Late 50’s – May Greene School – and the Lies I Believed – Part 1

This is a recent photo taken of the old May Greene School building now being used as a mission. To see the article about this school on Ken Steinhoff's website, http://www.capecentralhigh.com, just click on this image.

I began attending May Greene School when I was in the 4th grade. Up until that time I had gone to schools that had only white students because the schools were located in white neighborhoods. However, May Greene School had many African-American students, mainly because it was located in a neighborhood of mostly African-Americans. In those days in Cape, whites had their own neighborhoods and blacks had their own neighborhoods. At that time (late 50s) the polite term that white people used to refer to African-Americans was ‘colored people’.  That is what my mother taught me to call them so as not to offend anyone.

In looking back, it seems strange that I never saw a ‘colored person’ at a restaurant or at the movies or shopping on Main Street. When I visit Cape now, that is not the case, thank God.

I think that in those days we were all so used to being separate that we didn’t even think it was odd. It was just the way things were.

Therefore, having gone to only white schools, then suddenly changing neighborhoods and schools where there were at least as many black people as white people, it was quite a change for me as a 4th grader. Unfortunately, I had been taught some wrong thinking about ‘colored people’ and I was uncomfortable with the new situation.

There was a girl who sat in front of me in class whose name was Charlotte Taylor. She had a beautiful smile and she seemed to always be happy. She was very well-groomed and usually had her hair in braids. Sometimes her braids stood straight out. Her skin was a gorgeous dark brown. She somehow sensed my discomfort and asked me “Have you ever touched a ‘colored person?” I was taken back by her question but just answered her “No, I haven’t.” She raised her hand toward me and said “Do you want to touch me?” Her eyes were soft and kind-looking. I really did want to touch her skin and I was glad she asked. Her skin looked so soft and smooth. I reached across my desk and put my fingers on her skin. It was just as smooth as silk and soft as peach skin.

Charlotte was my friend from that moment on. She allowed me to ask her anything I wanted to know about being ‘colored’. And I did ask some pretty funny questions. She would just laugh and slap her leg and just about fall off her chair at some of my ridiculous questions. Charlotte had a twin brother named Charles and he was a good-looking boy with that same beautiful smile and happy disposition. Sometimes they would drive by my house with their family and I would be out in the front watching for semis 🙂 They would always wave and smile when they went by. Their car was always full of kids, I think they were stacked in there, some of them hanging out the window. We didn’t have any seat belts back then.

There was a lot of unrest all across the nation over civil rights. I was too young to completely understand what was going on in the rest of the world but at school there was some of that tension for sure. There seemed to be outright hate between some of the whites and some of the blacks, a lot of fighting on the playground. It was frightening to me. In the classroom there was no fighting going on; that would not have been tolerated. A trip to the principal and a paddle were always a deterrent to bad behavior. Consequently, it was very safe inside the school building.

After school and on the weekends, my neighborhood friends and I spent a lot of time playing on the playground at May Greene and across the street at Fort D. We had a lot of good times there, good memories to treasure. We also liked to go to Womack Drug Store nearby when we had enough money to buy a coke. Cokes were either 5 or 10 cents, plus 5 more cents if you wanted flavoring in it, chocolate, cherry, or vanilla. In those days there was a “soda jerk” who prepared the drinks. There was also a pinball machine there.

All in all, I have fond memories of May Greene School and the friends I had there. But, I also have some deep regrets because of the lies I believed about African-Americans during that time in my life. Most of the lies came from my upbringing at home, probably passed down from their upbringing.

To be continued……

Please return for future articles or sign up for email updates in the column on the right side of the page. Did you live on or near South Sprigg? Did you perhaps go to May Greene School in the late 50’s or early 60’s? Do you know anyone else who lived or visited there during that time? If you would like to re-connect with some of the friends, neighbors, or classmates of that era and location, please let me know by comment below or by email to:
 

spriggstreet@hotmail.com

Thank you for reading!

Hat Tip/Ken Steinhoff for permission to use the photo of May Greene School. Visit his website at www.capecentralhigh.com

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20 Responses to Late 50’s – May Greene School – and the Lies I Believed – Part 1

  1. G. Paul Corbin says:

    I have great memories of May Green. I started my educational career there.

  2. Audrey Reynolds says:

    If you attended May Greene from 1949-1955, can you join the group?

    • darlajune says:

      Audrey, anyone can join. This site is completely public. If you would like to receive email notifications of new posts just fill in your email address in the right hand column above the button that says “Sign Me Up”, then click the button. You will then receive any new posts that are added to this site. If you just want to sign up to the Facebook page, there is also a box to sign up for that. In order to join the Facebook page you will need to have a Facebook account. You will be prompted to open an account or to sign in to your account if you already have one. Thanks for the question.

      • M Conley says:

        I went to May Green 1956 – 1962 Charles and Charlotte Tayor are my cousins I found the Smelterville blog and it lead me to this page. I know Ms Mattie Reed I know everybody in Smothersville as we called it.

