When I arrived here in 1965, I became a part of a community that was thriving and loving themselves, I thought. Many were laughing to keep from crying. Everything was not on the surface; much was buried down underneath.

Due to the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954, there were rumblings of things, but being new I was not a tried and true member with whom little secrets could be shared. The separate but equal doctrine had shown itself to truly be separate but unequal.

There were many who knew the rumblings were about closing Main High School and some of the other all-Black schools and having those children attend one or all of the white schools in the city or county. Many did not want that and in the dark of the night secret meetings were held in an attempt to come up with alternative solutions.

Closing Main High did not have to be the answer. Closing Black schools and sending the Black children to formerly all-white schools did not have to be the answer. It was all about finance. The more time passes and the more things change, the more things stay the same.

The Black schools were like siblings who were forced to wear hand-me-downs. The system could not afford to give equal funding to all schools so the Black schools would get the used books, used test tubes, used desks and all things used. Those Black schools might have been given used food for lunch but because our cafeteria workers were such excellent cooks, we never knew the difference.

During my three years of teaching at Main Colored High School, I can only remember giving out one set of new books to my Enriched 9th grade class. That was because I was teaching next door to a white teacher who knew that something was wrong but could not put her finger on it. She joined the Main High Colored faculty. Her name was Margaret Whitworth, Ph.D.

Mrs. Whitworth chaired the English Department for a year. Some of the students and a few teachers saw her as suspect. By some she was regarded as someone placed at Main to spy on the school officials there. It was only later that many people saw her as who she was. She was an excellent teacher with a loving and caring spirit.

She was part time at Main and was allowed to meet with other English teachers from East Rome and West Rome high schools. She saw things from two different perspectives and was just not going to close her eyes to what was actually going on. She was fighting a system that had become hardened with injustice and the unfair treatment of Black educators in the Rome community that was widely accepted.

Not only was that treatment accepted by the white community leaders, but many Black leaders were accepting the hand-me-downs as the best they could get from a system that was stacked up against Black educators. I am not sure if some of the Black leaders were tired of fighting or were willing to settle for the status quo.

When I arrived here the Jim Crow good ole boy mentality was doing its due. Many Blacks fell for that “You are different. You are not like the other Blacks. We like the way you are. You do not sass white people. You know how to look down when we look at you. You know how to say ‘Yes, Sir’ and ‘No, Sir.’ You believe what we believe.”

After Margaret Whitworth retired from teaching, she and her husband continued to work in the Rome community, taking every opportunity to improve the racial situation, especially in the educational system. Margaret would bring to her class all kinds of books that she knew our students could not check out of the Carnegie Library. Black children were not allowed to visit that library. A Presbyterian minister, Dr. Taylor, got permission from the elders of his church to set up a library in the basement of the church for Black children and their parents. The church is no longer there at the corner of West First and Smith Streets in North Rome.

Many years later, if a Black child needed to go to Carnegie for a special book, the student had to have a note from a teacher. There was no sitting and reading by the Black child in the library. He or she had to get the book and leave. The librarian kept a list of all the Black teachers so that the signature could be checked against the signature on the note.

By this time the older students had learned how to write their own notes, especially if they had left school in a rush and forgot to get the note from the teacher who had given the assignment. Most times, even the child’s parent was given a hard time getting the necessary book for the child. Rather than go through the hassle, many parents did not bother.

Are there still those who say that there is no systemic racism? If you were in this area at the time, that means that you were a supporter or even an enforcer of the rule in the system. Take retrospective look around and see if you are blindly or unconsciously supporting a system that you deny is still in existence.

Willie Mae Samuel is a playwright and a director in Rome. She is the founder and director of the African American Connection of the Performing Arts Inc. and a 2020 Heart of the Community Award of Honor recipient.

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