools now had a mixture of black and white kids at every school within the district, but to say that everyone was treated equally and the same would be a joke. There were many administrators and teachers whom, although they now had to educate black students as well as white students, still felt and believed in racism and were prejudiced toward their black students. Many black students during this time felt ostracized by their white peers and many were believed to be trouble-makers just because they were black. There were many who weren’t even given the same opportunities as some of their classmates because “they weren’t smart enough” or “they were a behavior issue” or anything else to take the place of “because you’re black and I don’t like you”. I’ve spoken to relatives, friends, and co-workers who attended Longview High School during the early 70s and who also attended Longview schools when it was still segregated.  Many of them wish integration HADN’T taken place. And they were black. They felt they were treated way better in their black schools than they were when they started going to integrated schools. Many avenues which would have been open to them had they remained at Womack or Hudson were closed to them once they started attending Longview High School and Foster Middle School. Again, whether we choose to admit it or not, everybody didn’t receive a fair and equal education during that time because of the circumstances and people involved in the integration process. And it’s a shame.

Where am I going with all this and what does all this have to do with me and my classmates? I’ve earlier said that when I was in the first grade (1974-75), I attended East Ward Elementary (now Everhart). My family lived on E. Young Street at the time. I was only very vaguely aware that my next door neighbor who was the same age as me and in the same grade had to get up early in the morning to ride the bus to a different school called Mozelle Johnston Elementary. And I had absolutely no idea that I was supposed to attend the same school. But somehow, someway, my momma got some strings pulled and I was able to stay at East Ward. East Ward was literally right around the corner from my house; Mozelle might as well have been in a different town as far north as it was- actually it was outside the Longview city limits. I was able to avoid attending Mozelle that year, but ironically five years later, I was not able to do the same with the middle school right next door to Mozelle.

From 1974 to 1979, I was not aware of how many of my classmates had to attend elementary schools which were way across town or nowhere near their home, when there were one or two (and sometimes more) elementary schools that were closer. I was also not aware that many of these classmates who had to do this were black. How can one live on 15th St. and have to attend South Ward or Bramlette, when GK Foster and East Ward were right there? How can one live on Young Street and have to go to Mozelle or Valley View, both of which were on the north side of town? How can students who lived across the river in Lakeport be sent to Bramlette, when Jodie McClure was closer? And how can one say this is beneficial for our students/children when they are probably going somewhere where they are not totally accepted? To be sure, the 1970s were a traumatic time for most black students (and parents) in Longview because many adjustments had to be made just so your child got a fair education (or so you hoped or thought). It was also traumatic to some white students and their parents who weren’t used to being around black people period.  And this was a result of the integration process which started in 1970.

In 1979, the integration process was still taking place and causing some difficulties for some of us, including myself. Before school ended, representatives from Foster came to Jodie McClure and spoke to us 5th graders about attending Foster next year. We filled out schedules and various other forms, and we all basically assumed we’d all be attending Foster. Nobody from Forest Park or Judson came to our school. So, when the summer ended and it was time to go to registration, my momma took me to Foster to get registered.

I will never forget Mr. Newhouse, who either was the principal there or one of the assistant principals, looking for my name and saying, “He’s not listed here. Are you sure he’s supposed to attend school here?” My momma looked like she couldn’t believe this was happening, and told him yes. Then he asked where did we live, and she told him, and he got a real uncomfortable look on his face and said, “I think he’s supposed to go to Judson.” Now, honestly I had never heard of Judson Middle School until I had met Keith Taylor over the summer and he had told me that was the school he was going to. (Even though he lived out there in Fox Hill on the southwest side of town- go figure.) I had absolutely no idea where Judson was, but obviously my momma did, for she then said, “We’re going to the hill and see about this.” Momma was not exactly happy about this- in fact, she was about as angry as I’ve seen her up to that point. She went to the ESC building when it was on Court Street and sitting on a large hill, and while I sat in the car, argued futilely for my right to go to Foster. At that moment I had somewhat mixed feelings about the whole situation- I had heard that Foster was a tough school filled with bullies and kids who broke into your lockers and stole your stuff, but as I would later learn the hard way, all middle schools were like that. Keith had made Judson sound like it was a great school without all that, but seriously, how did he know that?

