HISTORICAL EVIDENCE: Women Are Smarter Than Men!
I spent 7th grade homeroom and English class in the same location, the southwest corner of the first floor of the historic Grove Tower building.
That building, built in 1906, was originally the first privately endowed high school in Tennessee. Basically, that means, EW “Chill Tonic” Grove paid for a bunch of it. The county paid for the rest.
Interestingly, in 1908 Grove graduated two ladies, Louise Johnsonius and Fern Madole.
Doesn’t that make you feel progressive? Two women were the first graduates!
However, it took fifty-six years before a woman of color, or for that matter any person of color would have that same honor.
In 1954, the Supreme Court struck down racial segregation in public schools. Seven years later, Barbara Ann Tharpe Gray, Barbara Jean McClain Byars, Deborah Clark Howard and Patricia Tharpe Kendall, ladies of color, left Central High School, where they were allowed to attend, and enrolled in the whites only Grove High School.
Now we’ve all heard these stories before. But most of the time we see them on a news reel, or in a television show, or perhaps in a movie. However, this story of Black history is right here! Many of you know or have known these ladies.
Think about that. Think about them. Think about the first day they walked down the hallway of Grove Tower…or the second day, or the hundredth day.
I had the experience of being a new student in three different elementary schools. I know what it’s like to be the stranger in town, dropped in a bucket of strangers. You never forget it.
But never was I delineated due to the color of my skin. At AP School, at Puryear School and then at Inman School, I quickly melded into the population.
Fifty-two years since the first graduates of our high school, finally an opportunity arose for an equal education, and these four ladies bravely carried it.
I would love to imagine our wonderful community embraced this situation with much warmth and openness. I want to believe these ladies were welcomed in a graceful manner and treated with the utmost of respect.
But then shadowy stories bubble up from past conversations and social media posts.
I’m reminded of a 1927 story in the New York Times where our little burg sponsored a white mob of fifty people to commit a heinous violent murder of a Black man.
I’m reminded by pictures of a “whites only” water fountain at our courthouse.
And I’m reminded we too once had those quaint soda fountains in our drugstores. But upon hearing of sit-ins in bigger cities, our owners pulled the stools from their counters.
We were not an idyllic community in 1908, in 1927, in 1956, in 1960, and certainly not still in 1964 when these brave ladies graduated. And we are not an idyllic community now, some fifty-seven years later.
What they endured during those several years, I, as a white person, cannot realistically imagine.
I wish I’d had a sense of this in 7th grade, because that homeroom teacher, and that English teacher were the same person, Ms. Dunlap.
She was quite the taskmaster. You weren’t getting anything by her. Happily, she wasn’t my first Black teacher. Mrs. Paine from Puryear school held that honor. However, she was my first Black history teacher.
Yep, that’s right, we were learning English one day, then suddenly it was February 1st, and we were being taught Black history.
My thirteen-year-old self didn’t understand that. I’d had Black friends in every one of those elementary schools. I had watched the entire miniseries of Roots just two years previous!
I really didn’t understand the need. I also didn’t understand why there was a Ms. Black Paris or separate Black superlatives.
I obviously didn’t understand much at all. I’m smart enough today to know I still don’t.
But I wish I had. I wish I had fully grasped the gravity of what I was being taught, when it was taught, where it was being taught and by who it was taught.
And so now, thanks to my classmate, and my pal of many, many years, Mrs. Yvette Arnold Littleton, I’ve been enlightened by her Facebook posts of our collective Black history.
That’s right Black history doesn’t mean it’s for Black people only. It’s our history. All of us are a part of it. We need to own our part of that history. We need to understand our role in that history. We need to learn our history.
Thank you again, Yvette!
I am human. I choose to learn. Come on in. The water is fine.