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James Bryant

Jefferson Elementary School, McGuffey Elementary School, Walker Elementary School, Lane High School
Interviewed on October 21, 2021, in his home, by Phyllis Leffler.

Full Transcript

PHYLLIS LEFFLER: [00:00:00] I’m Phyllis Leffler here with Mr. James Bryant at his home. Today is October 21, 2021. And we are here with Lorenzo Dickerson, Annie Valentine, and George Gilliam to do an interview for the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society’s Race and Sports Project. So thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview.

JAMES BRYANT: [00:00:30] You’re welcome.

PL: [00:00:31] We are so happy to have this opportunity. I thought I would start by asking you to please just tell us a little bit about the community in which you were born and grew up. We will spend much of our time on Lane High School, but just for a little bit of background about you and your formative experiences.

JB: [00:00:53] I was born right here in this community. I lived two blocks over, [00:01:00] 11th Street Northwest, right next door to where the Lugo McGinness Academy is located now. For about the first 10 years, I grew up on 11th Street Northwest and attended Jefferson Elementary School. And then we moved briefly across town to Ridge Street. I was still in fifth grade, and we lived there for about six months. And after about six months, we moved to Hardy Drive. I lived in Westhaven from the time I was in the sixth grade up until I was a junior in college. I like to refer to those years as my formative years growing up in public housing. So being that I grew up in public housing, that certainly played a role when I began my teaching career, but we’ll talk about that later. 

PL: [00:02:00] What kind of work did your parents do?

JB: [00:02:03] My mother was born in 1932. My father was born in 1926. My father basically was the breadwinner for the house. He worked. My mother actually was a “stay-at-home mom.” There were seven of us. And my mother actually didn’t go into the workforce until later. I think my youngest sister, who is now in her late fifties, was when my mother went to work. But basically, she stayed at home and took care of all of us. So I can remember coming home from Jefferson, and in those days, we had wood stoves, and I’m sure some of us can remember that. So of course, the boys were assigned to haul the wood down the little driveway, chop the kindling for the warm morning stoves, and the girls did the [00:03:00] chores inside, washing dishes or whatever they needed to do to clean the house. So all I can ever remember was my mother being at home. And of course, like I said, by the time she went into the workforce, we were all much older at that time.

PL: [00:03:15] Now you said you attended Jefferson School, and I believe it was 1960 when you started at Jefferson; is that correct?

JB: [00:03:22] Yes, I started at Jefferson Elementary School in 1960, first grade.

PL: [00:03:27] And you spent five years there; is that correct?

JB: [00:03:29] Five years at Jefferson.

PL: [00:03:32] Just tell me a little bit about your experiences at Jefferson School.

JB: [00:03:37] Oh, God, I could talk about that all day long. I was always the type, I loved school. Some of my classmates attended kindergarten; they didn’t have kindergarten like we know kindergarten today. A lot of people did kindergartens out of their private homes back in the ’60s. So my parents couldn’t afford to send me to [00:04:00] kindergarten, so when I turned six, I went straight to first grade at Jefferson. It was there that I thrived at Jefferson. We had a lot of pride at Jefferson. We had great teachers. We had our own school song. There was so much pride in that school. I can name all of my elementary school teachers. My first grade teacher was Ms. Barbara Orr. Then I was transferred to Ms. Terrell. My second grade teacher, Ms. Bellament, my third grade teacher, the late Laura Robinson, who actually lived to be 102, and my fourth grade teacher, Ms. Watson, who had a beautiful voice. And actually, she used to allow me to take the papers home and grade the papers. You couldn’t tell me I wasn’t a schoolteacher. I would grade papers and bring them back. [00:05:00] And my fifth grade teacher was Mrs. Tinsley, Emma [Tinsley?], and she was wonderful. So that experience at Jefferson is what shaped when I decided that I wanted to be a teacher. And often times in third grade, I would run up to Mrs. Robinson and say, “Mrs. Robinson, can I lead the devotions?” And she would smack me on my butt and tell me, “No, go back to your seat, you led them yesterday.” And it was then that I knew that this is what I wanted to do as a career, to be a schoolteacher.

PL: [00:05:34] So I know that from something you said in your “Teachers in the Movement” interview that sixth grade was a really hard year for you. But I don’t know what school you were at. So can you talk about that a little bit?

