It was 1969 when Dorchester County got around to integrating its schools. Entering fifth grade, I was unaware of the history being made or the struggles involved. The small community where I attended school previously had two elementary buildings; one for black children and one for white. That September, students in kindergarten through third grade attended the formerly black school, while Grades 4-6 went to the school I'd attended all along. That school, long gone, is pictured below.
It seemed like a minor thing. That's how oblivious I was. Recently, I ran across something on the internet that made me realize how un-minor it was. I'll save that for my next post.
But first, a history refresher: The Supreme Court ruled in 1954's Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that separate but equal schools were no longer acceptable. States and local school districts were mandated to eliminate segregated schools "with all deliberate speed."
Note that date - 1954. Note that mandate - with all deliberate speed.
Anyway, in 1969, Hurlock schools integrated. What I remember most were the differences. Scores of black boys and girls where there had only been two or three; a climb in enrollment, that resulted in my fifth grade class being placed in the school gymnasium; names like Odise and Cordell appearing next to Bobby and Lisa on the class roster.
Oh yes, and the black teachers.
My fifth grade teacher was Mr. B.D. Lake. Not only was he the first black educator I'd encountered, he was the first male. Mr. Lake wore light-blue dress shirts, white shoes, and socks as colorful as the rainbow. He figured out pretty quick that the Wootten boy couldn't see very well, so he moved my desk right up next to his. That's where it stayed.
I don't know if Mr. Lake was a good teacher, at least in terms of what we learned or didn't learn. Some classmates liked him, others didn't. I loved Mr. Lake. At Christmas, I convinced my mom to take me shopping for some colorful socks that I gave him at our classroom Christmas party. And what a party it was! Mr. Lake shut those gym doors, fired up the phonograph, and allowed us to dance to our favorite Christmas records. I brought a single by Alvin and the Chipmunks. Walter, one of my new classmates, brought "Funky Little Drummer Boy," by Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, fueling my lifelong love for funk and soul music.
Before the school year was over, I had my own pair of white dress shoes. I also remember Mr. Lake telling me that I was his favorite. Now I know that he probably told every child the same thing, but at the time. . . I would have run through a wall for Mr. Lake.
So you can imagine, with fond recollections like these, how dismayed I was to run across a report detailing the actions leading to the integration of Dorchester County Schools in the 1960's. It's the kind of stuff you thought only happened in the deep south during the turbulent 1950's. It involves adults turning their backs rather than doing what's best for kids. It also, among other important times in the history of civil rights, inspired me to write Harvest of Thorns.
I'll save that for another day.