Reminisces: Growing Up in the Days of Segregation

Last night, August 25th, I participated in a New Writers Panel at Barnes & Noble San Pedro Crossing in San Antonio, Texas. The event, the first of its kind, was the brainchild of Caren Creech Berlanga, the event coordinator for B&N. On the panel with me were Dr. Victor Rodriquez, author of The Bell Ringer, and Clyde W. Pulley, author of Brothers in Distant Worlds. We each had ample time to discuss our works and tell a bit about ourselves. I had known of Dr. Rodriquez as the long time Superintendent of the San Antonio Independent School District who retired in 1994. I met Clyde W. Pulley for the first time last night. The two gentlemen told different, but similar stories – Pulley the story of growing up black in the Jim Crow area of the South and Rodriquez the story of growing up in South Texas where as a Mexican American he attended a segregated school until the fourth grade. I am somewhat younger than Mr. Pulley and Dr. Rodriquez, having started the first grade at Becker Elementary in Austin, Texas in the early 50s.

I still have a cherished picture of my second grade class of 1952 and remember my teacher, Mrs. Moore. After lying awake last night trying to remember where I had placed that picture and some searching this morning, I found it with some other old family pictures. I plan to make a place for it in my office, where I can look at it every day and remember where I came from.

There are 30 children in the class picture. Eighteen are Anglo and twelve are Mexican American, or as referred to in today’s world Hispanic. Not one black or other ethnicity that I could recognize. I remember there was a school for black children, Blackshear Elementary up the hill from where our house was at 1507 South First Street on the northeast corner where West Monroe intersects. In 1952 that part of South Austin was pretty rural; both South First and West Monroe were gravel roads.

The point of my reminisces is that Dr. Rodriquez and Mr. Pulley so eloquently stated last night that those of us who grew up before desegregation need to constantly remind our children of what it was like to live in those times. Dr. Rodriquez’s and Mr. Pulley’s books are very positive about the events and changes in attitudes towards the racial issue.

I must assume from the picture of the smiling faces of Mrs. Moore’s second grade class that the Austin Schools had integrated Hispanic children into the mainstream by 1952. It would be 10 years before I shared a class with a black student. I remember watching the riots and government officials blocking doorways of public schools in the 60s. Then one day I walked into my history class at William B. Travis High School and there sat a black student. At that moment the issue of desegregation was over for David Bowles – there were no television cameras, police, or any discussion that I can remember.

I never had the opportunity to get to know him as he dropped out of school within a few weeks. No one seemed to know what happened. Did he feel uncomfortable as the only black student at William B. Travis High School? Maybe so. He sure had my admiration and respect, and I suspect that he is successful in whatever he is doing today and that he paved the way for others to follow, as did Clyde Pulley and Victor Rodriquez.

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