Monday, February 18, 2019

1979: 6th Grade Memories: Judson or Foster?

Episode 19 - 6th grade Memories: Judson or Foster?

I’d met Keith Taylor during the summer prior to the beginning of the 6th grade. He and I took part in the Longview Public Library summer activities, and we’d become pretty good friends. He had already known he was going to be going to Judson, while I was sure I was going to Foster. He had told me, “You don’t want to go there- they have fights everyday, they break into your locker and steal all of your things, and they give out homework every single day!” I never did ask him how did he know that, but when we parted that summer, I was thinking I wouldn’t see him again for three years. Well, I wound up at Judson, and I was happy that at least I’d be attending school with Keith, even though we only had PE together. And I was happy I wasn’t going to the school where he said all of those terrible things happened.

Well, after school started and I’d been riding the bus for awhile, and after seeing all of the wonderful homework I was getting in almost every class except for PE and Choir, and after I’d had my locker broken into twice and lost two combination locks, I wondered whether or not I was at the right school- because it sure didn’t feel like it. If Foster was as bad as everyone claimed it to be, then Judson must’ve been just a step above hell in comparison. One thing that cannot be overstated and something I’ve thought about more and more as the years have gone by is the fact that a lot of black kids back then were ANGRY, with a capital A- angry because they had to switch schools for no reason other than integration and fixing the black-white ratio. What made it worse was that white kids were not having to move and switch schools, just black kids. White kids could go to whatever middle school they were close to, while black kids had to be bussed way across town, passing up two middle schools to get to the one farthest north and actually outside of the city limits. It meant having to get up earlier than normal, riding a bus not worth sitting in a junkyard, and going to a school where the majority of the faculty was probably not used to dealing with kids who lived on the southside of town. Then think about the 7th graders and 8th graders who’d been at Foster and/or Forest Park previously. Now they were being told they had to go to Judson. A lot of them were mad, and they basically took it out on everyone. The next year, some of the black kids were told that they would no longer be going to Judson- instead they’d be bussed to Forest Park. The majority of these kids lived on the eastside of Longview off Young Street and in that area, and I imagine that originally they weren’t too happy about that, but then at least, they’d be closer to home for what it was worth.

Starting out, it was a mess. Black kids were having fights everyday, with each other for the most part. I can recall a lot of them saying they were having fights just so they could be sent back to Foster. Which, of course, didn’t work and didn’t happen. A lot of these kids were older, 7th and 8th graders, who just did not want to be there. My classmates and I really weren’t into all that fighting too much, but many of us had best and good friends we’d been separated from in having to switch schools, and that and having to be punching bags for some of the more angrier ones made us not want to be there either. Judson, too, was looked upon as being the harder, tougher school when it came to academics, and the higher volume of homework and the strict grading policy gave evidence to that. Back then, it was possible to have homework in just about every class, and to have to carry three or four books home to do it. That also made a lot of us not like Judson very much.

But probably the biggest reason we hated going to Judson during our 6th grade year back then was its football team. The 8th grade team that year was HORRIBLE, they lost every single game that year. The 7th grade teams weren’t too much better, they might have won one game between them. But all of the teams were atrociously bad. Our first few pep rallies were memorable in the sense that many of the kids were cheering for and chanting for Foster instead of Judson. The funny part, if one could call it that, was that they were chanting for Foster no matter who we were playing that week, whether it was Forest Park, Marshall, or one of the Pine Tree teams. And the chants and cheers would be LOUD, meaning one could hear them very, very clearly. I remember the very first pep rally they made almost all of us 6th graders sit on the floor, and we showed our appreciation by chanting for Foster on almost every cheer. I also remember Mr. Gregory, the assistant principal, giving us such a dirty look, that if looks could kill, there would have been a mass murder that afternoon. I was chanting for Foster, too, at the time because I really didn’t want to be at Judson myself. And the football team wasn’t all that good anyway, so the purpose of a pep rally was being defeated in all the ways possible.

