I grew up in Xenia in the 50s and 60s. I attended Lucinda Cook, the CSU laboratory school for nursery school. Lincoln Elementary K-8, Central Junior High in the ninth grade and Xenia High School grades 10-12. I was integrated in the ninth grade.
Cook and Lincoln were all black schools with all black teachers, like East High. The only white person we ever saw at school Lincoln was the district school nurse Mary Langan. I often wonder why more of us didn’t grow up with negative thoughts about white people since the only one most of us saw came bearing shots, in other words when Mrs. L came the forecast called for pain.
Being integrated in the ninth grade was not as traumatic for me as it could have been. My older brother, Robert, who we all called Moose, was a large fellow. East High either did not have enough boys or just did not have the support to have a football team. So certain large black boys were invited to come down to Central High across from the library on East Church Street to play for that team. Segregation was important but winning football games was more important. My brother and three of his friends went to Central High to play football, color be damned.
So the teachers at Central Junior High, many of whom had transitioned from Central High, kind of knew the name of Mann and I knew the school. I never had another black teacher once the schools integrated. The system did not like the idea of black teachers teaching anyone above elementary. However, my white teachers never treated me like I could not learn and actually pushed, pulled, tugged, put me on scholarship teams and in general treated me like I was a very good student. It was not always so for a lot of my black classmates sadly.
Each year my French teachers, Mrs. Boli and Mrs. Lightheiser, insisted I be on the state scholarship team for French. Students took state achievement tests in various subjects and received awards if they did well. My sophomore year I placed in the state. This caused a problem. Not only had I placed in the state a couple of other black kids placed in other subjects. A banquet was always held to give out the honors for students who placed in the state. The problem was that the banquet was traditionally held at a restaurant in Xenia on Main Street that did not allow blacks to eat there.
Uh oh. What now? There was nowhere to move the banquet. The restaurant did not want to give up its white supremacy cred, the school system refused to omit the black scholars. Crisis! Negotiations were entered into and the restaurant agreed they could hold the banquet in an area that could be closed off to keep their biases from being compromised.
Talking my mother into letting me go to the bigots’ restaurant was a challenge but her pride in my accomplishment won out and I got my certificate and medal. Not too long after that some college students came down, demonstrated and chained themselves to fire hydrants and closed the restaurant down for good.
That may have been the beginning of my lifelong interest in social justice, so now you know to whom to assign the credit or the blame depending on your viewpoint.
Dr. Cookie Newsom is a retired teacher-professor. Contact her with comments @firstname.lastname@example.org.