    • roberta ( niblack ) johnson says:

      thanks I would love to join the group ….I went to school there at that time …

  3. Charles Ervin says:

    i went to May Green from K through 6. Lived on south Pacific. Many good memories of those early school years.

    • darlajune says:

      Charles, I think I remember you. Did you have Mrs. Sewings for 5th grade?

    • Jodi Graham McLane says:

      Charles, I grew up on the south side as well. By chance, do you have a sister named Sharon who would be about 50-51? I have been looking for her and another friend for a long time. I left Cape in 8th grade.
      My name is Jodi Graham Mclane.
      I lived on Benton Street.
      My Grandmother, Mrs. Mattie Reed live in “Smothersville” right across the bridge. Oh what memories we have of that creek and playing across the road at the dairy farm!

  4. Jodi Graham Mclane says:

    Charles, did you have a sister named Sharon Ervin?

  5. Tracie says:

    Hey Jodi – I saw Sharon the other day – She didn’t remember me, but she hasn’t changed a bit. I remember playing at your grandmother’s house. I think Sharon might be living in Jackson but I don’t know her last name.

  6. Carole Avery Adams says:

    I spent the first five years of my life (1946-50) living in Smelterville on a fairly large plot of land that my grandfather, Martin Luther Avery, had bought in probably the 1920’s and built two houses on. We lived across the dirt street from a lady named Cal Barnes, and near the central Packing Company. I remember names like Jess Bolen (sp?) and John Dieteker (again sp?) who were friends or acquaintances of my Grandpa and Dad. I know that they were all white. A favorite thing to do with my grandpa was to walk back across the railroad tracks to a little grocery store to buy strawberry soda. Being a small child, I don’t remember the color of anybody’s skin there. It was just fun.

    We moved from Smelterville to South Henderson because my mother did not want to be a resident of “Smelterville” when I started school. My first year was at the old Jefferson School — teacher Miss Miskell. My spellings are all “as sounded”. When John Cobb School burned, all of us “white students” from Jefferson were sent to May Greene where I began 2nd grade. May Greene was a great school to go to. We loved Miss Alma, Miss Sanders, and in sixth grade, Mr. Charles Clippard, who was teaching his first year at May Greene. The teacher with the toughest job was my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Savings. If I remember my facts correctly, my class was supposed to have Mrs. Sanders again for fifth grade because she had moved up from 2nd. We were all so excited. She was killed (I remember a car wreck) that summer and Mrs. Savings was hired to take the class. What a position to be in — but we grew to love her as a teacher. Years later, I met her again when she attended the visitation at my mom’s funeral. How thoughtful. Fellow students I remember from May Greene are Connie Wills, Karen Lange, Louise and Lawanda Haynes, David Cotner, Isaac Wren, Carl Seabaugh, really, too many to list. I remember Isaac being a boy who, today, would have been in special classes. He and the teachers had to struggle along the best that they could.

    Growing up in South Cape and going to May Greene, none of us realized that we didn’t really have a lot, or that the rest of Cape might think less of us —– until junior high school. Being fairly smart, I was thrown into classes with quite a few of the upper half kids. i became very reluctant to say that I had lived in Smelterville, or that on South Henderson, we still had a coal burning stove in our living room. Nobody was unkind or mean to me — we just did not understand each other and probably made assumptions that were not true for either of us.

    Today I am certainly proud of where I grew up and, as for Smelterville, a little saddened that all of it is gone. I do hope that Ken Steinhoff publishes a book about it. I would love to hear from people I knew then, and would also like to have any faulty memories corrected if need be. End of novel. Carole Avery Adams

    • darlajune says:

      Carole,
      Thanks so much for your comment. Although we lived in the area at differing times, I also had Mrs. Sewings for 5th grade and I remember Mr Clippard from somewhere, not sure where. When I attended May Greene, Mrs Goehrke was supposed to be my 6th grade teacher but because of an illness I was unable to attend school that year. I had a teacher who came to my home instead. Her name was Mrs. Slinkard and she was such a wonderful person. I looked forward to her visits.

      I, too, am no longer ashamed of where I lived as a child. In fact, I think it was a wonderful place to live. Just because a house looks beautiful on the outside doesn’t mean that there is happiness on the inside.

      Again, thank you for your comments. Maybe some of the people you named will see your comments and get in touch. I hope so. In fact, if you will give me your permission, I will publish your comments as an article so that more people may see it. Just let me know if you approve. My email address is darlayow@gmail.com

  7. Charlotte Blattner Ellington says:

    Darla,
    Love your blog. Makes me wish I had been your neighbor. Life was good at the corner of Missouri and Dunklin where I lived though and I cherish the memories.
    I’m so glad you are doing this blog.
    Charlotte Blattner Ellington

    • darlajune says:

      Thank you for your kind comment, Charlotte. I have not been writing lately but hope to get back to it soon. There are so many untold stories of life on the South side of Cape. I have heard from so many people who lived there and who have such fond memories (and some not so fond). Hopefully, there will be more stories from guest writers in the future. Again, thanks for your encouragement, Charlotte.

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