Local history: Students spoke out on school integration in 1956

Students attend study hall in 1956 at South High School in Akron.
Students attend study hall in 1956 at South High School in Akron.

Black and white students sat side by side in Akron classrooms while tensions flared in the South over school integration.

Segregationists in Alabama, Texas, Tennessee, Arkansas and other states threatened violence in 1956 to prevent African American children from attending school with white pupils. Two years earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled unanimously in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that racially segregated public schools were unequal and unconstitutional.

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Meanwhile in Akron, the kids were busy doing homework. In 1956, the Beacon Journal asked local high school students, including many who had moved from the South, what they thought about integration.

Their answers provide an interesting glimpse into the mindset of local youths in the mid-1950s. Here are some of their candid comments in the popular vernacular of the era:

“When I first came to Akron, I was a little scared of going to school with white kids. But they’ve treated me all right and now I like the idea.” — South High sophomore Virginia Williams, 14, formerly of Campbellsville, Kentucky

“We had our own schools in Alabama and sometimes the white kids didn’t treat us nice. Here the kids are swell. I like it. There, it’ll be a long time before they integrate.” — South High junior Louis Pugh, 18, formerly of Union Springs, Alabama

“I don’t live in an all-Negro community. Why should I have to go to an all-Negro school? I get good grades. I’m on the track team and in the glee club. I have friends of both races.” — East High senior Charles DeBose, 17, formerly of Mer Rouge, Louisiana

“I’ve found that the more education people of both races have, the better they get along together.” — Barberton High junior John Hampton, 17, formerly of Birmingham, Alabama

“I went to an all-Negro school. We had a nice building and good teachers, but I think it’s better for Negro and white kids to learn to live together while they’re young.” — South High sophomore Hattie Mae Grinstead, 15, formerly of Monticello, Mississippi

“Give the kids a chance and they’ll get along OK. In a few years, all schools will be integrated.” — Central High freshman Wendall Jackson, 13, formerly of Fayette, Missouri

“I didn’t like the idea of going to school with colored kids at first. But I’ve found it doesn’t make any difference. I’d just as soon have it that way because I know the colored kids at Blue Ridge didn’t have as nice schools as we did.” — East High junior Don Aaron, 17, formerly of Blue Ridge, Georgia

“There was some talk about integration in Valdosta. I felt it would be nice to go to school with the white kids. Some other kids in our school felt the same way, but most were afraid. Our teachers never talked about it. Maybe it would be better to wait until there isn’t so much trouble.” — Barberton High sophomore Edna Bralock, 16, formerly of Valdosta, Georgia

“Sooner or later, schools will integrate. We need to get used to each other. I like to go to school with white boys and girls, but in the South, a lot of older people don’t want it.” — South High senior Tivoli McClendon, 17, formerly of Chattanooga, Tennessee

“Most colored kids are as nice as white. Just like the whites, the colored people have a few troublemakers. Personally, I have more trouble with some of the white guys. I’m for equal opportunity for all.” — East High senior William McKinney, 16, a son of Southern white parents

“I’ve never thought much about school integration. If you treat other kids right, they’ll treat you right. It’s the adults that cause trouble.” — Central High sophomore Sadie Evans, 17, formerly of Tuskegee, Alabama

“I haven’t even thought much about it because none of the other kids even appear to notice.” — Central High junior Bertha Arp, 16, formerly of Morganton, Georgia

“I used to think it didn’t matter. Now I’m glad to be going to school with white kids. We have to live with each other. It’s a good idea to learn in school.” — South High junior Maxine Perry, 16, formerly of Oklahoma City

“Last year, my Charleston school was all white. This year, Negroes are attending. Older folks are the ones who objected first. My folks and I don’t mind the integrated school here. I wouldn’t even mind having a colored teacher.” — Barberton High junior Carol Matheny, 16, formerly of Charleston, West Virginia

“In Alabama, they don’t even talk about integration. Here the kids treat me OK.” — Central High sophomore Rosanna Skipper, 16, formerly of Tallahassee, Alabama

“Integration is out of the question where I came from.” — Central High sophomore Ida Breland, 16, formerly of New Orleans

“Kids and teachers here treat me nice. I like an integrated school. It’s wonderful to feel you’re as good as anyone else.” — South High junior Jean Cockerell, 15, formerly of Earle, Arkansas

“Down South, our teachers talked about integration. It didn’t matter to me if I went to school with white kids as long as I got an education. Here, the white kids have treated me better than some of the colored kids.” — South High junior Barbara Clayton, 16, formerly of Timberlake, North Carolina

“I don’t think colored and white kids will ever go to school together in Hylton. Here it works just fine and I’m for it.” — Barberton High sophomore Judy Fleming, 14, formerly of Hylton, Kentucky

“Before I came here, I went to an all-white school. I like this one better. In Baltimore, the Negro kids were ready to fight after school. I think it’s just because they didn’t have all the privileges we did. Here we have no trouble. After all, we’re no better than they are.” — Central High junior Dimple Greer, 16, formerly of Baltimore

“We didn’t have courses like driver’s training and a lot of classes weren’t offered because they said we’d never get a job where we’d use them anyhow.” — South High junior Ella Jane Reynolds, 16, formerly of Anniston, Alabama

“I don’t think there’ll be too much trouble near Whitesburg if the schools are integrated. Some people just like to talk, that’s all. I don’t think the kids mind as much as the adults.” — Central High freshman Charles Hammonds, 15, formerly of Whitesburg, Kentucky

“Going to school with colored kids hasn’t made any difference to me at all. We now live next door to a colored family and get along swell.” — Barberton High junior Patricia Norris, 16, formerly of Clarksburg, West Virginia

“We have to learn to live with other people. Why not start young?” — South High junior Almary Raines, 15, formerly of the Bronx, New York

Mark J. Price can be reached at mprice@thebeaconjournal.com.

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This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Akron students spoke favorably of school integration in 1956