Things Like That, They Happened

“You kind of adjusted… we didn’t like it. We just, we kind of adjusted.”

Transcript for Things Like That, They Happened

We grew up in the neighborhood that was near Pulaski School. And at the time that I went, it was an East Pulaski and a West Pulaski. One was for the black children and the other one was for white children. We had a black principal, ok, you know? And then they had a white principal. And it wasn’t until the neighborhood became completely integrated that, you know, that they integrated those two schools.

I grew up on a block called—it was on 16th and Rhode Island Street. And it was black families and white families. On the corner from me, which would’ve been on the corner of 15th, we had a little grocery store. We called her Missy. She was a white lady. I don’t think we even knew how to pronounce her name. She had a Polish last name. We didn’t know how to pronounce it, so we just called her Missy. On 16th and Vermont we had a grocery store and it was run by—her name was Mildred. And then on the other—one block east, we had another grocery store on the corner, and it was run by Louis Katz. And so we had, you know, we had these three stores right together, but they were run by white folks and we went to those stores.

I went to Pulaski School, as I said. When I got in the seventh grade, the school board changed the rules, and they said that you had to go to the school that was in the district that was zoned for. Well, my sister, my brother, and most of the older kids in my neighborhood went to Roosevelt School which, as you know, was an all-black school. There was a lot of history, there was, you know, all the camaraderie, and I was looking forward to going there. But by the time I got in the seventh grade, the school board had changed the rules. So we had to go to Emerson School. Emerson was majority white. As a matter of fact, when I graduated from high school, we had 135 graduates, and I believe it was nine or maybe eleven who were black.

We had a young lady who was very athletic, and she went out to become a cheerleader. And they booed her off the stage. We—every year we had what we called a Christmas pageant. The participants were white. They finally, I think—I don’t remember if I was in maybe the eleventh or twelfth grade, when they finally got one of the Wise Men—they allowed one of the Wise Men to be black. But all the angels were white girls with blond hair, ok? And you know, we just were not—we were not welcome in terms of participating in that Christmas pageant.

There were—sometimes when there were some heated exchanges. There was some name-calling. The N-word, that kind of thing, you know? We didn’t necessarily like it, but we just kind of adjusted. We had—I belonged to GAA, and they don’t even do that anymore. It was called the Girls Athletic Association. And at the time, Emerson School owned a popcorn machine in the Memorial Auditorium. Whomever was sponsoring the event would ask the girls from the GAA to come and, you know, do the popcorn. But if it was, say, like a game—a basketball game between Gary Roosevelt and Gary Froebel where most of the participants were black, most of the players were black, most of the students attending were black, then they did not want to pop on that night, but those of us who were black, we were happy to do it on that night because there were a lot of black folks there. So you just kind of—I mean, you knew. You knew it. I’m not sure if “acceptance” is a good word for it. But you just kind of…kind of grew on you, I guess.

And you know, sometimes even the teachers would create issues that did not need to be. I had a biology teacher I’ll never forget who one day made a comment, if anybody came to her and caught a raccoon, she would send them down into the Central District in our area to sell it to us because we ate that. Well, my mother—we never ate it at my house, you know? So things like that, you know? They happened. And you, as I said, you kind of adjusted, but I’m not—we didn’t like it. We just, we kind of adjusted.

Hold a Conversation

Can you imagine leading a conversation about this story? Where? With whom? What kinds of questions would you pose? (See How to use the questions for reflection for one approach.) Please email your questions to us or post them in the comment box for our consideration. If you use them in an actual discussion, let us know how the conversation went.