The road to change and school integration at former Bassfield High School
PINE BELT, Miss. (WDAM) -A different experience, is how Herd Graves described school integration within his town of Bassfield in 1970. The road to desegregating schools sparked mixed emotions between Blacks and Whites more than 50 years ago.
“It was the end of my junior year, coming into my senior year is when we integrated,” said Graves.
Graves is one of about 72 graduates of the first integrated class at former Bassfield High School in 1971, that is now Jefferson Davis County High School. Graves said moving from Carver High School to Bassfield High was the beginning of change for his town. But it was a change many weren’t prepared for.
“To be honest, for me it was a change because as I said we were used to all Black and everything,” Graves said. “Then when we got here, you got the feeling they didn’t want us up here, and we were out of place, then you also had the feeling we didn’t want to be here.”
During this time, Graves and other classmates said it was a lot of tension between their peers and teachers, going on to say fights had even broken out.
“Even though you might not want to admit it but it showed up, and I’ll go as far as to say it even showed up in some teachers and classrooms how they will almost treat you different,” Graves said. “They would call on the white person instead of calling on you. So it was a mixed year, and I guess because that was beginning of it.”
School integration across the country began with higher education. It took multiple cases: Murray v. Maryland 1936; Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada 1938; Sweat v. Painter 1950; McLaurin v. Oklahoma Board of Regents of Higher Education 1950. All, before reaching the peak with public schools, through Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.
“After we got here, stuff they was telling us to our ears was new to us,” said Diane Reese-Govan. “Like writing papers, preparing to write… you know.”
Walking the halls, Reese-Govan said it was a different feeling and she felt the same way inside the classrooms with the more rigorous curriculum. Govan then dropped out of high school for a year and was no longer with the class of 1971. That following year Govan returned and realized the new curriculum was only preparing her for future success.
“When you got to the 11th and 12th grade, Ms. Allen she was going to make sure that you knew how to write a paper,” Govan said. “Everything you needed to prepare yourself for college. By us being laid back at Carver, we thought she was the meanest person in the world but she was equipping you to further your education.”
Although Blacks and Whites were together as a senior class in ‘71 at Bassfield High, both Govan and Graves agreed some things were still separate.
“Proms were separate,” Govan said. “Homecoming queen, it was a White queen and a Black queen. You know to me, I thought that was kind of silly because after all we had come together so it should’ve been just one.”
Although it took some longer than others to cope with the change, Graves said looking back we’ve come a long way.
“It gave me a broader perspective on what was required of me in some instances compared to if it had not happened,” said Graves.
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