Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

When the editor of Ebony magazine spoke at...

When the editor of Ebony magazine spoke at MU’s Journalism Week in the 1950s, I was favorably impressed with his philosophies and the mission of his magazine. I said, “Mr. Johnson, may I write, ‘I’m glad my daughter’s teacher is a Negro?’*” He snapped right back, “I’ll pay well for that.”

My children looked over my shoulder as I began to write the article, and Walt asked, “What does N-E-G-R-O spell?” The next question was “Why are you glad Mrs. Coleman is a Negro?”

I gathered years of thoughts into one. “Some people think that because they have light skin, they are somehow ‘better’ than those who have colored skin. But being ‘better’ has nothing to do with height, weight, color of eyes or skin.” I started to add, “Beauty is as beauty does” but they had scooted off to play. The article was published in March 1959.

My parents used that “beauty-is-as-beauty-does” philosophy. They tried to set a good example and to evaluate other people by their performances, not their skin color. It’s easy to follow customs and traditions of family and community, but I think Mom and Dad tried to follow conscience more than custom.

My husband and I tried to improve on their 1930’s custom of dealing mostly one-to-one with individuals. Instead, we worked through church and school to make contributions that our consciences dictated.

As chairman of the Olivet Christian Church Board, Chub was responsible for inviting “all of the children in the neighborhood” to participate in Vacation Bible School. Eva Coleman, teacher at Grindstone Colored School, and seven black children participated that first summer. That started the fine relationship that still exists between Olivet and its neighbor, Sugar Grove Baptist Church.

Chub was a member of the R-II School Board when voters repeatedly turned down a bond issue. Under the leadership of the late Herald Barnes, the board wanted to combine five widely scattered one-room schools into a large, modern building. The school board and concerned parents kept working. Finally the bond issue passed by a narrow margin, and construction began soon after the Supreme Court decision ended segregation. No longer would one teacher be responsible for educating pupils from ages 6 to 14, all in one crowded room!

Five teachers and five sets of pupils, including Grindstone Colored, came together at what is now called New Haven, southeast of Columbia. Then all of the children in the district had “luxuries” such as indoor toilets, a gymnasium, electricity, hot lunches, separate teachers for various age groups -- and school buses.

Few schools were ready for this move; therefore, R-II School led the way in Boone County. Two women were particularly important in smoothing out the rough spots that were sure to arise. Lucy Douglas, principal, and Eva Coleman worked quietly behind the scenes to make this first integrated school in Boone County successful. Many parents volunteered too, that first year.

My way of helping was to lead playground games during the noon break. Both acceptance and conflict can occur on playgrounds, but leadership can minimize the problems and help strangers become friends while having fun.

In December, during practice for the Christmas play, a child asked the director, “Do you think it’s right for this father and mother to have both white and black children?” Everyone laughed in surprise because no one else had noticed. And it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter about two colors of angels and snowmen either.

Of real importance is the fact that in less than four months, the children had made friends without regard to racial barriers and that, in June, the R-II School District graduated Boone County’s first integrated eighth-graders.

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