Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sharing Memories (Week 37): Remembering Desegregation

The year was 1970. I was entering 6th grade and would be attending a different school. There had been a lot of turmoil concerning desegregation of the public school systems. I remember hearing adults speak of their concern about their children being forced to attend a different school in order to create racial balance within the school systems. Some threatened to remove their children from school entirely and keep them at home. Racial tensions had been escalating during the 1960's, especially in southern states like Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. Riots and racial disturbances were often the main topics of televised news.

Fear and rebellion against new ideas played a role in the concerns among our white neighbors and family members. These were my first encounters with the concept of prejudice as I watched it reveal its ugly presence among those whom I knew. Until then, I paid no attention to racial differences. I was unconcerned with what was happening in the world outside of my own. Now I had become curious. I was watching and waiting to see how the unfolding events were going to affect our schools and community.

Mom and Dad talked about sending us to a private school across the river. They were greatly concerned about how the desegregation was going to affect us. Mom was driven by fear, partly because of her own misconceptions because of the way she was raised. She worried that her children might be injured because of racial tensions within the schools. She worried about how her children might be influenced by the racial blending. She hated the whole concept of desegregation and felt angry because she could do little to change the course of events. After realizing that the costs of a private school was beyond their means, Mom and Dad decided against it. They would just have to deal with the changes, whether they liked it or not.

Before desegregation, Lincoln Middle School had been an all-black school for grades 6-8. This was a new experience for me... attending a racially mixed school.

At first I was nervous because I didn't know what to expect. I only knew what I had heard up to that point... and it wasn't very good at all. However, my fear over the situation dissipated within a few days. After all, even though the school was now racially blended, we were still separated by our different cultures. The white students continued to stay amongst themselves as did the black students. There was little social mingling among the two groups.

Like the majority of students at Lincoln Middle, I was more concerned with "fitting in" with my peers and less concerned with racial issues. We were at an impressive age when it was important for us to feel accepted by our friends. We were still a little young to understand the concepts of racial equality and desegregation in its entirety. Therefore, our parents were more affected by the changes occuring in society than we were.  

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