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Interview with: Ernestine Mitchell
Interviewed by: Patricia Prather
Date: March 22nd, 2010
Archive Number: OH.GS.0024
PP: Good afternoon, today is Tuesday March the 22nd, 2010 and we are joined by Mrs. Ernestine Mitchell for the Neighborhood Voices Oral History Project at the African American Library at the Gregory School. Good afternoon, and welcome!
EM: Good afternoon.
PP: Now for starters, for background, give us your biographical information if you care to give what year you were born, uh, what the date is, and, uh, who your parents were, and where you were born.
EM: I was born in Angleton, TX to, uh, in a Christian home, Reverend and Mrs. Timothy Stewart, her name was Melinda Stewart. And, uh, I was five (5), number five (5) of eight children. Our church was right across the street from where we lived, so I grew up in the church.
PP: And your father was the Pastor?
PP: And what was the name of the church?
EM: …twenty-four (24) years he was there, unusual for a Methodist church…
EM: …Ward Chapel United Methodist Church (Angleton, TX)…
EM: Uh-huh. W-A-R-D.
PP: Oh, Ward.
EM: Named after one of the families there.
EM: In fact, I was supposed to marry one of, I think he was the grandson in that… in fact the church was made for those two families, come to think of it (laughs).
PP: Okay, the Ward family and the Stewart family.
EM: Yes, yes.
PP: Okay, and, um, where did you go to school? In Angleton?
EM: Yes, at that time we were, uh, segregated and it was called Marshall High School. And at first it went to about the seventh grade and by the time I got in high school, I think it was maybe tenth grade and they added a grade a year. So then I was the second, my class was the second class of twelfth grade.
PP: [Similar to my parents, it’s] almost the same identical thing. So you left there. You graduated from high school in what year?
EM: Uh, 1946…
PP: 1946 [inaudible].
EM: …Valedictorian, and uh, I’ll always believe the principal- you didn’t get gifts, you didn’t get awards. I did get a scholarship, but it was very small, I can’t think of the name of that scholarship, and uh the, I remember the principal reaching in his pocket and giving me fifty dollars ($50) and saying “This should get your foot in the door at coll-, in college”. And it did. So I went to Tillotson College [Austin], stayed with some friends of the principal.
EM: He’d made all these arrangements. He, he…those of us that went to college was because of that principal.
PP: […] What was his name?
EM: T.J. Wright. Thomas Jefferson Wright. And anyway, I did stay with this family a short time and they got me a place to live with the lady who I was calling “nanny”. I took care of her little girl; I would take her to school in the morning, I’d go to my classes, pick her up in the afternoons. And, um, but… I stayed one year and I decided I want to go to Prairie View because I knew I would see my family if I went to Prairie View. And I, I transferred myself to Prairie View (laughs). I was a homemaker major …(
PP: Okay) and I graduated…I graduated from Prairie View.
PP: And how did you afford to, since you went to school with fifty dollars ($50), how were you able to afford it?
EM: I worked.
PP: Oh, you worked through…
EM: I’m glad you asked that question ‘cause my grandchildren just cannot believe it when they hear (laughs) I went to school. After I left, finished my classes, I would go to the University of Texas and serve salads at the …uh, I used to know the, truck! Chuck wagon! Off the chuck wagon, and uh then catch the bus and come back home, by that time…
PP: This was is still Austin?
EM: That was in Austin. Now, I- you’re gonna know this guy- when I went to Prairie View, Mr. Hilliard…
PP: Um-hmm, I do know that man.
EM: …Mr. Hilliard got, because of my principal, got me a job working in the dining hall. And uh, I made twenty (20)…I made twenty (20), no my room and board was twenty-eight dollars ($28) a month. I made twenty dollars ($20), I believe and my mother paid the other eight (8). And I would serve breakfast, serve lunch, we called it supper at night and sometimes I would only serve two (2) meals a day because then, in the afternoon, I would work at the recreation center. And it didn’t bother me at all because as a kid I always worked. (
PP: Okay.) So it just didn’t bother me. I wasn’t involved in any activities. I’m from a small town, I … (laughs). (
PP: Right.) But my goal was to finish college. That was my goal.