However, by the time football season ended, we (the 6th graders) had accepted Judson as our school and we were no longer cheering for Foster or wishing we were there. A lot of the 7th and 8th graders would continue to beat that drum into the ground, however, all the way into their 8th and 9th grade years respectively, but slowly but surely, a lot of them would change as well, and the school spirit became a lot stronger as a result. By the time I was in the 8th grade, we were all proud to be Blue Devils.

Monday, February 11, 2019

1979: Memories of the 6th Grade - Riding The Worst Bus Ever

Episode 18: 1979 - Memories of the 6th grade – Riding The Worst Bus Ever

My 6th grade year would easily be the best year I would spend at Judson. I’m not saying it was perfect (because it wasn’t), but it was easily the best out of the three years I was there. My 7th grade year would turn out to be a total nightmare, and as for my 8th grade year, I was just there and wanted it to be over. However, I can honestly say that I enjoyed my 6th grade year for the most part, and I really thought I was going to enjoy my entire time at Judson.

Really, the worst part about school back then wasn’t the classes I was taking or the homework given (which was A LOT considering, and more than I’d ever had before); the worst part about going to school that year (and the next) was riding the bus. As I’ve stated, we got stuck with the worst bus they had at the bus barn, bus 55, which probably would have lost a race with an old man in a wheelchair and a crawling baby. That bus had to have been the raggiest vehicle I’ve ever been in, and it was late coming and going every…single…day…. And I cannot count the number of times we would sit broken down on the side of the road or highway, while other buses would pass us by, the kids laughing at us as they passed. Why they didn’t just give us a different bus to ride in I’ll never know. (I’ve got some ideas as to why, however, and considering the time period I’m looking back on, I’m probably correct in my thinking.) Then our bus was over-crowded, we had three kids in every seat, and a lot of times kids had to stand up, due to either there being nowhere to sit or certain kids being bullies and not letting other kids sit down. That happened a lot back then and it was totally ridiculous and uncalled for. I was always one of the last ones to get on the bus and not by choice as some silly people assumed back then. I wasn’t allowed to walk somewhere closer so I could have somewhere to sit, so a lot of times, I had to stand up or whatever, and that usually made for a very uncomfortable trip in more ways than one. Add the fact that for about a month or two, we had a bus driver who didn’t give a damn about us and who’d usually be smoking while driving the bus (even though there was a fat “No Smoking” sign right there at the front of the bus), and you’ve got the recipe for miserable rides on Bus 55.

The first day of school had went without incident. However, after that, it was on. Every single day there was a fight on the bus. I’m serious- Every…single…day. And usually it was because there were a group of kids who loved to bully other kids, calling them names, making fun of them, and so forth and so on- to the point to where fights got started. I didn’t know them at the time, but I had to ride with some 7th and 8th graders who seemed to love to pick on people for whatever reason. Some of my classmates were minor bullies themselves, but not to the extent of the older kids. It was a shame, really. I can remember fights starting as soon as we left Judson and continuing throughout the whole trip- the bus driver would just laugh and keep going- and it was just totally ridiculous. I can remember certain kids (whose names I won’t mention here) who seemed to just thrive on picking on people and daring anyone to do anything about it. Then I can remember various bus drivers (we had our share after they finally fired the first one we had) putting kids off and out of the bus for fighting no matter where we were at when the fight started. Once, some kids got put out on Eastman Road five minutes after leaving Judson- and there was nothing out there at the time but fields and trees. Another time we put some out at the corner of Alpine and Eastman Road. Kids who weren’t fighting would get off the bus also, just to see the ones who got put off fight some more, which really wasn’t all that smart back then. Because then they couldn’t get back on and the fight was basically over anyway….and now you’re stuck with having to walk multiple blocks home. Riding the bus was chaotic back then, and I HATED riding the bus with a passion.

