When segregation and integration were everyday words, Chub served on the
school board of Boone County’s reorganized district called R-2. We accepted
Eva Coleman’s invitation to attend her pupils’ Christmas program at Grindstone
Colored School. The room was crowded and quiet. Our Nancy was in first grade
at Turner, another school in the same district, and Walt was a kindergartner
at MU Laboratory School in town.
What would our children say about brown angels, Santas, wise men and several
brown snowmen? They admired the handmade decorations on the windows and walls
without comment. Mrs. Coleman came to greet us while her pupils stowed their
books and papers inside their desks. She explained that the program that
followed was entirely the work of the children.
All eight grades had a part in it. Costumes appeared out of paper sacks, and
the room was suddenly a stage with a live nativity scene. Angels sang on high;
cattle and sheep made their usual noises. A lighted nativity creche sat in a
cardboard-box stable. The characters were made of rolled-up newspapers,
dressed and painted. Several soloists took turns kneeling before the creche,
singing in high soprano voices as the other children chanted the familiar
carols. I glanced at the picture of Jesus, just above the wind-up clock where
Mrs. Coleman and every child could see it, many times every day. As the pupils
changed robes and shepherd’s crooks to garb for the jingle-bells kind of
Christmas, Nancy said to me, “Mom, did you notice that every one of Mrs.
Coleman’s pupils has black hair?” Yes, Nancy, I noticed.
And I noticed that about 20 lunch boxes and buckets had been carried many
miles to Grindstone, the only school for black children in the district. The
room was heated by a coal stove, toilets were “a bath at the end of the
path” and there was no electricity. Few parents had come to the program
because most were at work and there wasn’t space for them anyway.
In the day-to-day operation of a school with children ages 6 through 14, some
wonderful things happened. Pupils learned to be quiet while others were
reciting, to respect the property of others, to cooperate in a group and to
help others. Friendships were lasting ones in those days, and the
teacher-pupil relationship was a personal thing of great respect. It’s no
wonder that there was a tone of sadness as five one-room schools were
dismantled. The furniture and equipment were moved to the spacious new
building because of the shortage of funds.
What a conglomeration -- many different kinds of desks in every room. Men,
women and children carrying boxes and bags. But order finally came out of the
chaos and the R-2 school opened with Nancy in third grade and Walt in first.
In Mrs. Coleman’s fourth-grade room there was one reminder of our past: The
picture of Jesus, that same one, now hung over a new electric clock -- given
by mothers of Grindstone’s pupils.