JB: [00:05:50] Yes, I can. The Charlottesville Public Schools fully integrated at the end of the school year in 1965. [00:06:00] So in the fall of 1965, we were sort of caught in the middle, my particular class, because Walker and Buford Junior High Schools were a year late in construction. So all of us who were in the sixth grade were placed at McGuffey Elementary School. And as you well know, the history of McGuffey, that particular elementary school served the students on the east side of town, which are the kids in the Belmont area, Hogwaller, that particular area of town. So it was in the sixth grade that I had my first white teacher. And some of the teachers from Jefferson, what they did with the elementary teachers, they dispersed them to the various white elementary schools in the city. I think Mrs. [Marion] Clark from Jefferson, Ms. [Rosemary] Byers, Ms. [Ruth] Coles, and Mr. Booker T. Reaves came to McGuffey [00:07:00] that year as the principal. He was the principal at Jefferson. So there were a few of the teachers from Jefferson that we were familiar with, but for the most part, that was the beginning of integration. My sixth grade teacher was named Ms. Sims. And there was another teacher by the name of Ms. Shufflebarger across the hall. And what they did, they divided us up into two groups, six-A and six-B. I don’t quite understand why, but we were sort of split into two groups in the sixth grade. It was there that we were integrated with the White students in the classroom. And it was a rather interesting year. I don’t know if you want me to go into detail.

PL: [00:07:43] Interesting is a bit of a euphemism, so do tell us why.

JB: [00:07:49] Well, it was an adjustment for all of us that came from Jefferson because we lost our community. We lost our surroundings. [00:08:00] We lost the great teachers that we had at Jefferson. Because one of the things that people must know about Jefferson Elementary School at that time, failure was not an option. Teachers expected you to excel, and teachers were part of the community. And if there were issues in terms of your grades in the classrooms, there was no question that your parents were going to be contacted. They were up close and personal. We walked to school, and we walked past our teachers’ homes and revered them, you know. And so it was a sudden change in sixth grade because the teachers looked at us differently, the White teachers. I had always received straight As on my report card up until the time I got to sixth grade. And that was the year that I got an F [00:09:00] for one six weeks, and that was the first F I had ever received on my report card. So I took pride in making good grades. I was a good student, and I studied hard, and that to me was devastating. And I think the reason why I got that F is because I challenged the teacher. I was a respectful student, but in this particular instance, I just decided that I needed to speak up. And I think that’s when the activism started, in sixth grade. We had just come in from recess, and we were all seated. So Ms. Sims decided -- well, she made an announcement, and she said, “Boys and girls, I am going to read you a story.” So of course, being the somewhat outspoken classmate, the others looked to me to see what I was [00:10:00] going to say or how I was going to respond. So I politely raised my hand, and I said, “Ms. Sims, we do not want to hear that story.” And the name of the story was Old Black Joe. And she said, “I am not going to tolerate this disrespect in my classroom.” I said, “Ms. Sims, I’m not being disrespectful.” I said, “First of all, we do not want to hear that story. And secondly, all of us can read.” And so she kind of got sort of discombobulated, and she decided that she was not going to read that story, after threatening to send me to the office to see Mr. Reaves. But I made it clear to her that we did not want to be read to, we are sixth graders, and we are all very capable of reading. So I think that was the beginning of my activism because we suddenly realized [00:11:00] that we didn’t have anybody to go to. There was no equity in education -- that seems to be the buzzword now -- and we soon discovered that we were going to have to fight tooth and nail for the right to be recognized for who we are as a race.

PL: [00:11:20] You said in another context that junior high school was better for you than the sixth grade years, and that there was less need there to fight.

JB: [00:11:35] No, not quite. It was there, at that time, it was junior high school, seventh, eighth, and ninth grade, that was the concept then.

PL: [00:11:49] And which school was that?