When Momma finally came out, she started driving northward. We got on Judson Road and I wondered just where in the world were we going? We never went down Judson Road for anything back then, and Momma was like, “You’re probably going to have to go to Judson. Let’s go and see what it looks like and the atmosphere.” At first, I was like, “Ok”, but then as we kept going on and on and on down Judson Road, I was like, “Where is this place?” Then we passed the city limits sign and I was thinking I didn’t want to go to Judson anymore; I’d take my chances with the bullies at Foster.  By the time we arrived at Judson, I felt like we had driven to Shreveport and back. It seemed as though we were not only in a different town, but a different state as well. We got out and went into the school cafeteria where registration was still taking place and I got to meet the principal, Mr. Brent Taylor, the voice of the Longview Lobos. He seemed really nice and his assistant principal, Mr. Gregory, also introduced himself and he struck me as the type of principal who did all the dirty work, paddling kids and whatnot, but really and truly, they both seemed friendly enough. I got my schedule and saw some classes I had not signed up for, such as Choir, “Advanced Math” and “Advanced English”, and I knew that those two classes were more than likely hard classes that I probably wouldn’t like.

After all that, Momma and I left, and on the way back home, during the next 20-30 minutes, I was at the first major crossroads of my life and I had to make a decision. Momma said that I didn’t have to go to Judson if I didn’t want to, and that I could go to Foster- but the only way I could attend Foster was to use my grandparents’ address (who were living in Longview at the time and whose home was in Foster’s so-called district) as my permanent address. Unfortunately, the way Momma worded it made it seem that I would have to live with my grandparents, and I did not want to do that. Rather than explaining what she actually meant (just using their address, not living with them), she wanted me to make a decision right then and there, and so I said that I would go to Judson.

For the next three years, I would develop a love-hate relationship with Judson; My 6th grade year wasn’t too bad, but my 7th grade year was pure hell, and my 8th grade year was somewhere in between. Sometimes I wish I had went to Foster. Or even Forest Park, which I knew nothing of this school until we played them in football. In fact, after the first couple weeks of school, in which my locker got broken into twice, somebody stole my PE shorts and t-shirt, I had classes with nothing but white kids who I didn’t know, and in which some 7th and 8th graders had called me names I had never heard of, I was wishing I was at Foster, thinking it couldn’t be no worse than this, even if had to and could move in my grandparents.  However, I had made my choice and was stuck with it.

In many ways, looking back on this period in my life, the choice was made for me. In 1979, after almost 10 years, integration was still going on, and my classmates and I were a part of that. Why would you send black kids who live out there near I-20 to Judson? Why would you send those who lived across the river to Forest Park? And the only way to get there is basically riding the school bus, which was 35-40% of the hell I experienced. It was all done in the name of integration. I don’t recall seeing any white kids who lived on the northside being bussed to attend Foster. And for the most part, the white kids usually went to the school which was closest to them. One notable exception were those white kids who attended Hudson PEP and who lived on the northside, because Hudson PEP was the elementary school for exemplary students.  But other than that, black students were the ones who had to be bussed and sent to different schools not necessarily around the corner.

Did integration help or hurt? We may never really know the answer to that question, unless we look at it individually for each person. In some circumstances, it helped, in some, it didn’t. I can’t say I totally enjoyed my three years at Judson, because I didn’t. A lot of times I wished I was somewhere else. However, not all of it was bad. I made some friends which have lasted to this very day. I got to do and take part in some things in which I might not have had a chance to do anywhere else. Plus, I did accomplish some of my goals I had back then. So I will end this chapter by saying this, Integration should serve to create fellowship among all the different races and help and create equal opportunities for all those involved- When integration does more to hurt than help, then you’ve got a problem.

Please feel free to comment below and share some of your experiences of that particular time!