I attended kindergarten through seventh grades in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at a segregated (for Blacks only, Whites had their own schools at that time in the 1950’s) elementary (Arlington Elementary, one of about three all Black elementary schools in Baton Rouge at that time) and junior high school (McKinley Junior High was in our attendance area. There was about three other junior high schools for us in Baton Rouge). A big yellow school bus would pick up and drop us off on our street in a central location so we all would be in walking distance to our houses on West Grant Street. There were about ten streets in our segregated Black neighborhood, with a street to the west of the neighborhood named River Road, which ran alongside the Mississippi River with a levee (railroad tracks ran alongside the neighborhood to the east, isn’t that typical: railroad tracks separating the predominantly White neighborhoods from the Black neighborhood? Sounds like a scene out of a classic American movie!). The big yellow school bus picked up and dropped off children from kindergarten to sixth grades at certain locations on each of the ten streets every day, five days a week. I had several cousins who lived on at least three streets in this all Black neighborhood. The others lived across town to the east of us in all Black neighborhoods. When we graduated from Arlington Elementary School after sixth grade to seventh grade, one of my favorite first cousins and I had to walk about five miles to and from McKinley Junior High School, rain or shine! My mother’s older brother, this first cousin’s father, always reminded us that “it built character” for us to walk five miles each way in the rain…he would drive pass us instead of giving us a ride because of this virtue of his! This uncle was an officer in the U.S. Army during World War II. Many of we nieces and nephews (my maternal grandparents had over twenty-five grandchildren at the time, that number has multiplied two-fold or more with great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren) confess that his high standards and strictness towards us as youngsters in the family influenced our personal lives in a positive way, with regards to our careers and relationship successes. He was indeed a great role model as a husband, father, uncle, son, brother, small business owner and community leader.
Having to walk to eighth grade when we moved to be with our mother and her new husband in Richmond, California (Roosevelt Junior High School, near downtown Richmond, now an administrative office of some sort for the school district), consequently, was no big thing for me…what was walking five blocks from home each way compared to walking five miles to junior high each way in Baton Rouge, rain or shine? Nothing!! Ninth grade to graduating twelfth grade I was able to take the city bus to and from school, no problem because the bus stop was only a couple of blocks from our house.
It was amazing to me that my Roosevelt Junior High School teachers, as well as the principal and vice-principal thought so highly of me…they always commented on how bright (our southern teachers use to pile on the homework and research projects, they didn’t play around–they demanded academic excellence and exemplary behavior…back then, teachers, not just the principal and vice-principal, had the right and duty (?) to swat a misbehaving student or a student who did not do his/her homework, corporal punishment as it was called was banned in schools across the U.S.A. about the late 1970’s…that’s another issue to explore at another time!), polite, friendly and well-mannered I was. My History teacher quite often allowed me to conduct various lessons and I was voted Homecoming Queen in eighth grade. Being the southern humble person I am, I wouldn’t say I was popular…what is popular? All I can say is I had a nice group of female and male friends I hung out with in junior high in Richmond. It was nice, but no substitute for hanging out with cousins in Baton Rouge. It did ease the homesickness to a small degree. I am grateful that, back then, in particular, Richmond was a family-oriented town, like I was use to. I still have several guys and gals I keep in touch with from junior high and high school in Richmond, although some are deceased at this juncture. I am proud to say most of us had successful careers , businesses, or professions, mainly because of the role models and mentors we had with family members, friends, neighbors, and community leaders in mostly Richmond and Oakland. Our two Community Centers in Richmond were wonderful resources for us kids growing up there because we had after-school classes in sports, African and Modern Dance, arts and crafts, and so forth. We even had delightfully enjoyable week- long camping trips during the summer!
It wasn’t all a bed of roses growing up for many of us in Richmond because of divorces and some fathers drank too much on the weekends, or gambled at the Albany Race Track or at poker, far too much to our mothers’ distress, which was also the case in my mother’s second marriage, as well true for many of my friends. The husbands/fathers in our homes still maintained decent jobs to pay the mortgage, keep food on the table for their families, clothes on their children backs, and so forth. In spite of the dysfunction in our households, we, as children, worked hard in high school to graduate into a profession of our choosing. I suppose we were Blessed with resilience…I even was a Song Leader ( we danced to catchy tunes at football and basketball games played by the school band, while the cheerleaders lead the attendees in cheering on our teams!), in the Drama Club and on the newspaper staff at Richmond Union High School in the late 1960’s. We had dedicated, smart, and inspiring teachers at Richmond High, like we had in elementary and junior high in Baton Rouge. I was quite fortunate in that regard also…