JB: [00:11:51] Walker, I attended Walker. And at that time, I was living in public housing, Hardy Drive. West Main Street was the dividing line, [00:12:00] so if you lived on this side of Main Street, you attended Walker, and if you lived on the other side of Main Street, you attended Buford. So those of us who lived in Westhaven attended Walker. The teachers from Burley -- because Burley closed down in 1967 -- for those teachers who had secondary endorsement, they were sort of dispersed between Walker and Buford. And many of them had been teaching for like over 30 years at Burley, so they were pretty much on their way out or thinking about retirement in a few years. So we still had a little of that community at Walker. But they would often tell us, “You know you all are being tracked. You know you all are being placed in the lower classes.” And I had a sweet guidance counselor, Ms. Williams, she was really sweet, but I don’t think she really pushed me [00:13:00] to be the best that I could be academically. My classes, my courses weren’t really challenging. And of course unbeknownst to me at the time, I was making the adjustment, you know, a teenager, seventh grade -- because some kids were driving to school in the ninth grade -- so it was the adjustment of another school and not having the diversity of teachers. There were very few Black teachers, and the ones that we had, they sort of guided us through their process, “It’s going to be okay,” because we weren’t okay. I can recall many of my White classmates being in the upper classes, the algebra classes and the higher-level classes. And we were pretty much in the classes with those students who attended McGuffey elementary school, which were your poor whites who lived on the poor side of town. So we suddenly realized that we were being tracked. [00:14:00] I can recall an instance in my English class. I was very good because at Jefferson, grammar was a big part of our curriculum in terms of how to construct sentences and all that stuff. So writing became very easy to me. I was terrible in math, but English was a strong subject for me. And I can remember submitting a paper. And what the teacher failed to realize is that -- Mrs. June Allen that I spoke about earlier -- she was insistent on me going to the public library every two weeks to check out at least six books. And after I completed reading those six books, I had to write a summary of what I read. So I think back in retrospect, she was basically insuring that I comprehended what I read. [00:15:00] And she didn’t dictate to me what to read. My favorites were mystery novels because I always wanted to try to solve the mystery, and biographies because I loved reading about other people’s lives. So that was consistent all the way through from the time I met her. So my father used to always say, “James, for God’s sake, make sure you get some common sense with that book sense,” because my head was always in a book, I loved to read. So in that instance, going back to Walker, when I submitted my paper -- and I worked hard on that paper -- she called me out in class and asked me what was the meaning of a particular word I had in my paper, in front of the whole class. And I recited back to her, I gave her the definition of that word. She assumed, I guess because I lived in public housing, that I didn’t know how to write, [00:16:00] and she called me out in front of my classmates. But I wanted to assure her that I knew what was in that paper because I wrote it, and I took time to make corrections. And yes, I had a vocabulary because I was an avid reader. And to assume that I did not submit my paper, and to question me in front of my classmates, I took issue with that. Here again, the activism kicked in. So it was little, small, subtle things. And then the biggest thing that happened to me at Walker, I was at my locker, and a classmate of mine, we had arrived together, and I was getting my books out of my locker, and he called me the N-word. I had never been called the N-word in my life. So of course, typical kids, I responded. It may not have been the best decision, but we both were sent to the office. [00:17:00] And the principal decided he was going to paddle both of us. Now mind you, they were still paddling at that time. I didn’t know that because I’d never been paddled. I was a pretty good child; I didn’t get a lot of spankings. So I told him he was not going to spank me. He said, “Just go sit in the assistant principal’s office.” So the young man who called me the N-word went in and got his little licking, and I heard him in there screaming and hollering. So I said, “You’re going to have to call my mother.” So whatever my mother said to him over the phone, he was very angry and told me to sit in the assistant principal’s office until the class period ended, and I never got a spanking for that. I never got an apology from the student for calling me that word, and I didn’t even know who he was, [00:18:00] I didn’t even know his name. He just said, “Oh, you don’t, Black N,” and that’s it, and so we just went on from there. So those were a couple of major incidents that happened while I was a student at Walker. And then ninth grade, I don’t remember. It’s just the courses that we were tracked in just were not challenging, and I felt they could’ve done a lot better in terms of challenging us a little bit more.

PL: [00:18:25] Right. One of the assumptions that we went into this project with was that sports was a catalyst for bringing people together across racial lines. I know you weren’t involved in sports. But I also know that in 1969, you get to Lane High School, and that activism that you were talking about earlier -- [00:19:00] which clearly comes, it seems to me, from a sense of self-confidence also about yourself -- that activism really kicks in at Lane, and that your experiences at Lane caused you to feel you needed to be outspoken. So I will want to ask you about what kinds of things brought people together across racial lines, but I’d like you to talk more generally, just for starters, about that Lane High School experience for you, and why you felt the need to be such an activist.

JB: [00:19:36] Well, when I arrived at Lane, that was in 1969, we were just four years out from total integration of Charlottesville City Schools.

PL: [00:19:51] And just two years after Burley closed.

