Reflections on Greenville, Texas- Part 2: “The Blackest Land and the Whitest People”

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.GreenvilleSign-1

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.

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5 thoughts on “Reflections on Greenville, Texas- Part 2: “The Blackest Land and the Whitest People”

  1. La Nelle July 26, 2015 at 8:38 am Reply

    Good insight. I have had several discussions with friends about the new book and its pros and cons. I think we have to remember we all have created an imaginary character in Aticus which became much enhanced by the movie. I need to remember he was a flawed man, just like all of us. Glad you went to the reunion and your opinion of editors was fun to ready.

  2. Ron Gillet July 28, 2015 at 2:58 pm Reply

    Very interesting read, especially about Thomas’ reflections of his treatment while in high school. I would not have expected that. We did not have any blacks at my high school, which had just opened in the middle of my junior year. We did have several other nationalities represented. I don’t remember any problems or discrimination that occurred regarding them.

  3. Thomas M February 9, 2018 at 3:24 pm Reply

    I attended college at Texas A&M Commerce (formerly East Texas State University) in the 1990’s which was 15 miles from Greenville.

    3 friends and I would regularly drive to Greenville to eat at Ryan’s Steakhouse (all you can eat) and one Friday night the KKK was protesting in a vacant lot across the street.
    I got into a screaming match with some jackasses from the KKK (the jackass and I were nose to nose screaming at each other) because he was calling my friend Kelvin a ni55er and it pissed me off.

    Those of us who actually know can attest to the fact that the BLACKEST LAND is a description of the Black soil in that region of Texas. You never want your vehicle to get stuck in the black soil, it’s a nightmare.

    The WHITEST PEOPLE well, not cool!

  4. Phillip Slade August 14, 2019 at 11:42 am Reply

    Class of 1964 had one black
    Kenny ?
    Class of 1965
    Thomas Williams
    Floyd Daniels
    Jerry Walker

    Rena Green (66) took summer classes and graduated Aug. 1965

  5. Laura Cohoon March 13, 2022 at 6:22 pm Reply

    I was born and raised in Greenville. I very much remember our famous sign. The blackest land was because the soil in Hunt County is black. The whitest people refered to honesty and purity. It’s people like you who ttys to bring race into the true meaning behind the sign!!

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