Narratives from the Georgetown's Yesteryears Book
A special thanks to The Georgetown Heritage Society and Martha Mitten Allen for letting the us post these wonderful first person stories.
THE BLACK SCHOOL
Woodie J. Givens: Chris Janning, Interviewer
I went to school down on the Ridge, where most of the black kids went to school. I passed, almost literally, by the school that Miss Annie Purl was principal of. I went from 15th street, down Hart Street and then across town until I got down on the Ridge and went down to the end of the Ridge almost to the Blue Hole, and there was the Black School.
At that time, cotton was king.
There were very few black, whites, or any children in Georgetown who didn't pick cot-ton. All of them picked cotton. And I wanted to pick cot-ton. At that time, my father, Reverend Walter James Green, who was a minister and a teacher, had died, and I was the only child. I suppose that is the reason I am named Woodie James Green instead of Mary or something. I was named after my father, Reverend Walter James Green. When my father died and my mother was alone, she had a phobia that something would happen to me. And as a result, she didn't mean to tell a story, but she would tell me, "Yes, Woodie, you can pick cotton as soon as it gets a little cooler." She knew that school would start in September. Many times I've been the only child in my class at school until the others got through picking cotton about October and came in. Sometimes there were two of us. And I have been there alone.
My family was not aloof but clannish. I have even had an uncle take me to school. This teacher from Victoria roomed in his house and he drove us to school. She saw a black cat go across the path and she said, "Oh, Mr. Van Hoose, turn around, you're going to have bad luck. There's a black cat." Well, Turner said nothing—they didn't do a lot of talking—but he came back and he told Mamma, "I don't want Woodie to be taught by that woman. She's too ignorant. Anybody who is afraid of a black cat is too ignorant to teach Woodie."
We didn't call it prejudice, because that was the status quo.
Black children went to black schools. Mexican children went down in Grasshopper to a Mexican school. The Mexicans did go to High School, but very, very few of them finished. I can recall when it was just a seven day wonder for a Mexican to finish high school. I remember one Mexican girl who finished high school. Later, Southwestern gave a theology course and a Mexican boy came here to go to school to get his bachelor of theology. This girl was possibly the only Mexican girl that he could relate to, who had 12 years of schooling, and they married.
The Black School was a school like all schools, because it was the only school I knew.
It was a white stone building. I first went to a little school for two years, off from there, a little frame building. I don't remember that too well. I went there in the first and second grade. This new school was built when I was in the third grade, I went there. It was a stone school. I think that must have gone from the first to the third grades. Behind that was fourth, fifth, and sixth, no doubt. Across the hall was home economics, the whole side. It was better than any of the homes that we lived in, because it had hardwood floors. There were very few hard-wood floors among the blacks' houses in Georgetown when I was born, and not too many among the whites. A few [houses] on University Avenue had hardwood floors.
The first school for African American students in Georgetown was established in the early 20th century. Called "The Colored School," the institution served grades 1 through 8 and provided the only local educational opportunities for African Americans. The school's principal, Mr. S. C. Marshall, was an outspoken advocate of higher education. A scholar himself, he persuaded the school board to allow him to provide classes through the high school level. He named the new program "The Georgetown Colored High School," and the first student enrolled in 1913. A new high school building was erected in 1923 due to increasing enrollment.
When Marshall left the school in 1930, it was renamed Marshall School in his honor. The name was changed to George Washington Carver in the 1940s. In 1962, the parents of seventeen Carver students who had been denied admission to Georgetown's white schools filed a lawsuit in U. S. District Court to force integration. The court ordered the Georgetown Independent School District to integrate one grade level per year beginning with the first grad.e Partial integration began in the fall of 1964.
Convinced that gradual integration would not benefit their children, African American parents appealed the decision to the Fifth Circuit Court which upheld the lower court's verdict. Proponents of full and immediate integration engaged in a letter-writing campaign to the U. S. Attorney General, the U. S. Department of Health, education and Welfare, and the Federal Assistance Program urging another review of the case. In the fall of 1965, the Georgetown School Board agreed to a plan to complete integration of the school system by September 1967. The Carver School was permanently closed due to integration. (1999)