JB: [00:19:53] Yes, and Burley closed, so some of those students had an opportunity to come to Lane as early as 1967-68, [00:20:00] and others who chose to stay at Burley did until the last graduating class in ’67. But when I left Walker and went straight to Lane in 1969, I suddenly realized when I looked around the landscape, some of the same problems were there. Yes, sports tended to bring the community together, but there were still issues, especially for those students who integrated a few years before we did, who had terrible experiences while they were students there. And they’re part of the Charlottesville 12, and many of them who integrated to Lane at the time still do not talk about that in particular when they were students there; it was a horrible experience. So some of those same issues were still there in 1969, and in tenth grade, [00:21:00] here again, we were still dealing with the same problems. I was called down to my guidance counselor’s office in tenth grade. I will refer to her as Mrs. G. And I noticed when I walked into her office, my cumulative folder was on her desk, and I could see my name and address, 823-C Hardy Drive. I recall vividly, she never looked at me directly; she stood there with her back to me. And she said, “Good morning,” and we exchanged pleasantries. And she asked me, “James, what are your future goals and aspirations?” [00:22:00] I said, “Well, Ms. Garrett, I’m going to college.” She jerked around and said to me, “College? You need to get that notion out of your head and take up a trade.” Immediately, I was devastated, I didn’t know what to do. If I responded in the way that I wanted to, I would probably be expelled. I got up, I went out in the hall, and I boo-hooed and cried, in the tenth grade. Ms. [Josephine] Whitsett came out -- she had taught second grade at Jefferson, and she was now a guidance counselor at Lane -- and she said, “What’s wrong, baby?” I said, “Mrs. Garrett told me I would never go to college. [00:23:00] I don’t ever want to go into her office again. Would you please be my guidance counselor?” She took me in her office, and she calmed me down. She knew and had taught my sister in second grade at Jefferson, she knew my mother, she knew the whole family. And so it was there that I found comfort and validation of who I was. I guess she assumed, because here again, I lived in public housing, that I didn’t have any dreams of going further in my education. “Take up a trade.” And there’s nothing wrong with trades, I am a very strong advocate, and I believe that all students should have options when they graduate from high school. There’s nothing wrong, but I knew that my strengths were not in trades. My strength was in education, and that was my desire, to go to school.

PL: [00:23:57] What about your relationship with other [00:24:00] students in the school? Did you feel like, by this point in time, that white students were more accepting of you? Were there sort of communities that formed largely based on color? What was the environment at Lane in that sense?

JB: [00:24:18] Well, music was my segue because with music, you don’t see color. So of course, I was a member of the choir, and I was the vice president and one year the president of the choir, so we were all kind of in there together. I never had an issue with getting along with people. I had a wide array of friends. But you’ve got to remember, we were tracked in the lower classes, so who tended to be in my classes was mostly students of color because of the way we were tracked.

PL: [00:24:48] So you think tracking was still going on at Lane.

JB: [00:24:51] Oh yes, indeed. And it was in 1970 -- I think I was a junior that particular year -- we organized a group of students, [00:25:00] and we decided we were going to protest. We went with a list of grievances to the administration asking them, we wanted more teachers of color, we wanted a Black History course, and we wanted to be placed in classes that we could be challenged. So we had a list of demands, and we presented the list to the administration. So as a result of that, we ended up with Ms. Whitsett, one Black guidance counselor, Mr. Freddie Murray, the assistant principal, and maybe three or four Black teachers who had just recently graduated or moved to this area. I think one teacher’s husband was in law school at UVA, and she taught English. [00:26:00] And Mr. Stanley Ryan and the late Dr. Anthony Sherman, they were recent graduates from that first wave of Blacks who integrated UVA, so they were offered jobs. But we still weren’t really satisfied, and we petitioned in eleventh grade to get a separate course, a Black History course. And we said we didn’t mean any harm or disrespect. We’ve heard about George Washington and Thomas Jefferson forever and a day. We wanted our own separate course to learn about the contributions of African Americans. So Mr. Huegel decided that he would approve this course, but it wasn’t until my senior year that I was able to take the course. And in actuality, I didn’t really need all those credits to graduate because I had more than plenty to graduate. But because I was in that group that petitioned, I stayed until the end of the school day because it was offered one period in the day, sixth period [00:27:00] my senior year, this African American History course that still exists today in the curriculum at Charlottesville High School. And now the students are receiving honors credit. But it was my group, my classmates, the class of ’72, who petitioned in ’71 the administration to incorporate that course as part of the curriculum. But in terms of getting along with others, we had all kinds of other issues. I remember when we had the first Black cheerleader on the cheerleading squad.

PL: [00:27:31] Was it Corlis Anderson?

JB: [00:27:33] No, Corlis was not the first.

PL: [00:27:35] She was the second.

JB: [00:27:36] Michelle Taylor was the first, the late Michelle Taylor. And I can remember we were home one night, and there was a big fight on the football field. They called that child everything but the child of God, as my mother would say, just the N-word, and it was just awful, and just ended up being a big brawl. And so they had to call in the police.

PL: [00:28:00] Who was involved in the brawl?

JB: [00:28:02] Just the students, the Black and white students, because they were insulting Michelle. She was on the field cheerleading, and they were just calling her the N-word and all kinds of just horrible names. And it just got to the point, it was a boiling point, and this big mele broke out. I wasn’t there, I think my brother was there, my older brother, he was at the football game. That was the beginning of the racial tension that continued to brew just because we had the first Black cheerleader on an all-white cheerleading team, so that was an issue. But as far as getting along with students, I had a wide array of friends. But it was just this cultural thing, the have and the have-nots, I think.

