Oral Histories of Students in Segregated Schools

Segregated students shared their experiences with the educational system in San Antonio and other areas of Texas, giving an opportunity to be heard and to disclose the struggle and achievements they faced. 

These experiences are unique at a time that will not appear again. Watch the two part series below:

Dr. Leonard E. Lawrence, a psychiatrist, moderated the panel for the event on July 7, 2021. He is originally from Indianapolis, Indiana and came to San Antonio in 1969 through the US Air Force. Aaronetta Pierce moderated the second half and is from Nashville, Tennessee. She became a teacher and taught in San Antonio in 1964.

Dr. Lawrence and Pierce both included some of their experiences. Dr. Lawrence shared the story of him and his mother going to a department store. He was only a four-year-old boy at the time and remembered seeing a bin of stocking hats and began to put one on his head when a manager immediately asked for payment. Dr. Lawrence said, “A four-year-old kid didn’t know that if you were black and you tried something on, you just bought it.”

Pierce recalled a time when she desperately wanted a bracelet embedded with her name on it. “They put my bracelet on the machine all ready to try to write out ‘Aaronetta’ and a white mother and her child came and she wanted one too. And they took my bracelet off,” said Pierce. “I remember feeling that loss and how unfair that was.”

From left to right, Dr. Leonard Lawrence, Joan Hartfield Duncan, Samuel Scott Jr., and Lemuel Cook

Joan Hartfield Duncan grew up on the East Side of San Antonio and attended Cuny Washington Elementary School and Douglass Junior High School. She graduated as valedictorian of the class of 1957 from Phillis Wheatley High School, which is now known as Brackenridge.

Samuel Scott Jr was born in the area of Denver Heights and attended Cuny Elementary School, Douglass Junior High, and Phillis Wheatley High School class of 1961. His father, Samuel Scott Sr., was the principal of Douglass and eventually served on the San Antonio Independent School District Board. His mother was an elementary school teacher who taught at various locations in and out of San Antonio.

“We both grew up on the East Side in Denver Heights,” Scott said as he pointed to Duncan and himself, “and like to reflect back and think of it as a village where everyone that lived in that community made a very big effort to support the youth of the community. It was like one big family.”

Lemuel Cook attended Grant Elementary School, Dunbar middle school, and Jefferson High School on the West Side and graduated from Trinity University. He also played semi-pro football with the San Antonio Toros for a short period of time and was a teacher for 41 years.

Terri Womack Williams was born in Galveston, Texas, and came to San Antonio in 1968. She attended Bannon Preschool, Booker T. Washington Elementary School, Emerson Middle School, and Phillis Wheatley High School. She also attended the University of Texas at Austin and San Antonio and has spent 31 years in economic development. 

Alice Rose Kennedy grew up on the West Side and attended Grant Elementary School, Dunbar Junior High School, and Phillis Wheatley High School. Shortly after graduating from college, she started her career as a teacher in Raleigh and spent 30 years in that field.

Sally Edwards Frederick moved to San Antonio twice; once in 1977 and again in 1999. She attended a segregated elementary school in Goliad. In her 5th grade year, Goliad Independent School District became integrated.

San Antonio became desegregated in 1954 after the Brown v. Board of Education decision.

The guest speakers noted that there were instances where they realized they did not have the same type of facilities or resources that were available to students in white schools. African-American schools usually had outdated, hand-me-down textbooks from their Anglo counterparts. However, the guests explained that their teachers were able to bridge the gap from the lack of resources. 

Duncan found her experience to be a blessing, because she found confidence, strength, courage, and knowledge that she might not have had if she had been in an integrated school. What she learned at home was strengthened by what she learned at school and at church because they all shared the same value system. “They taught you not only academics, but they taught you about life,” said Duncan. “I know that our children did not receive the support that I received.”

Cook said, “In the Black school, we had to learn how to think on our feet. Learn how to add without using paper and pencil.” His teachers would often set up games for any subject area that required the students to think on the spot. Cook claimed that it made him a better student and was even an honor student once he got to high school. “I wanted to let them know that I was just as well educated as they were.”

Scott agrees that the schools provided a nurturing state and explained how Blacks were allowed or received permission to go to places on certain days. “There were certain days of the year that we were allowed to go to the symphony… Juneteenth was the one day of the year when we could go to Playland Park, which was the main amusement park in San Antonio.”

From left to right, Aaronetta Pierce, Terri Womack Williams, Alice Rose Kennedy, and Sally Edwards Frederick

Williams mentioned that as a child, her family protected her innocence and did not tell her about how they were treated. “I didn’t realize until much later that there were certain days that we could go to Playland Park or even Kiddie Park,” said Williams.

Scott also discussed his first experience interacting with non-black children when he had joined the Babe Ruth League and was the only black child on the team. “They made a special effort to welcome me,” said Scott. “I don’t think it was false, but it was a new experience for them and at the same time it was a new experience for me. So I think we both recognized that there could be something that could come out of that that was positive that we both could benefit from.

Frederick remembered her first day of integrated school and explained her anxiousness of attending. Her father reassured her that he was going to be down the street, keeping an eye on her and her siblings as they entered the school, saying, “You all hold your head up and you walk in there proudly.”

Frederick further explained how her father led them out of the car to walk up the sidewalk where she saw various people of the white community. “I looked back and I saw my dad with his rifle balanced across the back seat of the car, and he was waiting for anybody to bother us,” said Frederick. “I was scared but I was at peace because I knew my dad had us.”

Although she considered herself a really smart student in a segregated school, Frederick said that she was behind in her integrated school. “I remember Mrs. Lawrence and I’m thankful for her that she pulled me aside and she would help me catch up.”

Kennedy discussed how she believes that how a child is treated by their teacher has an effect on their learning. “When they’re not made to believe that they can excel and the teachers don’t push for that, it does make a difference.”

All believe their success and achievements came from their teachers and family, which had similar values. Each speaker ended their commentary with advice ranging from being inclusive and treating others fairly to not limiting one’s knowledge to what is being taught in school.