I’m not going to say that I didn’t get picked on or I didn’t have a fight on the bus, because on both accounts, I did. The weird thing back then was I didn’t know why I was getting picked on at times, and that it was actually happening was new to me. I remember the fight I had on the bus as clear as yesterday because it was with Roy Craine (and it really wasn’t that much of a fight, because we’d always been pretty good friends), and I was angry about something that had happened earlier that day. Long story short, we had been in PE, and that day, the coach seemingly was in a bad mood because we were taking our time dressing out, so he made us sit on the floor and watch the girls’ PE class do some gymnastics. He said he wanted no talking and if any of us talked, we’d get a paddling. Well, a fat girl jumped off the trampoline very ungracefully and fell, and I snickered. He motioned for me to come here, and I was the first to get paddled that day even though I tried to tell him I hadn’t talked, just snickered. There wound up being five or six of us getting paddled that day, but I didn’t care about that. I was angry, and I went straight to the office and called Momma and told her what happened. Anyway, by the time it was time to go home and we were on the bus, I still hadn’t calmed down. And Roy wasn’t making it no better as he made fun of me getting paddled nonstop (which was in front of everyone by the way- both the paddling and getting made fun of). I told him to shut up and leave me alone, but he wouldn’t, then the next thing I know, I’m pulling him over the seat and we’re punching each other. Fortunately, Tracy (George) and Wilbert Thomas broke us up before the bus driver could stop the bus and throw us off. But I was hot and Roy and I were STILL talking trash to one another when I got off the bus. My momma was waiting for me, and Carla, who got off the bus with me, told Momma what happened on the bus. It led to me having to go to Roy’s house and apologizing (He also apologized), and we’ve continued to be friends ever since. My momma wasn’t too upset about me getting a paddling, but she definitely didn’t like me getting into a fight with one of my friends even more so. She talked to the coach, who admitted he hadn’t actually seen me talk but snicker, but I shouldn’t have made any sounds period- Coach Hendricks and I got along really good from that day forward, and as I’ve said, Roy and I are still friends to this day, so there was a happy ending there.

Meanwhile, on the bus, things just kept getting more and more worse. My neighbor, the afore-mentioned Carla, was getting picked on unmercifully by this girl who was older than the both of us. In fact, she was an 8th grader and probably the biggest and worst bully on the bus. She’d either have a seat all to herself, or she’d let this one boy sit down with her almost every day. And she could fight like a man. I steered clear of her, because I could tell she was crazy, but she was making Carla’s life miserable on the bus. She absolutely HATED Carla, and she’d pick on her just trying to get her to fight her. A few times Carla did fight her, and it was sad, to say the least. Carla was not a fighter, and the girl would usually get the best of her. Other times, Carla would just try to ignore her, but it was difficult. One day, the girl was determined to fight Carla no matter what- Carla ignored her but it wasn’t doing much good. Carla and I got off of the bus right in front of my house, and the girl and some of her friends followed us. The girl grabbed Carla right in our driveway, and fortunately, Momma was right there at the door and she came outside. Momma asked me what was going on and I told her that the girl was picking on Carla and trying to provoke her into a fight. Momma talked to the girl and the girl told Momma she was going to whip Carla’s you-know-what and no one was going to stop her. Oh Lord, I thought, because I saw the look on my momma’s face and it was not a good look. “I don’t think so.” Momma said. “I think you best need to be going home.” They basically had a staring contest before the girl and her friends finally left. Momma told me later she had never seen a child with the look of being like a wild animal or a savage, until she saw that girl, and she was afraid of what was going to happen if the girl decided to try her. In all honesty, I was, too, because I know my momma.

Riding the bus that year was really just a small part of my 6th grade life, and although it was bad at times, it actually would get even more worse my 7th grade year. When I started the 8th grade, Mr. Thompson would be the bus driver that year, and as Public Enemy would say, all the BS stopped. But for now, I had to deal with that, but as far as school went, the fun was just beginning.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

1979: 6th Grade, Another New School

FINALLY- Continuing my look back at growing up in Longview, Texas in the late 70s-early 80s:

(This is also part of my contribution to Black History Month.)