PP: Well how did you pay for your books?
EM: I didn’t, when I graduated I didn’t- maybe I had one book because I had sold my books. Sell a book…
PP: Oh you would sell..buy a book and the next year.
EM: Buy a book, sell a book. (laughs) And I think I had one book when I retired. And it sort of bothered me because I knew I should have some, some of my books from going to college but… I… it was the only way I could go.
EM: So, uh…an uh… My sister, one of my sisters, she sewed. And I didn’t write Momma, I would write her, and tell her I needed something, and she would either mail it to me or drive to Prairie View, she and her husband, to bring me what it was that I wanted. And I never felt inferior, I guess that’s the way they raised my daddy and mother raised us. But I, I was. (laughs) Compared to the children from Houston and Dallas and all, you know all over. (clears throat) But that hardship paid off because I could take a lot once I got into the world working.
PP: Good for you. So you graduated from Prairie View in Home Economics in what year?
EM: Home Economics, 1950.
PP: 1950. Okay.
EM: And eventually I went to Texas Southern from my Master’s and then I stayed with them, got my Administrative Certification there, too.
EM: Texas Southern.
PP: Then where did you go?
PP: To teach, where was your first job?
EM: My first job was at Angleton! Uh-huh.
PP: Oh, okay.
EM: I went back and Mr. Wright- Mr. Wright lookin’ out for us!
PP: Wow, Mr. Wright.
EM: He- they didn’t have a kindergarten class. So he made up a kindergarten class for me, and I taught kindergarten there. One (1) year. And I had gotten married, and my husband, uh when he got out of the Army, he went to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania so I went and joined him. And think, you’re talking about hardship… I thought I was tough. But I back came home. I came home that summer and visited and talked with Mr. Wright and he said “I’ll have a job for you when you come back in September”. So I came back and worked in Angleton two (2) years, then I transferred to Houston. To Gregory! (laughs)
PP: To Gregory School.
PP: And what grade did you- what year did you come to Gregory School and what did you teach?
EM: ’57. First grade.
PP: ’57, first grade.
EM: And taught first grade the ten (10) years I was here. I was here ten (10) years, I think I had said eleven (11), but it was ’57 to ’67.
PP: Okay. And who was the principal when you were here?
EM: Ms. Lois Brantley. (
PP: Okay.) One of the best- now she was tough, but after I became a principal, I realized just how good she was.
EM: She was a good- and I mean she had some good teachers.
PP: Good for her.
EM: We were good teachers. (clears throat)
PP: Well when you leave here, you’ll go and downstairs you’ll see her picture. We were able to find pictures (
EM: Oh, really?) of almost all the principals. (
EM: Yea!) She was one of the ones we found. There was one we couldn’t find: the lady that was here- and I don’t, I can’t… the one who followed her as principal. We never found her picture. (
EM: Oh.) But we were able to find Mrs. Brantley’s pictures through her nieces because she didn’t have any children. (
EM: No.) But her picture’s down on the first floor.
EM: Ms. Brooks, now you do know her daughters? Do you know her family?
PP: Yeah, I grew up with her daughters.
EM: Okay, so…
PP: We got her picture.
EM: Oh, well it was- I don’t know who followed her. I thought Ms. Brooks followed.
PP: Oh, well maybe this lady was before Ms. Brantley.
EM: Oh okay, alright.
PP: I can’t remember if she was before. I know Ms. Brooks was the last one that was here. And yes, I grew up with her daughter, and when I was looking for her pictures someone said “Well the daughter teaches at Texas Southern”, [come to ] find out she and I had grown up together (laughs) but she had a different name. (
EM: Yes! (laughs)) So no, she’s been very, very helpful. So you were here- the whole time you were here, uh, Ms. Brantley was here?
PP: Okay, okay. But you knew Ms. Brooks because you stayed in touch? With the school?