ANNIE VALENTINE: [00:29:00] What year was that?

JB: [00:29:04] That was probably tenth, maybe 1970-71 when we had the first -- because Corlis eventually became a cheerleader, but Michelle was the first.

PL: [00:29:20] Now Corlis did not talk about that. Of course, she wasn’t on the team at the time. But Corlis did talk -- I’m wondering if you remember this -- about a play that an English teacher wrote, I think.

JB: [00:29:38] I think you’re going to get to that question about the walkout, because that was part of the walkout.

PL: [00:29:45] So were you involved in that play?

JB: [00:29:48] Yes, I was.

PL: [00:29:49] So tell me about that.

JB: [00:29:53] Every year, that was during our senior year, [00:30:00] we had a Black History program, but that was the culminating program, the end of the week assembly. We would have guest speakers come in from the university. It was a weeklong celebration, and at the end of the week, we had a play, poetry, I was in the choir singing, and we had drama. And Ms. Esther Vassar was the English teacher, she was one of the newly hired Black teachers, and she wrote the play for the assembly. Well, we had gotten through the program, and at the end of the program, we had asked the students to please stand for the singing of the Negro National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing. So at that point, there were two rows of white students who decided to walk out of the assembly. And mind you, it wasn’t over, that was [00:31:00] because we hadn’t started singing the song. At the end of the program, Ms. Esther Vassar was on stage crying, and we said, “What’s wrong, Ms. Vassar?” We thought we had messed up. She said, “They walked out on my play.” And the next thing I knew, one thing led to another, and the word spread like wildfire. There was no texting back then, it was just by word of mouth. And it was just chaotic, I mean there were fights and arguments. It was just awful.

PL: [00:31:41] Physical fights?

JB: [00:31:42] Yes. We even had administrators fighting students in the hallway at that time at Lane, literally.

PL: [00:31:49] Over this play and walk out?

JB: [00:31:51] Not over the play, but just as part... There was just so much every day, it was just drama every day. But this play, as a result of those students walking out, [00:32:00] to this day 50 years later, it still has divided our class. We have not quite mended that fence. I have been serving on the class reunion committees for the last 30 years, and just to get students of color to come back to our reunions is like pulling teeth. And I said, “Why?” “Because of the way we were treated,” that’s their response. It still has not mended. And it got to the point that they had to shut schools down for a day, the superintendent shut Lane High School down because of the racial tension. I was selected to be on the part of their biracial committee. There were 15 whites and 15 Blacks, and we met that Monday while schools were closed.

PL: [00:32:56] This is in your senior year?

JB: [00:32:58] This is my senior year, [00:33:00] to talk about the racial tension. We marched. A lot of students, we stayed in the auditorium for several days until the principal said, “If you all stay another day, I’m going to have to arrest you all for trespassing.” The NAACP intervened and requested that we go back to class and let them take care of finding out what went on. I think they did some type of Peabody -- I don’t know, it was some type of survey they did, a Peabody survey, and to this day, none of us were ever notified what the results were, or what they decided -- just told us. And so being seniors, you know, we were all getting ready to transition to school. And we were sort of in a quandary [00:34:00] because we felt like we were stuck. But out of respect for Mr. George Ferguson, who was the president of the NAACP at the time, we agreed to go back to class and let them speak on our behalf.

PL: [00:34:13] So you went to the school auditorium in response to this shutting down of Lane and this biracial committee?

JB: [00:34:20] No, we had a meeting that Monday after they shut the schools down. But the auditorium piece was, we were protesting. We had certain demands that we wanted them to meet, and we were not going to leave that auditorium -- there was another incident -- we were not going to leave that auditorium until our demands were met, and they were like more Black teachers, more Black administrators, more courses, more challenging courses for students of color. And as a result -- that was my senior year, that’s when the NAACP intervened and told us, “You know, you all are seniors, and you don’t want to [00:35:00] fail. You’re going to college. And we will step in, and we will work this out.” And of course, all of us went off to school, and we didn’t hear any more about it. But the incident that happened with the Black History program, that caused the schools to shut down because of the racial tensions.

PL: [00:35:18] And can you tell us about what was called the Wrecking Crew? Is that familiar to you?

