By Mary Wakefield Buxton
Urbanna, Va.— The last speaker on the panel during the program on integrating area public schools presented in Saluda last month was the upbeat Anthony Green. The second of three sons of Dr. Calvin Green, the man who had initiated the lawsuit “Green v. New Kent County,” Anthony’s pleasant demeanor and positive message immediately lifted my spirits.
Green, now a math teacher in public schools, told us when he and his two other brothers, at ages 7, 8 and 9 years old, had no choice in the matter, their parents sent them to the “white school” whether they wanted to integrate or not. They did not suffer any trauma, however. “Prejudice is taught,” Green said, “and in the 4th grade there is no prejudice yet.”
The younger students were when integration cam e about, the better, he explained. “Every one of us had a great education and ended up being able to attend any college we wanted.” You could almost hear a sigh of relief in the room at his glowing report.
Yet Green went on to say public school had dropped many of its stringent standards since that day when the “basics reading, writing and arithmetic were emphasized,” he added with a smile. “With a good grasp on these three subjects a student can make a success of life with the many opportunities today for all people willing to work hard in school.”
William and Mary Professor Daugherity, emcee of the program, then opened the program to questions from the audience. Many in the standing-room-only crowd continued sharing experiences of early integration in Middlesex County. One lady said on her first day at “white school,” when she sat down to eat in the cafeteria at a table o f white girls, everyone got up and left. Another said every morning she said hello to her white teacher and every morning her teacher ignored her. She just kept saying “good morning” and one day her teacher returned her greeting.
The audience seemed to agree there was work ahead for blacks to achieve equal opportunities and some obviously thought politics would provide the solution. One person pointed out the disparity in housing and economic status. Added to that is the scarcity of good jobs in the county and the fact that many young citizens have to leave Middlesex after graduation in order to find work. One suggestion to improve job opportunities in the area is to cut high business and professional taxes
which suppress area business growth and job creation.
I asked the panel how can we recover from these obvious wounds from over 65 years ago. Green answered that “love solves all problems.”
Another member of the audience stood up and said, “We blacks have to stop blaming others for our troubles and learn to forgive.” I reflected for some time on such answers.
It seems unfair that those who suffered injustices in the past have to then forgive those who had hurt them. Yet several ministers spoke and one even suggested “we are blessed” referring to all the suffering our citizens experienced as if it were a benefit. I understood what he was saying because when I suffered some failure or humiliation as I was growing up in Ohio, Father always told me how “lucky” I was. I would wipe the tears from my eyes and ask him why I, who had just failed so miserably, was “lucky.” “Because you’re building character, Mays,” was always his answer. I didn’t understand it then, but at age 77 I understand what he meant. Yet one day I distinctly remember shouting back at Father, “I’m sick of building character!” I would bet some blacks would feel the same way. I left the meeting thinking of the trauma Middlesex children, both white and black, and yes, whites were traumatized too, experienced during integration. Change is painful and nothing in life comes easy. One thing is clear. Those who work for social change are bound to suffer some punishment.
Yet I never sat down at a table and had everyone get up and leave which would be disastrous to a 14 year old girl. But during my “feminist era” when I was agitating to bring women into a Peninsula Rotary Club when half of the men in the club angril y turning their backs on me once when I arrived to a meeting. But I was 40 and that’s a big difference from 14. Also, my husband was at my side to protect me from too much “trauma.”
It wasn’t fun or easy in those years when professional women opened up all male civic clubs to females. But we believed in our cause and we were willing to suffer the consequences. Perhaps many blacks today feel the same way.
One can’t stop social change. Still, our children should not have to bear the brunt of such trauma on their young and innocent shoulders.