EM: Well, well, uh… when I… my first job was an assistant for- Assistant Principal at Franklin Elementary, and they were just beginning to desegregate. Integration wasn’t dreamed up yet. It was desegregation. So this was just before I had made Assistant Principal, so maybe that was about, uh, maybe in ’67. I’m not sure. (
PP: Okay.) No, ’67 I went to Kolter [Elementary School]. But anyway, um, so they was placing black Assistant Principals with white Assistant Principals. That was the first thing they did. (
PP: Okay.) So I was there only- I went in March, and I was there only that, that summer. The principal had a heart attack. And so they placed Mrs. Brooks as Principal. Well they couldn’t have- they didn’t want- two blacks, so they placed Mrs. Brooks as Principal and then a white Assistant Principal. Then they moved me to Turner Elementary (
PP: Oh, okay.)with a white Principal. So that’s when I met Mrs. Brooks. Mmm-hmm.
PP: So you had the chance to work with her at another school. What about, um, well first of all do you remember what this building looked like and where you were in this building?
EM: It was gray! Or white! And when my daughter when were coming up, she said “That’s not Gregory!” (laughs)
PP: Yeah, they had sprayed some kind of paint on there.
EM: I was- I was told that.
PP: It took something real special to get [inaudible] get back to the bricks. (
EM: Yeah!) To the original bricks.
EM: That’s what I heard.
PP: Like there was something so. So where was your classroom?
EM: I was uh, now I wasn’t in this building. When I came, I was in what you call temporary building. They called it “the shacks”.
EM: And, uh, then when they built eight (8) new buildings out in this area, Mrs. Brantley took her best teachers- and also if you kept the rooms clean-you had all kind of reason for doing things, ‘cause our bulletin boards were beautiful. So there were four second grade teachers and four first grade teachers, so we got those- got the chance to be placed in that building. Had your own little restrooms, it was real cute.
PP: And what building was that? Where was it?
EM: It was over in this area. Off… (
PP: But was it a brick building?) Off of that street there.
PP: Was it a brick building?
EM: Uh, huh.
PP: It was on this property?
EM: Yes, on this property. Mmm-hmm.
PP: I don’t think I’ve heard that before. There was a building on this side, you know, th-front- this was the front, facing this way. There was a building over here that was torn down.
EM: Uh-huh. Well I remember coming in this door from our building. (
PP: Okay.) And coming in…
PP: [inaudible] in the door you came in today?
EM: Uh-huh, uh-huh.
PP: From that building?
EM: Coming…’cause the cafeteria was over in that area, too. (
PP: Okay.) So, and I remember coming in. Now Debra might remember something, but in my mind we, uh… We were on that street, (
PP: Uh, Vic- no, that’s not Victor? I can’t remember…
EM: I can’t remember what that street is.
PP: Oh, okay. Well, I’ll have to… I don’t, I don’t… I don’t think, I’ll have to find out, but I don’t remember anybody telling us about another big- was it a one storey or two?
EM: Yes, uh-huh. One story. And long, with those eight (8) classrooms.
PP: With eight (8) classrooms. And it’s brick?
EM: And then…uh-huh, and the cafeteria was- ‘cause we’d come out of our, uh out of our hall right into the cafeteria.(
PP: Oh, okay.) And the kitchen! The kitchen was on that street, too.
PP: Okay, so it was in a separate building? The kitchen?
EM: Uh-huh. Yes.
PP: Okay and the cafeteria was in a separate building. (
EM: Uh-huh.) But it was all on this property?
( EM: I don’t, I…)This was before 1926.
( EM: Uh-huh.) See in ’26 they built this building. Before that
( EM: Yeah.) Gregory was, I think across the street and [inaudible]
EM: Uh-huh.) was a two or three story…uh, um, not a brick building- what do you call it?- “clapboard” or whatever they were using at that time, but it was built 1908. So by the time you got…
EM: This was built in the 60s.
PP: So what you’re talking about was in the 60s?
( EM: After I got here.) Well that’s good, I hadn’t heard that before
EM: Yes.) and I’ll have to check and see…
EM: Ask some of these community leaders in here, and they’ll remember.
