Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Race Relations: Just One Generation Ago

During Thanksgiving break, my mom and I were talking about her days as a child and all of her experiences growing up when I realized she lived during part of the civil rights movement. So I asked her about her schooling, and she told me she went to a segregated school until 3rd grade.

She grew up in Rison, Arkansas, a rural town of about 1000 people located about an hour and a half south of Little Rock. She started 1st grade in 1964 while Rison was still a segregated school. By 1966, the school district decided to attempt integration by sending one black boy and girl in each grade from the black school across town. The black school sent their best and brightest students to Rison elementary in order to ensure that the black students would fit in as well as possible. The next year the majority of black students came to Rison elementary with a very smooth transition, and there were no skirmishes until the 1970 school year started.

In 1970, Watson Chapel, located about 20 miles away, was planning on integrating their entire school in one year. A lot of white students and their parents were very upset about this, so instead of dealing with their own integration process, many of them decided to move to Rison and go to the then fully integrated school. Obviously this wasn’t going to make the situation any easier, and the fights commenced. Most of the problems were caused by the white kids from Watson Chapel because they were would make racist remarks and try to bully the African American children. My mother recalled one incident specifically:

In the spring of 1971, some of the black girls had made the cheerleading squad much to the disgust of some white girls from Watson Chapel. The white girls ganged up on the black girls that made the squad and were bad mouthing them, so my mom stood up for them and basically said whoever was the best should be on the squad regardless of skin color. Of course they then began attacking my mother for siding with the blacks, but she wouldn’t have any of it and held her ground until they left her alone.

Most of the kids from Watson Chapel then moved back the following year, where many attended a brand new private school built exclusively for whites. After the 1970-71 school year, racial altercations were held to a minimum and many white students became friends with the black students.

While sitting in class, I’ve often felt so far removed from the civil rights movement and I forget that we are only one generation removed from segregation. I was curious if anybody else had a parent or other relative that was involved in an integration process or any other major civil rights event? Or any other comments?

1 comment:

  1. What a coincidence I'm from the arkansas and I think the Watson Chapel you mentioned from your mothers story is the Watson Chapel in Pine Bluff right? If so, I think its pretty crazy that there are so many racial tensions seen at that school, especially today. Growing up in Pine Bluff a good majority of white parents would send their children to Watson Chapel hoping to escape the "troublesome" public schools of Pine Bluff and receive a "better education". However, as time went on Watson Chapel started to become more and more integrated and now its not considered a place for a "better education". Its sad to see people's opinion change because of something as simple as skin color.