JB: [00:35:26] What I can remember about the Wrecking Crew, it was a group of guys in the neighborhood that pretty much led the activism. And those of us who joined in -- but it wasn’t about breaking windows or vandalism -- it was about galvanizing. I think at that time, Mr. Charles -- Mr. Fisher was the president of the NAACP, and he made lots of demands, so he was very powerful in the community. And you also had the local guys in the neighborhood who were called the Wrecking Crew. They were really [00:36:00] instrumental in leading the charge, leading the rest of us.

PL: [00:36:04] So adults.

JB: [00:36:06] No, they were my age, they were a little older than me, two or three years older, and they were neighborhood guys. I don’t want to call their names because I don’t have permission to do so, but they were very instrumental in getting the rest of us galvanized to join. I remember there was an issue -- there was a wall up here on Safeway, and it was called the Wall of Respect. And they wanted to paint murals on that wall, and we flooded city hall -- I’ll never forget it, the city council meeting at that time -- I mean it was jam-packed in there to request to use that wall for self-expression. We were really identifying with our Blackness. You know, James Brown came out, “Say it loud, I’m Black, and I’m proud.” And all of a sudden, we weren’t Negro and colored anymore, we were Black and proud, the Afros, the Dashiki, we were identifying with that [00:37:00] African heritage. So they blatantly denied access to that wall right up there on top of 10th Street. And it just galvanized the community, these guys really got the rest of us. And of course, a lot of people were reluctant because your parents didn’t really want you out there protesting, because it was still in the late ’60s. So the few of us that protested, there were results, but of course, a lot of us left at the end of our senior year and went off to our various colleges and universities. By the time I graduated, things had started to change.

PL: [00:37:40] So are you aware of any other roles that the NAACP took in terms of trying to deal with some of these problems around integration? I know you said they intervened.

JB: [00:37:58] That was my senior year, but you’ll have to [00:38:00] talk to the one and only Mr. Eugene Williams, if you’re talking about those early lawsuits to integrate in the 1950s.

PL: [00:38:06] No, I’m really talking about as integration takes place in the schools, whether there were any direct efforts by the NAACP to recommend how that might (overlapping dialogue; inaudible).

JB: [00:38:19] They did. Mr. Fisher was very active. He went several times before the school board with some of the demands. I can’t remember exactly verbatim. I’m reading a dissertation of, this one shared with me, and he talked about that in his dissertation. And I do remember Mr. Fisher, and I remember he was very active in the community because his son went to school with us up until our senior year. I think he transferred to the county. But he was very instrumental in galvanizing the community and going before the school board with some of the inequities that were going on at the time. I do remember that.

PL: [00:38:57] There was also an underground [00:39:00] student newspaper apparently at Lane called The Blast. Were you familiar with it?

JB: [00:39:04] No, I don’t recall.

PL: [00:39:05] You don’t remember that, okay, all right. So you said something really interesting -- and we’ll see if other people want to add some questions here -- you said something really interesting to me, saying how one didn’t see color in music. And I’m wondering about that, and the arts in general, because if football or sports became a mechanism for bringing people together, would you say that these were also other mechanisms for bringing people together in a cooperative way, rather than --

JB: [00:39:47] You mean at that time?

PL: [00:39:48] Yeah.

JB: [00:39:49] For me, chorus and singing was an escape. It was a way of -- it really opened a lot of doors [00:40:00] for me, my voice, because I was able to go in and perform in churches other than Black churches, and I had that exposure. The allness of my voice opened a lot of doors. I remember Mrs. [Winifred] Bogert, who was white, was my voice teacher. So I was able to sort of crack a lot of those doors open, singing in churches other than the church that I grew up in. Of course Trinity was always an integrated church, because I grew up Episcopalian; at that time, I was a member of Trinity. And so it opened up a lot of doors. And so much the band now -- I don’t mean no harm or disrespect, but the band at Lane it just sucked. Now Jackson P. Burley High School, that was the bomb, the Burley High School band. Mr. [Victor] Sampson was the director. [00:41:00] Everybody waited for the Dogwood Parade to wait for Burley’s band to come in the rear; that was the highlight of the Dogwood Parade. I see Lorenzo is up here shaking his head, he knows what I’m talking about. Now with the choir, I had a wonderful choir teacher, Mr. Webster, he was just wonderful. And he retired my first year, and then Mrs. [Judith] Clark came along. And she actually tried to get me to go to James Madison University, but I decided I didn’t want to go to Harrisonburg. I ended up going to Virginia Union, a historical Black college and university, and did my undergraduate studies in music. But she was very instrumental. And we were all like one big family in the chorus, you know. So sometimes we could escape up on that top floor of Lane High School just to, for a few minutes, sing and enjoy each other in harmony and music.

PL: [00:41:52] Lorenzo, do you want to ask some questions here?