PP: Okay, okay.
EM: Ms. House, or somebody.
PP: Alright. Do you remember- did you all have any outstanding students that you remember that came through Gregory?
EM: No, I really don’t remember…
PP: ‘Cause they were in the first grade so… (laughs)
PP: You were teaching first grade.
EM: But, if I’ve got a minute
( PP: Yeah, go ahead.), I want to tell you about that. We, uh, we- th-they graduated from the sixth grade.
( PP: Okay.) We would follow our first grade students right on through that sixth grade.
( PP: Sixth grade (unison). Okay.) And we would see them and say “How are you doing?”
( PP: Okay.) and the parents never forgot us.
PP: O-kay.) And, and then graduation time, the girls might have to wear yellow dresses and the boys…many times we bought those children’s graduation clothes.
PP: ‘Cause the school colors were yellow and…? Or gold and…?
EM: Well it, well…well it wasn’t… I don’t know if we had any colors (
PP: Oh, okay. Somebody…) but they just, different kinds. They might wear blue dresses,
PP: Oh, okay.) just whatever the teachers decide.
PP: The color scheme was…
EM: But you would have children who were, that were not able. And so, if it was one of my students, I would buy, boys or girls-whatever it was…
PP: I hear that story all the time…
EM: So, and we would…when they would start marching, we would cry (laughs).
PP: And where would they have the ceremonies?
EM: In the, in the cafeteria.
PP: The cafeteria.
EM: …because in our mind, this is the only time this child will march. And we were just so proud we had gotten them through the sixth grade. Now I’m a first grade teacher, and I’m telling you we had gotten them through (laughs) sixth grade.
PP: [inaudible 00:15:24)
EM: But that was the way it was! Mmm-hmm.
PP: Now when they left the sixth grade and marched, they went on to what? Middle school? (
EM: Uh, you know…)No they went to high school!
EM: No. Probably Junior High, they called it…[
PP: inaudible] but I don’t, I don’t know… I don’t what school that was.
PP: Yeah, there was no apparent “feeder school” out here.
EM: I don’t know. I really don’t know.
PP: But that was still during segregation.
EM: Mmm-hmm. Yes. Oh, yes.
PP: But I know that eventually they went to high school. Now when you taught here, was Colored High School still downtown? Booker T. Washington?
EM: You know, I don’t remember. (
PP: You don’t remember.) I remember when the built the new Booker T. Washington, though. So it prob…it may have been. I just don’t
PP: The one they built in The Heights?
EM: But by my coming from Angleton, I wasn’t really familiar with Houston… ( PP: Okay.) that much.
( PP: Okay.) So you always had a ride to work if your car broke down
(laughs), because we were- in fact I live right, Mrs. Brantley lived right behind me. I think she was on Auburn, and I was on Rosedale.
PP: Okay.) Right across the street from Turner.
EM: So, uh, most of us lived- there were a few who lived out here though.
PP: Okay. Okay.
PP: Well, um, tell me a little bit about your leaving Gregory and going to- well tell me what happened during integration.
EM: Okay, um, we heard- and I was working on Master’s…
PP: Okay, where?
EM: …’cause I didn’t have it. Over at Texas Southern. (
PP: Okay.) And, I didn’t have, uh, many hours in elementary education ‘cause I said I felt very insecure, (
PP: Okay.) so I was steady going to school. (
PP: Okay.) And the teachers would sort of tease me, uh… the first grade children went home at two o’clock (2:00), but I’d get my work all ready for the next day, get my room ready and I- I’d sit in there studying. So they’d peep in the door and say “What on Earth are you doing now?” And I said “Well, I’ve enrolled in this or that over at Texas Southern.” “Why?!? They aren’t going to have any more black teachers! They aren’t going to have any more black…”, well they knew I was working on my Administrative Certification, too. So they kept telling me that, and but I wouldn’t stop. I kept studying. ‘Cause I always felt I’m just not really there yet. (laughs)
EM: You got- understand that, so I step going, kept going to school. And I had my daughter.