1979: 6th Grade, Another New School

I can remember the first day of school for me entering the 6th grade just like it was yesterday. I was nervous about attending middle school and I was about to go to a school I had never heard of until about a month ago at that time. I thought I’d be attending Foster Middle School like everyone else, but instead I was being shipped to a place called Judson Middle School, home of the mighty Blue Devils (so they said). I was also nervous about leaving my sister behind at Jodie McClure because this would be the first time ever we would be going to separate schools and not the same school. (We wouldn’t attend school together again until we were both at Longview High School, me being in the 12th grade and her being in the 9th grade.) And for the first time since kindergarten, I was going to be riding the bus to school rather than walking or my mom taking me. All of these factored into me being nervous about my starting the 6th grade.

However, I was also excited because I would be changing classes on a regular basis for the first time and meeting a lot of different kids. I would have seven periods worth of classes, each with a different teacher and different classmates. I was also excited about wondering which of my classmates from Jodie McClure would be attending Judson with me. I had no idea if my entire neighborhood was going or just certain kids- I was really na├»ve about the busing situation back then- and although this sounds silly right now, I was also thinking about how I was going to look and dress. I had never given much thought to the clothes I wore to school, and usually I just put on whatever I grabbed first out of my closet. However, this time I picked out my clothes real carefully (As I recall, it was a light-blue Dallas Cowboys shirt with blue jeans), and I got to wear my hair in a nice-sized afro. I assumed I was wearing an afro for good this time because I had always worn a short haircut from the time I was able to get haircuts. Needless to say, short haircuts were out and afros were in and had been in since the late 60’s. (Even though they were on the verge of fading away too.) I didn’t wear my glasses (because kids were still calling other kids who wore glasses “Four-Eyes” and other bad names), and I thought I looked decent for a change. So I was nervous and excited at the same time as the first day of school rolled around.

I was still disappointed that I wasn’t attending Foster Middle School, and I truly hoped that my best friends from Jodie McClure- Marion Burton, Roy Craine, Rhonda Jackson, Tammy Allen, Kim Harris, Robert Taylor, and Tracy George- would be attending Judson also, and not Foster. As it turned out, Marion, Robert, Tammy, and Kim would wind up going to Foster, while the rest would be with me at Judson. That Marion, probably my “best-est” friend at Jodie McClure, would be going to Foster was probably my biggest disappointment on the first day of school, but I had learned over many years of moving back and forth that friends come and go, and that we must always continue to be friendly and make new friends as we continue the journey of life itself. Whatever. Anyway, my experience at Judson would sorely test my ability to do so in the next three years, and in going from an elementary school to a middle school, I was going to have to make new friends galore.

The trend for the next three years was set the first time I set my foot on and got on Bus 55, probably the worst running school bus in Longview history. This was the beginning of the trek across town from one end to the other end. When I got on the bus, I saw a few familiar faces- Roy Craine, Wilbert Thomas, Rhonda Jackson, Daphne Thompson, Charlie Templeton, Bridget Wallace, Lisa Miller, and Shelby Murphy. I also saw a LOT of faces I didn’t know (I didn’t know any of the 7th or 8th graders). And I saw….that there was NOWHERE TO SIT. In fact, there were already seven kids standing in the aisle when I got on. I figured this out later, but on the bus, there were 24 seats in all, and there were 3 kids in each seat. So there were over 80 kids riding the bus that morning, because like five or six more got on after me. Today, that would be hazardous, unsafe, stupid, and totally ridiculous. Back then, it was just ridiculous. I did NOT enjoy standing up the entire trip from my house all the way to Judson, which felt like going from Longview to New Mexico back then. And if I thought that that would be a one-time thing, I was very sadly mistaken. I was in for a great many trips standing up, sitting on the floor, or sitting and/or standing in the bus entrance. It wasn’t too bad that first day, though. Everybody was talking all at once and basically having a good time. Nobody hadn’t decided to be a bully…yet. The fights wouldn’t start until the second day of school.