LORENZO DICKERSON: [00:41:56] I just have a couple; one is a short one. [00:42:00] I’m curious -- you said your guidance counselor, Ms. Whitsett, would that be Bernard and Bernadette’s mother?

JB: [00:42:08] Yes. And it was actually Ms. Whitsett who recommended me for the Upward Bound program at the University of Virginia. That program started in 1967, and the first graduating group was ’68. So I came along in ’70, ’72 I graduated. And it was there, and at that time, the late Mr. Stephen [D.] Waters was the director. And unbeknownst to me at that time, there were six of us who went in for the interview. And years later, he told me, “I only had three slots, but I took all six of you all.” And of the six of us in that group, one decided to go into the military. One went to college for two years and decided to go into [00:43:00] the workforce. But the other four of us, we graduated and received our undergraduate and graduate degrees. And one went on to become an orthopedic surgeon, the late Dr. Frankie Carr. And when he was in school, his teachers told him he wouldn’t amount to anything. And he’s a graduate of our class, the class of ’72, and he’s our shining star. And he went on to practice orthopedic medicine in New York City before he passed a few years ago from cancer. So I always talk about that group because Upward Bound paved the way, we were first generation. None of our parents had ever gone to college. And we paved the way for others who came along after us. And even those who were before us, there are some still living, and they’re in their late seventies, mid-seventies now, and they’re early graduates of that Upward Bound program.

PL: [00:43:57] That was a really important influence on you.

JB: [00:44:00] Oh yes, it made a difference. And once an Upward Bounder, always an Upward Bounder. We were blessed to have had an opportunity to participate in that program.

PL: [00:44:10] Annie, do you want to ask anything?

AV: [00:44:13] You were talking about the Peabody survey that you never got the results for. Were there any other groups like the UVA Consultative Resources Center that was working on trying to make the desegregation process work more smoothly, any other groups that helped?

JB: [00:44:29] I don’t know because I’m -- a friend of mine shared a dissertation of a young man who actually did his PhD in that, and he talked about that in there. But I don’t recall any follow-up from that biracial meeting of 15 whites and 15 Blacks after they had to shut the schools down because of racial tensions. I don’t recall any follow-up, and that was my senior year, so off to school I went, you know. But he talked about that in his dissertation.

AV: [00:45:00] What were the meetings like at Trinity Church?

JB: [00:45:03] We would leave Lane High School, and we would coordinate the meetings. So it wasn’t like it was random, we would coordinate, so we’re going to meet at such-and-such, and we’re going to walk out. Some kids were a little afraid to walk out because of their parents, so we didn’t pressure anybody to walk out. And we would quietly line up, walk up Preston Avenue to the old Trinity Church here at the top of 10th and Grady, and that’s where we would have our meetings. And usually the late Reverend Henry Mitchell, he would be there to receive us and listen to us as we aired our grievances about how we were being treated at Lane High School, and some of the changes that we wanted to happen, and we did that on several occasions. So that was the meeting place, the old Trinity Church. And it was organized, we weren’t screaming and hollering and cursing and using profanity. We quietly, peacefully walked up to Trinity, and we just left school.

AV: [00:46:00] Did it feel like it made a difference when you (overlapping dialogue; inaudible)?

JB: [00:46:03] Yes, it did. I think eventually it did. The administrators, we started to see small changes, but of course, we were all seniors then. So I didn’t come back into the school system to work until I graduated. And that’s when Lane was Charlottesville High School then. The last graduating class at Lane was ’74.

PL: [00:46:32] George, do you have questions?

GEORGE GILLIAM: [00:46:35] I don’t think -- no, I think it’s been covered.

PL: [00:46:43] You said this orthopedic surgeon was the shining light, but I think you, too, are a shining light.

JB: [00:46:50] Thank you.

PL: [00:46:52] I think you have really helped us to paint that larger picture of what the environment was like, [00:47:00] you know, in which sports took place. But also, it’s really important for us for the project to understand what the larger context was, and you are helping us see that. And also, what you’re saying is certainly consistent with what Corlis Anderson told us, and some others as well.

