Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Historic High School Memories Part I

I went to Phillips High School in downtown Birmingham. When I started there the schools were still segregated, and, because the school was downtown, any white student in the city could go there. Since Mama and Daddy both worked downtown, and it was a College Prep High School, it was a logical place for me to go.

Daddy dropped me off in the mornings, and I rode the bus home in the afternoons. It was a huge school, and there were about 600 in our class. Coming from a little grammar school, where I had been with the same 30 or so friends for eight years, made this quite an adjustment. Only two other girls from there had gone to Phillips, too, so I was thrown into a strange place with a lot of strangers. I did make new friends, though, and settled in fairly quickly to what I expected to be four years of dating, partying, and, oh yeah, studying.

I never expected to be locked in the auditorium, along with 2,000 other students, while a "Colored" man, the Reverand Shuttlesworth, was being beaten with chains on the sidewalk, for trying to enroll his children. I never expected to have Daddy driving me to and from school and slowing down, but not stopping at traffic lights and stop signs, because demonstrators were throwing rocks at passing cars. I never expected to be ushered out to the nearby park, with everyone else, day after day, as bomb threat after bomb threat was called into the school.

You see, I went to Phillips during the height of the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham, a school less than a mile from where hoses and dogs were being used against demonstrators, and only a few blocks from the bus station where there had been such a horrible confrontation.

12 comments:

Anvilcloud said...

That's quite an ewxperience. High School was a difficult enough period for me without all of the extra stuff.

Dirty Butter said...

I look back at it all now, anvilcloud, and wonder how I handled it all so well. I do remember having an overall feeling of fear through that whole time period, though. I have lots of memories of those years that I think are important to share, so this was only Part I.

Marion said...

Wow. I can't imagine how hard that must have been for you, especially during those teen years.

Looking forward to Part 2.

Dirty Butter said...

Marion, nothing I experienced could have been anything anywhere near as traumatic as what the Black youth of Birmingham were experiencing at that time, but I can only tell the story from my perspective.

jan said...

When people talk about how much better everything was in the good old days, they should remember situations like this. We've come a long way.

Dirty Butter said...

Yes, Jan, the Birmingham of today is quite different from what it was back then. In fact the mayors of Birmingham have been African American for the last 25 years or so. Things have changed a lot, and a lot of it has been for the better. Not all has been good change though, so we put on blinders and wish for the good ole days.

Chana said...

it is hard to imagine that the united states, the progressive and wonderful USA was ever in that process.
i'm glad that you were alright. i can't imagine the stress and fear of just making into school.
i suffer to think of all what those 'colored' families went through and to know that in our sophisticated world of now their are plenty of peoples who still suffer such unfainess.

Dirty Butter said...

You are right, Chana. It is hard to imagine that the USA, the land of freedom, was ever that unfree for so many. But it was. That's why it is so important that people are reminded about this time in our history, so it will not be repeated with some other ethnic or religious group.

Sheila said...

While Birmingham got a lot of attention, we did too downstate in the Montgomery area. I grew up in Prattville and while in the 8th grade our junior high school was integrated. It was a rather peaceful process with the brightest black students enrolled. As I entered high school, the formerly all-black high school (which had been called a training school) was merged with the formerly all-white high school. While we had some fire-bombings and smashed windows in Prattville, the integration went forward fairly peacefully. The faculty was integrated and students mingled without incident on a daily basis as we all tried to get through a difficult period. However, during our graduation ceremony, I remember it being marred by two rednecks, covered in what appeared to be blood, who ran across the stadium field shouting something about "ugly word for blacks" raping a white girl.

After I graduated from the University of Alabama, we left the state for over 25 years. When we returned 3 years ago to Montgomery, it took a bit of readjusting. Our high school senior has attended a Montgomery Public School for the last 3 years. It's a magnet school with a 50/50 racial mix. Other non-magnet schools in the city are nearly all black. This is the result of the white flight that happened after segregation ended and white academies mushroomed. It's so hard to get support for the public schools for this reason. Many white parents still send their children to these private schools and thus feel no responsibility for the rest of the children.

I look forward to hearing more about your experiences, dirty.

Dirty Butter said...

Actual integration didn't come to the Birmingham schools until several years later. I was already out of college by then. I'm glad you've posted, Sheila, about your experiences. They make a nice balance to mine. A few years made a big difference in what it was like, didn't they?

I agree with you 100% about the white flight schools only perpetuating the problems of segregation in many ways. It's very noticable in B'ham to this day.

Jackie said...

I also went to a Whites only Government high school in Zimbabwe. There was no violence in the schools.When Independence came and the Government changed from White to Black the schools became mixed overnight with very few problems.

The U.S. South must have been very difficult to grow up in at that time both for Black and White children and must have been very traumatic for you.

Dirty Butter said...

It's good to know, Jackie, that there was not this kind of turmoil everywhere when segregation was ended. I've really blanked out how long the scarey time lasted, but thankfully it wasn't too long before things settled down.