Thursday, December 14, 2006

Integration Memories - A Final Look

Now that we've had a little fun with my one and only time to try out dating more than one boy at a time, it's time to pick up my story again where I left off. We had moved to a small rural area, not too far from Birmingham, with our newly adopted baby daughter, and not long after, I had gotten pregnant with our second daughter.

When the next school year started, the High School principal came to me, all but pleading with me to come teach Chemistry. It was two weeks before school was to start, and their Chemistry teacher had quit to join the faculty of the newly opened "White Flight" academy in the next town. One of the ladies from our church agreed to stay at our house with the girls, so I took the job.

That turned out to be a harder year on several fronts than I had ever expected. We were too new to the community to realize just what had been going on the year before. Things had been moving at a much slower pace out here in the country than I had realized. It seemed that this year that I had so easily agreed to teach in was only the second year that the "Black High School" had been closed and turned into an integrated elementary school. This was the second year that the "White High School" was totally integrated, and they had had boycotts and riots the first year! You'd think somebody at church would have warned me what I was getting into, but it was such a touchy subject, with many church members being those who founded the Academy, and others being public school teachers, that I guess no one wanted to discuss such matters.

Anyway, I walked in blind to a hotbed of high school hormones and racial hatreds, ready to find offense at the least remark or slight. Besides that, the Chemistry lab was in horrible shape. To say the least, I was not impressed with the skill of my predecessor, based on the terrible condition in which the chemicals were stored. But the lab was a minor problem, compared to the ill prepared students and the generally pervasive anger on the part of Black and White students alike.

Because this was a small rural area, there was only one class of Chemistry one year, and one class of Physics the next. So what did I teach the rest of the day? Anything and everything that nobody else wanted to teach! I ended up with a different preparation each period, ranging from 7th grade up, as the Middle School was attached to the High School.

The classes were all over crowded. One class in General Science, a required subject for graduation, did not have any text books until the second semester. I improvised with units about the way automobiles worked and such, for these students were not the brightest in the world, as they could not pass Biology.

Just as I had been at my other High School, I was stuck off on the end of a corridor, all by myself. This seems to be a common place to put Chemistry rooms. I guess it's in case of fire, etc. It did mean for me, though, that I'd better be able to handle these big country kids, who were filled with hate for all things connected with school, all by myself. Thank goodness I'd had a few years of teaching under my belt!

I survived the school year with only a few major incidences. One of the girls in that General Science class got into a major knock down drag out fight with another girl outside my classroom one day, which I had to try to break up. They were surrounded by a ring of boys by the time I got out there to deal with it, and when I broke through the ring, I saw why! They had shredded each other's clothes down to their bras!!! I don't know how I did it, but I did get them to stop, and I pulled them into the nearby gym locker room, sending for help. It turned out that they were fighting, because one of them had aborted a baby by the other one's boy friend.

The other incident actually happened to a girl on the way to my isolated class, and I only had to deal with the aftermath. When she came to class, she had been stabbed in the arm. Did I mention these were rough kids???

One student, who sticks out in my mind after all these years, had come back to finish High School after serving in Vietnam! Smoking was allowed at that time in this county, and of course, being isolated, the designated smoking area was behind my classroom. Some days he would shake so badly in class that I would let him go get a few puffs of a cigarette just to get him through. I was naive to drugs at that time. It would never have occurred to me that he might be smoking something else. But I felt sorry for him. He was obviously emotionally damaged, didn't fit in, and yet wanted to make something of himself. I don't know what became of him, but I hope he turned out OK.

The worst part of the school year for me, though, was leaving my own house every morning. Our older toddler would cling to my legs and beg me not to go. This didn't just happen at first, but it lasted off and on for the whole school year! She never got used to me being gone. Of course the little one couldn't have cared less. Anyway, between the teaching situation being an absolute nightmare, and our own child being so miserable, there was no way I was going to go through that again. I gave my notice at the end of the year, leaving the principal plenty of time to find a proper replacement.

From a student, myself, locked in the auditorium of Phillips High School while a Black man was being beaten for daring to try to enroll his children in a White school, to watching my Governor step aside as the first Black students entered the University of Alabama, to teaching the first Black children a school had ever had, to teaching in a school the first "peaceful" year it was fully integrated, I saw the whole cycle of the Civil Rights Movement up close and very personal.

I did go back to teaching full time when our children went to Kindergarten, and I taught at that very Elementary School that had once been the Black High School, some years before. Things had changed considerably by then. The White Flight Academy was flourishing, and the parents who had stayed with the public school system, for the most part, had reconciled themselves to integration. The children were generally used to it, unless their parents poisoned their minds, and I enjoyed teaching there, with Black and White children together, for 25 years.

12 comments:

Sheila said...

Rosemary, this is the best story yet. Thank you for sharing your experience. It was a difficult time and unfortunately, we are still to this day struggling with the fallout from the segregation era.

Dirty Butter said...

I'm not so sure, Sheila, we're ever going to completely recover from all the hard feelings of Black and White people, not only in the South, but everywhere in the USA. We can only make progress one personal relationship at a time, in God's good time.

I appreciate your compliment on my tale.

Marion said...

Your stories are fascinating, DB. I have just now finished reading all of them.

Civil rights in the US was something we watched on TV or read about in the papers, here in Canada...you make it more real to me.

Dirty Butter said...

This whole time period was very real to me, that's for sure, Marion. But my story is still a whole lot different than one you would hear from a Black person of my same age from the same area. It's like we lived on two different planets for much of our lives.

Tomas Karkalas said...

My dear, while entering your blog I sense myself filled up with the desire to say something good.
Thank you.
While writing to you I noticed an apple on my table. Let me share it with you now.

Dirty Butter said...

Thank you, Tomas, for this willingness to be open and sharing. I'm glad you enjoyed my posts.

red-dirt-girl said...

Hi DB,

Just wanted to say Merry Christmas to you and a peace-full new year....I am heading out for the red dirt hills of GA in a few days....will be traveling the length of your beautiful state......from Mobile up through Montgomery and Auburn........always miss the pretty mountains of Birmingham......I know Opelika pretty well........anyway - will think of you while traveling through. All the best in the new year....and traveling mercies!

peace+
red dirt girl

Dirty Butter said...

You have a good Christmas, too, Red Dirt Girl, and be safe on the highways. Enjoy those rolling hills around Auburn and Opelika and may God speed you on your way to those red clay hills of Georgia.

jan said...

I can understand why you would not want to return to this teaching situation, but good for you for what you did for these children while you were there.

Dirty Butter said...

The funny thing, Jan, is that over the years I ended up teaching some of their children!

CyberCelt said...

I am a substitute teacher and I lived through the segretation when I was a teen. I am glad you posted your story so that the tale does not get lost. Kids today have no idea about the problems of race. In one way, I am glad. But I do not want them to ever forget!

Dirty Butter said...

I know what you mean, CyberCelt. In an ideal world, our children would not need to know of such things. But in this imperfect world we live in, if they don't learn from the past, they will repeat it.