JB: [00:47:25] And of course, she and I were classmates. And I’d like to end on this note. We were a very special class coming out of Jefferson. Those of us who came out of Jefferson School, our families were close. We had the village. We had the church. The church was the cornerstone of our community, and we had the community. If you acted up in school, or if you said something disrespectful, by the time you got home, your mom and dad already knew about it, [00:48:00] because that’s how it was in the Black community. So had it not been for those elders in the community who were revered, and the teachers that lived in our communities who we looked up to because they were role models, and our church -- my godfather, the late Henry Mitchell, also served on the school board. He was the chairman of the Charlottesville School Board when I graduated. He gave me my diploma. He told my mother, he said, “James is going to college, and finances will not be an issue for him.” That was the expectation, you are going to school, whether I wanted to go or not, you’re going. And that’s how it was, we had that village. My godmother, the late Gertrude Mitchell, these were people who were inspirational in my life at that time, and they were role models for me, they were my mentors. And so as a result of that strong -- [00:49:00] my parents and the community and the church, when I became an educator, I simply gave it all back. I loved teaching; I loved the children that I taught. I loved the children that I counseled. And I’m still at it after 40-plus years. I get up three days a week and go to Piedmont Virginia Community College and work with students, whether they’re fresh out of college or returning learners. That’s my passion. My pastor is my greatest inspiration, Dr. Alvin Edwards, he is one of my greatest mentors. So I have been just truly blessed. I’ve been around all these wonderful people my whole entire life. My mother, she heard a lot of school stories, I’ll put it like that. But she always said, “Those children need you.” My father was so happy when I was going to college. I’m the first, so he was bragging and telling everybody, [00:50:00] “My son is going.” But he never lived to see me graduate; he died my junior year in college. But I forged on, finished the next year, and went on and started my teaching career. So it’s because of the village, is why I was able to succeed, despite the obstacles that sometimes got in my way. But when it came to the children that I taught, I also was an activist in that classroom. Because oftentimes, the children that I taught were not your crème de la crème, they didn’t come from affluent families, but I was one of them. So when they walked into my classroom, they knew that they were going to be embraced, they knew that they were going to be loved, and they knew that they were going to be challenged. Because I felt that was my duty and my responsibility, whether I wanted to be a role model or not, it was placed at my feet. [00:51:00] So that was the blessing. So if I go away today or tomorrow, I can go away with a smile because I have had a wonderful career, despite the barriers that oftentimes came into place.

PL: [00:51:16] So I guess I have to ask this one last question. When you hear you talk about the power of that village that you describe, do you think this integration experiment was a good thing or not a good thing? I mean I know that’s not an easy yes or no question, but I just wonder how you would respond to that?

JB: [00:51:42] I would say it had its pros and cons. Because a lot of us who came out of segregation, some of us were able to excel and overcome the obstacles, and others were not. I’m not saying integration [00:52:00] was a bad thing, but in integrating, we lost a little bit of our culture. And it was up to us, those of us who were activists, to continue to be proud of who we were and who we are. So integration oftentimes, because we didn’t have that village anymore, so we had to kind of recreate the village so that we could continue to march on until victory is won.

PL: [00:52:34] Thank you very much for doing this.

JB: [00:52:36] You’re welcome.

PL: [00:52:39] Are we good?

LD: [00:52:41] I think we’re good. I think I had two questions. So in the county schools, the first 26 students that desegregated that first year in ’63, 13 of them were held back after getting good grades, they were held back and retained. [00:53:00] Do you remember any of that happening in the city schools like when you were at McGuffey? Do you remember hearing about any of that?

JB: [00:53:06] No. And actually, one of those members of the 26, Louis Johnson, we were in Upward Bound together. So I got to know him very well, and I know his family very well, so yeah. But I don’t recall that happening. Of course, I was not a member of the Charlottesville 12. I came in two years after Massive Resistance, but I do know a lot of the Charlottesville 12. But I don’t remember that happening while I was in school.

LD: [00:53:34] And the last question that I had was just, earlier you mentioned, I think you said ’65 or so, you were at McGuffey, and you mentioned that “We lost our teachers.” And I was curious because that would have been right at the same time of Vinegar Hill being demolished. And I was just curious, like you know, all of these things, these experiences [00:54:00] in the Black community happening simultaneously. And I’m curious as to what did that mean for Black culture in Charlottesville?

JB: [00:54:09] Well, they did, like I said, Mr. Reaves came to McGuffey, and about four or five of the Black teachers came to McGuffey. So we were able to cling on to a few of those who were at Jefferson. That was the first year that I think McGuffey had a Black May king and a May queen, because we were there, and we were determined to vote them in. I’m sure they had their first Black May king and May queen at McGuffey that year when we were in the sixth grade. So we tried to continue that tradition that we had at Jefferson School, May Day, the wrapping of the Maypole, and all the activities that go along with May Day. I hope that answered your question.

LD: [00:54:51] It did. It really speaks to the resiliency of the community to hold on to the culture, in spite of.

JB: [00:55:00] Exactly, that’s what we tried to do.

PL: [00:55:05] Thank you. I hope we haven’t kept you too long. Thank you very much.

JB: [00:55:08] No, I’ve enjoyed this. I better do it now while I’m still able to. (laughter)