I remember we travelled all the way up Eastman Road, and this was to be  my first time ever crossing Highway 80 going north on that particular road. I was wondering how we were going to get to Judson going this way. There weren’t any traffic signals once we crossed over into the north side of town (now there’s about five of them), and the bridge crossing over the Loop hadn’t been completed yet. We had a HARD time crossing the Loop, where there was only a measly stop sign at the intersection, and with the traffic being what it was back then, it made it real difficult to get across. That, combined with the raggedy state of Bus 55, would make us late almost every morning. But we finally made it across, and after going a few miles further and making a couple of left turns, we finally arrived at Judson Middle School.

The campus, at the time, was the biggest campus I had ever seen. I hadn’t been to the practically brand-new Longview High School yet, and Foster had a big campus, but Judson practically dwarfed it. There were four (actually five) good-sized buildings, a big football field, some tennis courts, and a huge cement courtyard in the middle of the school. The front building was called the new building back then, there was the old building combined with the gym, the annex building, the girls’ gym and choir building, and the band hall. And you talk about seeing a bunch of kids! I’d never seen so many kids in one spot or area before. And although there was probably more white kids than anything, the black/white ratio looked to be almost kind of even. (Which was the purpose of busing us black kids all the way across town like that anyway.) It was exciting, and it got to be even more so when I saw a bunch of guys playing what looked to be football on the concrete courtyard except they were playing with a tennis ball instead of a football. I joined in and over time I would develop the (bad) habit in playing the game I learned was called “Toss-Up”, where you toss a tennis ball in the air and whoever grabbed it would run with it until he was touched (or sometimes, tackled). If he didn’t get touched, he could run it all the way for a touchdown. Then he could either run it back in the other direction or toss it up for someone else to grab. My bus had arrived so late that I only got to play for about 5 minutes and didn’t do anything. At 8:00am, the bell rang, meaning it was time to go to my first period class.

My first period class was Advanced Math, and it was somewhere in the new building. I had an idea where it was located, but when I went and found the room, I said to myself, This can’t be it. I looked inside and had seen nothing  but white kids and a white teacher, and so I passed it two or three times always looking in and hoping that someone I knew would show up, but no one did. The tardy bell rang and I jumped in and sat down way in the back of the room. There were like 20 kids in there, but I was the only black sitting in the back by myself and setting the Civil Rights era back some 50 or 60 years. The white kids of course all acted like they knew one another and had known each other since they were babies I’d imagined. This really made me feel much better. (NOT!) Then my teacher, Mrs. Henderson, made me feel even more welcome by asking me to move closer to the front of the room. I would grow to really like Mrs. Henderson that school year, but on that first day of school I was thinking, This white teacher doesn’t like me. Which was wrong, of course- I just didn’t know that yet. We all had to introduce ourselves and say what school we came from, and I noticed that the majority of kids had come from Mozelle Johnston Elementary. When I said I came from Jodie McClure Elementary, they all looked at me like, Where the hell is that? Is that in Longview? Never heard of it. I said to myself, 2nd period has GOT to be better than this.

Forty-five long, painful minutes later, the bell rang. It was time to go to 2nd period. For me, that would be Advanced English with Mrs. Starr as my teacher. Advanced English was right next door to my Advanced Math class. I went into the room, and the kids I’d just left seemed to follow right behind me. The tardy bell rang, and I thought to myself, NO….  Same kids, different room, different subject, different teacher. Again, I was the only black kid in the room and I still didn’t know anybody or have a class with anybody I knew. Needless to say, the day was going downhill quickly. My excitement had turned into misery. I was almost ready to go home and ask Momma to switch me to Foster somehow some way.

