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
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
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.