PP: I was going to ask you that.
EM: Carried her home, and uh I had maybe a five o’clock class (5:00) or maybe a seven o’clock class (7:00). (clears throat) And I finally got my Master’s degree. Then I turned…well the instructors kept telling me, uh “Get your Administrative Certification”, you know? They saw it in me.
PP: The ones at Texas Southern?
EM: Uh-huh. Dr. Rand, Dr. Pierce…and I can’t think of the other one. There were three of them.
EM: So I did. I turned around and started working on that. Well, just as I was finishing up, I had applied for Administration Certification, well you have to go before a board and uh, I had passed the test. You have to pass the test and I had passed that. So I went [be]fore the board and they were interviewing me. And there was one lady [who] kept smiling at me. And every, uh, my answers I could tell she liked my answers. I didn’t know who she was. But she was Mrs. Gerbis [msp] the principal at Kolter [Elementary School].
PP: Oh, okay.
EM: (laughs) So, she called me and she said “I have to have a black teacher”. She said “And if you’ll come and work for me, I promise you I’ll help you get the administrative- a job.” And I said “Well, I’ll come out and talk with you” ‘cause I didn’t want to leave these children!
( PP: Right.) felt they needed me.
( PP: Mmm-hmm.) I said this when they interviewed me in this article. So I went out, and oh, she was- she was just as nice in person as she was in that interview. That was Mrs. Gerbis [msp]. Beautiful person!
( PP: Mmm-hmm.) She had had some teachers there, too, to meet me and some parents. It was a big (laughs) deal. And uh, I left, and she called me and said we want you.
( PP: Okay.) She said “I promise you I’ll help you” and she did. She really did. So that’s how I got it- I got that job. Loved it! It was just beautiful.
( PP: Okay.) But, when I first went there, I was so impressed with all of my materials that was, that was right there- I didn’t have to buy anything! And at a PTA meeting- PTO meeting- they had, they had me to get up and talk. And I mentioned Gregory where I had come from and the difference…
( PP: Mmm-hmm.) Ooh! They got together, they bought supplies and things for these children. Filled up the- my trunk on my car and the back of my car and I told- called Mrs. , Mrs. uh… Brantley, told her what was going on. I said I’m on my way, (laughs) bringing school supplies. And I came and unloaded my car here. I thought that was just such a wonderful thing that they did.
PP: Mmm-hmm.) They didn’t know. They didn’t know…
PP: No. That’s right because the school systems themselves made a di-, I mean the HISD if it was called that, at that time, because I tell the story my little story about having second hand books.
( EM: Yes!) We were having second hand books, I know we weren’t- didn’t have the supplies, but we didn’t have any contact
( EM: Yes.) with anybody else, so we didn’t have anything to compare what we have.
EM: Uh-huh.) And that’s what you did.
EM: That’s it. Yes.
PP: You were able to compare
EM: Mmm-hmm.) the fact that, you know, and they all- everybody pays taxes, now.
EM: Yes! (laughs) That’s true.
( EM: Mmm-hmm.) Good, now that we look back thirty (30), forty (40) years later
EM: laughs) and wonder if it was good or not. So, was there anything else you want to talk about [regarding] your experience here at Gregory?
EM: Well, uh, how we were really these children’s second parents.
( PP: Okay.) I remember one day, the teacher next door to me was Mrs. Spelder. Uh, this child- now they walk around holding their pants up, now-
( PP: Mmm-hmm.) but he walked, this [was] a first grader, and so she took a little rope, narrow rope and tied him so he could have his belt and she said “Now you remind me [to] take that belt off- rope off of him before he goes home. And when I go home, I’ma stop at Woolsworth’s and buy him a belt.
PP: Hmmm.) I think Woolworth expected us at the end of the day, you would see black teachers in there picking up school supplies, picking up clothes, tennis shoes, coats, sweaters- we did that.
PP: I know you did. I’ve heard the story many times.
