This is an ode to my segregated schools. In my educational experience I have attended three. At the time, the law demanded that I attend those schools and none other. I love my segregated schools.
I woke up this morning, feeling like I did the morning after George Zimmerman had been cleared of the murder charges in the killing of Trayvon Martin. After a robust cup of java it dawned on me that the cause of my dread was not a repeat of that dreary morning two years ago.
Actually, today is one day after Judge Jerry Baxter threw the proverbial law book at nine Atlanta school teachers. They had been convicted as mobsters. Their crime was in helping students achieve a passing score on a standardized test that most professional guidance counselors agree is not a determinant of how well a student will do in school.
Baxter, a judge for the past 30 years, even acknowledged that he was a mid-level “C” student at the University of Georgia Law School. Who knew he would become the best known student from the class of 1976?
After a few sips of java, I realized how thankful I am for the segregated schools that educated me. Those schools in the 1950s and 1960s were not equal in terms of facilities and resources, but far superior in teaching and nurturing school children.
It has been 50 years since the great migration of black students to the white schools began in earnest and perhaps about 35 years since white children abandoned those schools for “Christian schools” and their progeny – charter schools.
What we have left are public school districts populated largely by African Americans and paid for by tax dollars of every household in the school district, including white Americans who have children in the mostly segregated Christian and Charter schools.
Subsequently, white parents with children in private schools or publicly supported charter schools are paying twice for education. Once to educate their own children and once to pay for poor black children who have no choice other than the tax supported school in their neighborhood.
Before the Warren Court said that public education had to be “integrated at all deliberate speed,” even before Chief Justice Warren postulated in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education, “To separate them from others of similar age, race and backgrounds may harm their hearts and minds in ways unlikely ever to be undone,” there was the Crawford County Training School; not to be confused with the Crawford County Comprehensive School, where my white neighbors attended.
I am thankful for Annie Pearl Wilkinson, my first grade teacher, who taught me my ABCs and how to write them. I am grateful for Mrs. Colbert, my second grade teacher, who taught me and years earlier taught my mother at the one room school that preceded the Crawford County Training School . I am thankful for Betty Calloway, who taught me how to diagram sentences in the third grade.
I am thankful for the white school superintendent in Crawford County, Georgia who required my mom to have me checked by a psychiatrist in Macon, Georgia, because I had scored higher on the standardized test of that day than any third grader in the county; including those at the white school. There had to be something mentally wrong with this black child, he theorized. The psychiatrist quickly figured out I was the smartest eight-year old in the county.
I am thankful for Mamie M. Miller who was the principal at the Eugenia Hamilton Elementary School where I enrolled in the fourth grade. I am thankful that she insisted that I memorize the words to the Negro National Anthem.
I am thankful for Mrs. LaVant, who shared knowledge with me in the fourth grade. I am thankful for my fifth grade teacher. She would later teach fifth grade with my mom. A mental block right now is preventing me from remembering her name. I’m thankful to her for mistreating me and causing me to hate an injustice with a passion.
I am thankful for Louise Banks, my sixth grade teacher, who taught me world history and who also taught my mom and later worked with my mom and I on the same teaching staff. I am thankful for Margaret Sheftall, who taught me in the seventh grade and taught along side my mom. She taught me to appreciate arts and crafts.
I am thankful for the segregated Ballard-Hudson Junior High School. I am thankful for the principal, Robert Williams, who presented a role model that I strive daily to achieve. I am thankful for Mr. Booth and Rev. Wilson who taught me civic in a crowded gym. I am thankful they taught me the Alabama Literacy Test and how to prepare a legal brief. Twenty years before I reached law school in 1981, I had already briefed Brown v. Topeka Board of Education.
I am thankful for Judge Bootle who opened the door for me to enroll in Lanier Junior High School for Boys. I am thankful for Miss Quida Poe who called me “Nigger” every day as though that was my given name. I am thankful that I confounded white school officials when I scored higher than any ninth grade student in the school on the standardized test given in 1966.
I am thankful for a redheaded tenth grade history teacher, Betty Phillips, who saw beyond my skin color and cultivated my mind in history, politics and international relations.
I am thankful that I did not attend school in an age of political correctness. I am thankful for all teachers who teach in today’s climate of educational political correctness.
I am thankful for Atlanta Public School teachers who although convicted, would not agree to say they were racketeers.
Harold Michael Harvey is an American novelist and essayist, the author of Paper puzzle and Justice in the Round, Easier to obtain Than to Maintain: The Globalization of Civil Rights by Charles Steele, Jr.; and the host of Beyond the Law with Harold Michael Harvey. He can be contacted at haroldmichaelharvey.com.