• December 21, 2014

Temple board member recalls segregation

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Posted: Saturday, May 17, 2014 4:30 am

TEMPLE — New Temple Independent School District board member Linell L. Davis, who graduated from Dunbar High School in 1966, has vivid memories of the days when Temple schools were segregated.

Davis, who was elected to the board of trustees on May 10, said she was protected from much of the turmoil of that era.

Brown v. Board

“My parents covered me; I was really sheltered and we didn’t discuss anything. My mother was an avid reader, though, and I know she knew about a lot of things that were going on during that time period.”

Davis was in first grade in 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling led to the desegregation of American schools.

It took awhile for the results to spread throughout the country, however.

Discrimination was still strong in the Temple community in the 1950s, Davis recalled.

“I remember going to Woolworth’s department store and sitting at the lunch counter,” she said. “It was very uncomfortable for me because of all the stares and glares we got from people.

“But the service was good, and I remember having a cheeseburger and a strawberry sundae.”

Trying to Get an education

A decade later, she and other members of the senior class were asked if they would like to attend Temple High School, Davis said. The response was a resounding, “No!” as the students decided that they would prefer to hold onto their own traditions.

Within a year or two however, the students no longer had a choice, as desegregation became mandatory.

“High school was another story,” Davis said. “I was quite privileged to sing with the Central Texas Youth Choir, and remember meeting at First United Methodist Church and traveling to Austin with them.

“I had friends who went to Temple High School, and I was able to get a copy of their curriculum. I was a junior or senior at the time, and I remember being stunned to find out (THS students) were being taught so much more than we were.”

Davis shared the curriculum with Dunbar Student Council President Kennard Hall, she said.

“He was very assertive, and we went to the principal to talk about it. Our principal was quite upset that we brought the issue up.”

Second-class students

Dunbar students received textbooks that were hand-me-downs from Temple High School, Davis recalled, and she said she still remembers the shock of seeing how black senators were depicted in social studies books.

“Their faces were like crows, and they were wearing these wild zoot suits with long chains and formal tuxedo shoes.

“I still vividly remember that picture in my mind. It was quite alarming.”

Despite Dunbar and THS being far from equal, Davis said, there were advantages to attending Dunbar.

“Basically, we felt at home at Dunbar,” she said. “Our teachers were all African-Americans and we all had pride.

“The teachers taught us we had to supersede what our counterparts were doing — we had to be 20 times better to get ahead.”

One teacher advised the students that in order to achieve their goals, they should aim for a master’s degree to avoid being subservient.

Dunbar was closed in the late 1960s, and the school building became an elementary, and today serves as an early childhood center.

“Our principal, Mr. Meridith, had been killed in a train accident, and so they named the school Dunbar-Meridith, which eventually became Meridith-Dunbar,” Davis said.

“The sad thing is that our teachers, who were very capable, were not picked up by the system,” she said. “It was heartbreaking in a lot of ways because they were very good.”

Students who attended Dunbar were drilled in English, math, science and other subjects, Davis said.

“The teachers were very strict,” she said.

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