My earlier piece on Greenville, Texas (“The Blackest Land and the Whitest People”) attracted a surprising number of hits. Since writing it I attended my wife’s 50th high school reunion and learned additional information.
Among the nostalgic celebrants from Greenville High, Class of 1965 was a single African-American and his wife. Thomas, who now lives in Brooklyn and has been successful in his career, was greeted warmly and was obviously well-liked by his classmates. I had a brief visit with Thomas and learned his intriguing story.
He shared many years ago when he left home to register for high school, his parents assumed he would attend the all-black Carver High School. Instead and without their knowledge he made a bee line for Greenville High. Thomas was, if not the first African-American, among the very first to integrate the school.
Thomas had delivered prescriptions for the local pharmacy and, in the process, had become friendly with people of all races in Greenville. He had developed a comfort level with all types of people.
From my brief interaction with Thomas, I felt a better person could not have existed to break down the color barrier. He was affable, intelligent, and while an athlete, hardly the star of any of Greenville High’s sports teams. He was, in my estimation, the perfect “Jackie Robinson” for Greenville High.
He recalls no negative feelings from students or staff at Greenville High. While bowled over by his choice of school, his parents were not concerned enough to force him to change his mind or his registration.
While racism remained rampant in the south in the early 1960s, the young people in Greenville proved far more welcoming than perhaps the older generation would have been.
In such matters, leaving integration matters up to the younger generation seems to have worked better than attempting to change the minds of the entire populace. Just my thought and would love to hear yours.
Oh, and for what it is worth, the white classmates fifty years later still think “whitest people” refers to virtue and honesty and carries with it no racial overtones. If only the former Governor of Texas, John Connally, and legions of others around the U.S.A. saw it the same way.