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:
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