As another school year
comes to a close, groups of excited young adults across North Texas will participate in graduation ceremonies. While they set their sights on the future, commencement is also a time of reflection. Many students think back on the memories created throughout the school years. Some of those memories are more important than others.
Consider, for example, the Mansfield High School class of 1966. Its 50th anniversary, celebrated this year, holds not only personal significance, but also historical implications.
The students in that graduating class were the first in the district to be integrated.
Up until then, races were separated.
”As a youngster growing up, going into town, you had to go through the back door,” recalls Brenda Norwood, an African American graduate of Mansfield High (class of ’66), “And if you went to the theater, there was a door for whites and a door for blacks.”
While the U.S. Supreme Court ruled “separate but equal” schools for black and white students unconstitutional in 1954, Mansfield ISD did not integrate its schools until more than 10 years later when it was forced to do so. And even then, some members of the community fought it.
Norwood says effigies were hung at various places throughout town to frighten those who wanted to integrate. And, she adds, the mindset often was not much better in the classroom.
“They were all white teachers, and when we got into the classroom they talked about how we were lucky if we passed.” Norwood says. “They told this to us.”
Raymond Meeks was also a graduate of the class of 1966. “Looking back on it now,” he says, “we, the white kids that had always been at Mansfield High School were pretty passive participants in this thing because we didn’t have to change schools.”
Up until the 1965-1966 school year,
African American students in kindergarten through eighth grade attended “The Colored School.” High school students were bussed to I.M. Terrell High in Fort Worth, an all-black school.
”The black kids that came their senior year had been going to another school for three years,” Meek says. “They had to leave all their friends and then come to a strange place where they probably weren’t wanted, and I think most of the burden of integration was on them, not on us.”
While both Norwood and Meeks admit it was rough in the beginning, things eased throughout the year. It was a lesson that could not have been taught from a book.
”You learn from these things,” says Norwood. “It should resonate to the point where you can learn something. Everyone that was involved evolved from that.”
“It was probably better than expected, given the history of the community,” says Meeks. “And so we are proud of that, that we were able to accomplish that.”
In celebration of the 50th anniversary
of the district’s integration, the 1966 graduates were recognized this year at the February MISD school board meeting. Today, the district has a very diverse student population made up of 37.3 percent White, 26.5 percent African American, 24.7 percent Hispanic, 6.4 percent Asian, 4.5 percent two or more races, 0.4 percent Indian and 0.1percent Pacific Islander.
This diversity is celebrated every year at the MISD Multicultural Festival, which was held this year on Feb. 27.