After an instant replay of first period, it was finally time to go to my 3rd period class, which was Regular Reading and Spelling (or Regular Spelling and Reading). It was a regular, not advanced, class, and it was taught by a black teacher, Mrs. Fricks. And I finally had a class with some black kids in it. (Yes, although I was unaware of it at the time, the racial overtones were staggering, to say the very least.) There were at least five of them from Jodie McClure- Sheryl Perry, Danny Polk, Lisa Miller, Shelby Murphy, and Bridget Wallace. I was happy about that and felt a little more comfortable. Unfortunately, after having to take a couple of tests to see what our level was, I was separated from the class and put in the back of the room, which ironically was called the “advanced section”. I would do higher level work separate from the rest of my class and graded accordingly, which meant that this became another “advanced” class, with me being the only “advanced” student that period. Interestingly, in all of the other Reading and Spelling classes, there were at least five kids who got put in the advanced section for each class. In one class, there were ten kids placed! My class was the only class where there was just one….me…..sitting back there. But hey, at least if I finished all of my work, I could get up and help some of my classmates, which I did. And this kept me from feeling like a total hermit.

4th period turned out to be my PE class, in which almost every 6th grade boy had to take, and if my memory serves me correctly, I believe that there was only one 6th grade boys PE class that year, and that there must’ve been close to 70 or 80 boys in that class alone. Maybe more. So every 6th grade boy was in that class, including my friends Roy, Tracy, Wilbert Thomas, Charlie, Shelby, and Danny, and a friend I had made over the summer, a fellow named Keith Taylor. This was going to be nothing like elementary school PE- we were going to be expected to “dress out’ in white shorts and a white t-shirt (white socks, too) and take showers. And no, I was NOT looking forward to that at all.

My 5th period class took place after the last lunch. There were 3 lunch periods, first, second, and third lunch, and I had the last lunch period. Once the lunch period was over and the bell rang, everyone would head for their 5th period class. This for me was Physical Science, and this class was located in the new building also. (My 3rd period class had been located in the annex building.) I came into the room and sat in the back on purpose, because this class was full and there wasn’t hardly an empty desk. I didn’t know anybody in this class either even though there were some black kids in the class. A girl sat in front of me and she turned around and spoke to me and said hello. I told her hi. She had a deep voice for a girl (that’s the first thing I noticed about her) and she asked me what my name was. I told her and I asked her what her name was. She said, “Vickie.” And that’s how I became friends with Vickie Starts, and we would spend the year talking to each other in our Science class.

My 6th period class would also result in a bit of history. I had Choir this period, and yes, I USED to like to sing. (Emphasis on USED TO-) From the start, I sat next to this real friendly guy who acted like he had been knowing me for a really long time. He did look familiar, but I didn’t recognize him. He told me we used to play together on the playground when we went to East Ward Elementary. However, he was always in a different homeroom from mine, so he was never in any of my classes back then. I remember playing with different boys on the playground whose names I didn’t know back then, but this one (and later on, another classmate would tell me the same thing, that he remembered me from East Ward) remembered and knew my name. His name was Wray Wade. And like me and Vickie 5th period, Wray and I clicked 6th period. We talked nonstop and became great friends. Unfortunately later on, we and two other black boys who sat at the other end of the room got into trouble for talking so much. The teacher, Miss McFarland, decided to fix things by switching Wray and one of the other boy’s seats. This meant that Wray switched places with one of the boys. Here’s the funny thing- now this boy and I became best friends that year and all the three years at Judson, and Wray and the other guy became really good friends. However, we ALL were really good friends that year and forward. So instead of Wray, that’s how Antonio Jackson and I became best buddies, and how Wray Wade and Brian Robertson became really good friends, and how we ALL became like the Four Musketeers during 6th period.

7th period was the Special Interests period, but for us 6th graders, we got moved around each six-weeks to a different teacher, and determining on who the teacher was, you either could talk quietly or keep your mouth shut and study or do homework. We couldn’t sign up for art, tennis, games, etc. yet- We wouldn’t be able to do that until the 7th grade. Then at 3:30pm, the final bell would rang and we’d have to go to the turnaround by the boys’ gym to find our buses. I got to sit down for the trip home this time, and that’s when I learned that the bus went through all the neighborhoods from I-20 (the Front) to Wells Street. No wonder it was so packed. We really needed two buses going through there, but that would’ve been too much like right. The first day of school, for what it was worth, wasn’t too bad, and it had obviously improved the second part of the day. But, how long would it last?