50 years ago, sign-ups kicked off school integration
By FRANK BOYETT, Gleaner staff
Although classes wouldn't begin until September, at the beginning of March 1956 three black students signed up to begin the first grade at Weaverton Elementary School. They were apparently the first local black students ever to register to attend classes as equals with white students.
The three were James W. Clancey Jr., Shane Dunise Bushrod and Alvin Eugene Barnes. All were residents of what was then called Brookstown, on U.S. 60-West at the city limits.
"The registration went briefly and without incident of any kind," The Gleaner reported.
James W. Clancey Sr. was acting secretary of the local NAACP chapter then, as well as chairman of its legal services committee, and said he was not surprised at the reception he and his son had received.
"I was treated with all courtesy," he said. "I came from another county, but I have been reared here and I know the people. However, the reception was perhaps even more cordial than I anticipated."
That cordial reception was much less evident when classes began in the fall. White students at Weaverton boycotted the school on Sept. 24 because five black pupils were in attendance. Only 215 of 870 white students showed up for class that day. In the following weeks unruly demonstrations accompanied the boycott.
The boycott collapsed after three weeks, however, when the suggestion was made that a new tax be implemented to build a separate school for blacks.
But that was all in the future as of March 1956. C.B. West, superintendent of the county school system, said he saw "a tendency on the part of some members of the county Board of Education to have complete integration if an appreciable number of Negroes indicate that they wish to attend the white schools."
But West said that didn't mean the county school system's eight black teachers would be integrated into the white system. "It would not be possible to use our Negro teachers," he said. "We have a history of 200 years of prejudice and that is hard to overcome."
Three more black students were registered for the first grade when the city school system began pre-registration on March 9, but The Gleaner did not name them. A higher number had been anticipated because the city school district had earlier indicated its willingness to integrate beginning in the fall of 1956.
On Easter Sunday, The Gleaner's editorial page took a firm stance in support of integration.
"In searching for a topic to use as an Easter message, we could not turn away from the number-one religious and moral issue of our nation's life -- the problem of finding a way for Negroes and white people to live together in peace and mutual respect, and with a minimum of tension and misunderstanding."
Although there had been rioting and violence in the deep South, "in our area we are finding progress toward realizing the actuality of the maxim that all men are brothers in the sight of God."
However, there was much progress yet to be made. The Gleaner sorrowfully noted that only black singers showed up for the joint white-black choir rehearsal preparing for the community's Good Friday service. "We are certain that the heart of Jesus ached, as did ours, to see the hurt in the eyes of those colored people who came to sing with their fellow beings about Jesus and his triumph over death."
White singers showed up en masse for the actual service on Good Friday, however. "The glorious group which took part in the Friday service in a great measure wiped away the hurt," the editorial said.
In the end, the editorial concluded, the law alone was not strong enough to change the human heart; the forces of morality and Christianity would have to lead the way to brotherhood and equality.
"If inhuman treatment of the Negro because of his color is against the law of the land, then most certainly it is even more contrary to the law of God."
100 years ago
Famed composer John Philip Sousa and his band played a matinee at the Park Theater -- where the Henderson County Judicial Center is now located -- on March 3, 1906, according to contemporaneous accounts in The Gleaner.
Sousa had just returned from a triumphant tour of Europe; the best seats locally cost only $1. The program opened with Rossini's "William Tell Overture" and ended with Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries."
75 years ago
The Smith Mills Post Office was badly damaged by a fire that destroyed two other buildings on this date in 1931, according to The Gleaner.
The post office was located in the building that was originally built to house the Smith Mills bank. Volunteer firefighters battled the blaze until the Henderson Fire Department arrived to put it out.
25 years ago
Anna Belle Newman, 57, died of exposure off Nugent Drive behind Ellis Park racetrack, according to a 1981 article in The Gleaner.
The body was found by Paul DeVault, who lived about 400 feet from where Newman was found. She had been dead less than 24 hours, the coroner concluded.
Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2006 HCH&GS