February is Black History month. The Tuskegee Airmen. George Washington Carver. Jesse Owens. Rosa Parks. Mary McLeod Bethune. Iconic figures in the African-American community. However, I’d like to give some attention to the contributions of African-Americans to Rome, Georgia.
Mrs. Esther Vaughn is one of the native Romans with whom I recently spoke in preparation for today’s column.
A native of Rome, Mrs. Vaughn grew up on Gibbons Street in North Rome. She began attending Main Elementary School in the 1st grade. In 1965, she graduated in the 12th grade from Main High School. Although Shorter University (then College), and Berry College were integrated by then, she wanted to leave Rome to attend college.
Mrs. Vaughn said, “…those of us who left Rome for college, all went to historically black colleges and universities.” She attended Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University) and went on to graduate. Later, she attended Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University) where she earned a master’s degree in education. She continued her education at Jacksonville State University where she completed an Ed. S. degree in administration and supervision.
We all know you cannot take Rome out of the young lady. So… she came back to Rome and began teaching at Main in 1969.
The next year, African-American teachers were being assigned to integrated schools. Mrs. Vaughn was assigned to Northside Elementary and she taught there for one year. The next year, she would have gone to the brand new North Heights Elementary. However, Northside became Woodlawn School for special needs students, and she taught at Woodlawn.
I asked Mrs. Vaughn if she remembered anything that inspired her when she was growing up. Her response was, “There is a significant difference in children and teenagers today than in the 50s and 60s. It is very commonplace that our young people are given some type of reward for completing work, and making honor roll, etc. I realize we are in the 21st century and things have changed. However, our expectations for the young person begins in the home and carry over into the school with the hope that youth will be successful. During my days as a young person, there were expectations established early in life. You completed your work correctly, both in school and at home. You were not rewarded materially. Your reward was to get a smile or a pat on the back from your family. This showed that they were pleased with your being successful in school. Attending college, trade school or obtaining a good job in one of the local factories showed that the hard work had paid off.”
Mrs. Vaughn retired in 2001 after a 31 year career in education. She began her formal education at Main. She returned to Rome when she completed college and began her teaching career, very fittingly, at Main Elementary School in 1969. She came full circle to end her career as principal at Main Elementary School.
I went to East Rome High School where I took two years of Spanish from the late Charlie Morrison. He had a sweet gentle spirit, was a delightful teacher and I liked him a lot.
I took home economics from the late Mrs. Morrell Darko. She wrote a fascinating book, “Between the Rivers.” Mama bought a copy for me. It was the history of Rome’s African-American community, I started reading it and I couldn’t put it down.
Mrs. Willie Mae Samuel was my English teacher when I was in the ninth grade. We read “A Tale of Two Cities.” She said, “What did we learn from reading that great book? That there is good in the worst of us… and some bad in the best of us.” Mrs. Samuel loved us and taught us how to be ladies and gentlemen.
My sincerest thanks to Mrs. Vaughn and Mrs. Samuel, for your years of service to us in education. Thank you also for your continued community involvement. I fondly remember the late Mr. Morrison and the late Mrs. Darko for their years of service as well. I mentioned having asked Mrs. Vaughn what inspired her. Mrs. Vaughn, Ms. Samuel, the late Mr. Morrison and the late Mrs. Darko are all an inspiration to me.
The Black History Month series will continue next week with, “The Integration of Rome City Schools.” Native Roman Pam Walker is a paralegal, and welcomes your email to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.