My “Witness,” Part 7, Greenville, Part 4

I’m still learning WordPress. I was unable to discern if it’s possible to edit an already published post. Here I’m going to insert an elaboration on Part 2. I recall that we moved to Jackson, MS in October 1969. I know I attended a game between Ole Miss and LSU at Veterans Memorial Stadium during Archie Manning’s Junior year. For that reason, I’m pretty sure that we were already in Jackson when Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education was decided on October 29, 1969. In those days I read the newspaper only for the comics, so this momentous event escaped my notice. This was the decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court decided that Mississippi’s progress toward school desegregation had had all the “deliberate speed” it needed and that integration had to happen NOW. Only nine weeks later, the most momentous cultural and educational event of the 20th century took place. That absolutely HAD to happen, but I and tens of thousands of other Mississippi School children and school employees were “drafted” into a social experiment not of our choosing.

Back to Greenville: One of the ways Mississippi had tried to evade desegregation in the period between Brown v Board of Education and Alexander v Holmes County was to repeal the compulsory school attendance law. One result of that was a lazzies faire approach to school transportation. Since the state “officially” didn’t care if we went to school or not, there was also no provision made for getting us there. Our house was about two miles from Coleman, more than five miles from Weston High School (where all Greenville Public Schools tenth graders attended) and a mile and a half from Greenville High School (eleventh and twelfth grades). My mother had an 8:00-5:00 job and the responsibility of getting my four years’ younger sister to HER schools. I was “on my own” for getting FROM school almost all six years and for getting TO school for all three years of high school. I couldn’t take the bus, because there was no bus. “Forced busing” was a flash point of controversy in the early to mid-1970s in the United States as a whole, but there was not even any “voluntary” busing in Greenville. I pieced together ways to get to and from school, often using a bicycle or my feet.

My tenth grade was all right. My abusive stepfather was spending more and more time away from the house, which was all right with me. I had the best math teacher (in the sense that he was able to teach in a way that I was able to learn) for geometry. One think I discovered during that year was that I was exceptionally good at rapid recall and recitation of literary trivia. I participated in an in-school “Literary Bowl” and did quite well.

By the summer of 1975, at the end of my tenth grade year, my mother’s second marriage came to an end. That was certainly a great relief to my brother, sister and me. I’m sure my mother and sister Jill had more “mixed” feelings about it, but it was a positive life development for all of us. Also that summer, my older brother moved to the Atlanta suburbs to live with our father. He was set on becoming an Electrical Engineer and wanted to establish Georgia residency, so that he could attend Georgia Tech at the in-state tuition rate. I suppose that all brothers have ambiguous relationships, but this was also a positive development for me. I would not be directly compared to him and he would not be leading any “teasing/bullying” directed at me during my last two years of high school.

I flourished at Greenville High School. Barbara McCormick in English, Tommy Pullen in World History, and Caroline Acree in Latin were some of the best teachers I ever had. I took the PSAT and made a score high enough to qualify as a National Merit Scholar. The Counselor, Robert Montesi took an interest in me and became a mentor. I also led the boys in the school-winning “Literary Bowl” competition. I was a team member also of our school’s “Challenge” team. This was an academic competition hosted by Mississippi College also focused on trivia recall. I was the only junior on the State Champion team

The public and private schools in Washington County did not compete in athletics, but there WAS academic competition at the Literary Bowl hosted by the County library. I was a member of the County Champion Literary Bowl team both my junior and senior years. Since part of the “narrative” was that the private schools were academically superior to the public schools, it was especially satisfying to win a head-to-head academic competition.

My senior year, and how I came to enroll at Millsaps College is the story for the next entry.

About jaltman81

United Methodist Clergy
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