Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Watching a report on the Jena 6 today I recalled a black and white conflict during my high school days. In my freshman year I went to an all white school. That was my only option. The black students had a school and that's just the way it was in 1966. I was 14 and this was rural Tennessee.

We'd only gone to school a few days or weeks when I began to hear rumblings about "busing" those black students to our school. It was fine with me. I was aware of the indignities that black people had endured and each step towards equality was a move out of the dark ages and in the right direction.

I heard that the school officials were against busing but the black students were coming anyway as "forced busing" came to the south in the sixties. There were probably 300 white students and 50 black students to be bussed. I didn't know how this would play out in smalltown, usa. It wasn't going very well in much of the south.

When the black students came to our school they weren't respected at all. Some of them found crosses put up in their yards and it wasn't being seriously addressed so most of the white students wanted to do something about the mistreatment of our new black friends. We had welcomed them into our high school and our homes and we were all in this together now, or that's how I saw it.

So a walk-out was organized. Are you kidding me? That only happened at Berkeley and Cambridge, didn't it? At 9:00 am the next day we were to all walk outside and remain there until we could speak to the inequalilty of the black students. Would it really happen? And what would happen to us for walking out?

Next day at school I heard the commotion of chairs scooting around and voices down the hall as students began pouring out into the hallway, heading for the front doors. Tommy C, who had organized the rally didn't say one word when he walked passed me and others in the hall. I'll never forget that grin on his face so I knew that he would somehow make it right, but I was still shaking all over. Outside on the grass we all gathered and wondered what would happen next and at around 9:20 or so our principal came outside with a sheriff's deputy and told us to come in or we'd all be expelled. No one budged. In fact, we laughed. And we stayed right where we were; smoking cigarettes, talking nervously with each other.

The principal again returned and told us that after talking with the school board, they would finally look into the harassment, the intimidation, and the racism against our black students and they would punish those people accordingly, or words to that effect. It was a victory for all of us students. That conflict was a turning point for me and was the first of many times that I would stand up and rally support for Equal Rights. For blacks, for gays, for women. For everyone.

2 comments:

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein Tue Sep 25, 03:46:00 PM EDT  

What a great story! Thanks for sharing it.

What part of rural TN are you from?

sujaco Tue Sep 25, 04:44:00 PM EDT  

Thank you, good Dr!

I lived in both Johnson City and in Elizabethton.

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