EM: And…brought it back for the children. And the parents didn’t mind it. They didn’t mind it. If I-we could sense when a parent might not like it, and we would talk with the parent.
( PP: Mmm-hmm.) We might take the child home after school.
( PP: Mmm-hmm.) But many times we would, uh, carry soap home, and uh, I remember giving a kid- I don’t know what it would cost at that time for a washer and a dryer, but I gave him the money for a washer and dryer. His coat just smelled up the whole classroom.
( PP: Mmmm.) And I carried him home. The mother wasn’t there, so I gave him the money and told him- I told a little story, I think was something like “Now you run to help mother.” And uh, “you help her get the clothes together, you go to the washateria, and blah, blah, blah”. He came back, that coat was clean the next day.
( PP: Ah!) And I did not hear from that mother. Now later on as a principal, we had to be careful.
( PP: Mmm-hmm.) I was principal at Allen from ’73 to, to uh ’88. Well, and we had to do that sometimes. But you did it a different way.
( PP: Okay.) Uh, but the parents here were just absolutely beautiful!
( PP: Mmm-hmm.) Discipline! No discipline problems.
PP: Okay.) None! We didn’t [inaudible]! And they respected the teachers.
PP: Right. Well the teachers also dressed better.
EM: Yes!) Let’s just say it.
EM: We dressed! (laughs)
PP: If you go into a school today,
EM: Blue jeans!) you won’t know- you won’t know the principal and the faculty- unfortunately, from the students!
EM: You’ve got a point there, I’ve forgotten about that.
PP: So when you dressed well, like you’re dressed now
EM: Yes!), when you go into a school, they’re gonna know you’re somebody.
EM: Yes! Yes.
PP: And so that, that was-
EM: And Mrs. Brantley saw to it that we dressed. (laughs) Believe- principals, black principals then, were different.
( PP: Mmm-hmm.) When I, made- got my school, I was placed in an all black school.
( PP: Okay.) And I had been out in southwest Houston seven (7) years, so I was very diplomatic and, uh I wasn’t the typical black principal. I almost changed though, after a few years.
PP: Mmm-hmm). I have to be honest (laughs) with you. But anyway, uh-
PP: You weren’t as strict?
EM: At first.
EM: Very diplomatic. I, uh, we shared decision making.
( PP: Okay). ‘Cause that’s what I had been, had experienced.
( PP: Okay.) But when I got, uh, there I was tiny.
( PP: Mmm-hmm.) I may have weighed a hundred and five (105), a hundred and ten (110) pounds.
( PP: Okay.) Well they taught they took that as weakness.
PP: Oh, okay. Allen? Was it an elementary school?
EM: Charlotte B. Allen Elementary. Charlotte B. (Yeah, okay.) In the Heights. And, uh, I followed a white principal. And the school- they sent me there to get that school back up. It was just gone!
( PP: Mmm-hmm.) So that meant I had to put in some strict rules, like I said. Ms. Brantley. (laughs) Even though I didn’t like some of the things Ms. Bradely had, I learned that there was a reason for it. And I had to do it.
( PP: Okay.) And after about three (3) years that school was on the ball!
PP: Okay.) But, uh…uh, I must say that my white teachers…when I tell you they were like we were here with these children. They were- and right now I’m still in contact a lot [of them]. I’ve been retired since twenty (20)-since ’88. Twenty-two (22) years.
PP: Okay, and you’re still in contact?
EM: And they still contact me.
( PP: Okay.) And we talk about what we did for those children.
( PP: Mmm-hmm.) But I think it was because I had worked here, you see?
( PP: Right.) And I knew what we could do for them. And had high standards like Mrs., Mrs. Brantley. You don’t [inaudible] No excuses.
( PP: Right. Yep.) No excuses. You mentioned Barbara Jordan spoke here for the sixth grade graduation one time.
PP: Wow. Okay.) And her sister was the music teacher.
PP: Oh, Rosemary?
EM: But, oh boy I tell you- we thought we were… (laughs)
PP: And where was she? At that point was she a college student?
EM: I, I…
PP: In the ‘60s?
EM: No. You talkin’ about Barbra Jordan?
( PP: Barbara Jordan.) No, she was- she had finished college I think. I was trying to think, ‘cause I was going to mention her. I was trying to think what was she at that time… No when you got Barbra Jordan, you really- like probably it was near the end, I left here in ’67.
PP: Okay.) So it could’ve been, you know, when she- when we got her. But it was because Rosemary…
PP: I know Rosemary, very well.
EM: Yeah.) She’s a fabulous person. So…
EM: Yes, yes.
PP: Well, okay. I think that’s it unless you have one other thought or two...?
EM: N-no, I, I just…
PP: And I appreciate this and particularly the information about the building that I hadn’t heard about before,
( EM: Yes, yes.) and knowing that Ms. Brantley was the kind of principal that all the principals were like when we were coming up.
EM: Yes.) They were the law! (both laugh). Some of the older folks, they-um, they have another word for it. But I thank you so much for coming.
EM: You are certainly welcome.
PP: And, uh, we’ll get you with Vince to talk about the things you want to, to leave for us.
EM: And thank you. I like you. I like your questions.
PP: Okay, one final question- and that is when you went to Allen as the principal and there were, there were mostly black students ‘cause the area had changed but there were some white students and obviously some white teachers. How were you treated? I mean were you accepted among the parents, the white parents, the white teachers? You know, how were you treated?
EM: Okay. Now, I had had experience as Assistant Principal at Patmith [?, msp] Elementary that was quite… And at Varmon [?] Elementary that was white. So, uh, I wasn’t the typical black principal at that time. Uh, I wasn’t an authoritative, I was diplomatic.
( PP: Oh, yeah. Okay.) And I went in with the idea we we’re working as a team. And I remember the, uh, union rep was right down the hall in the second grade. Mrs. D. Hughes. And I- in faculty meeting, I kept saying, using the word “team”, “team”, “team”. (laughs) So she asked to speak to me one day. She came in my office and she said “You keep talking about team”. She said “We don’t work that way.” She said “Here, every tub sits on its own bottom
( PP: Mmm.)…and we don’t work..” I said “You mean even on grade levels?”. [She replied] “No.” Each classroom worked, you know. And so then I began to [inaudible] I know that’ll work. I kept that “team” in my mind. So then I started working with that. Now, the black teachers didn’t like the white teachers because they were so “creative”. These young teachers coming out of college where the black teachers were teaching the old way. Nothing new for the students. So, I liked this creativeness. So in faculty meetings I was pushing the creativeness. I’d have one stand up, I’d invite them: “Drop by room 14 and look at what…”. I didn’t know that the teachers were getting angry with me about doing that.
( PP: I see.)So, next thing I knew they had a petition. My-my boss called me and said “I have a petition on my desk with two hundred (200) names and fourteen (14) of them are your teachers, most of them black. They say you’ve got to go.” (laughs) So I started laughing and he started (laughs)…this was on the telephone. The way he said it. It made- I laughed. So he couldn’t understand why I thought that was funny. I said “Well, I’m aware that I have problems here, and I don’t think it’s really funny but it was the way you said it”. (laughs) So he said “Well, I’m calling them in,” it was in May, “and I’m telling them you’re going or you’re going to stay there and work with that principal”. And he said to me “I sent you there to straighten it out-no, to run it, and I need for you to run it if you have to run it in the ground”. And I said “Well, Mr. Cotton as long as I know you have my support”. I said “But I’m working on it. And I think things I’m doing, I’ll be able to get there”. So anyway, that’s how. And another thing: the white teachers were happy that I was there because I was working on that discipline. The discipline was terrible! And this allowed them to teach. They wanted to teach, but they were spending three-fourths (3/4) of their time on discipline. So they were in my corner.
PP: I see.) See, and then the black teachers got jealous and, so…but anyway, we turned out-after about three (3) years, we had a… we had another school like Ms. Brantley had. (laughs)
PP: Mmm-hmm. Interesting question. Thank you so much.