Thursday, January 29, 2015

Yearbooks tell a story of Segregation



School yearbooks are not usually scenes of political actions or protest, but the JCHS Pow Wow was an exception. Though the controversy took place before 1950, it shows the ways in which racial equality was always an important issue in the Geary County School system.
While Junction City did not have segregated schools in the 1900s, there was still racial inequality when it came to how students were treated. The story behind the Pow Wow integration reveals how unjust practices were changed. The process was slow because people accepted the status quo. This story is a case study of how injustices were ended when the will was there.
The story begins with Lois Grimes, Class of 1924. Her parents moved here in 1912 so that Lois and her sister, Francis, could attend racially integrated schools. In the class of 1924, Lois Grimes was only black student among the 68 graduates. Although Lois' portrait appeared in the middle of her classmates, she recalls that she had to walk at the end of the line at the commencement ceremony.
By 1930, the Pow Wow showed the ethnic diversity in Junction City High School. The 9th Cavalry returned from the Philippines a few years before, bringing Filipino and half-Filipino families with them. Among the pictures on the first page of the senior section were those of Lawrence Swisher, who was black, and Clara Cervera, who was Filipina. The pictures weren't alphabetized, African-American, European-American, and Filipino students were mixed together.
In 1931 the arrangement changed drastically. They were alphabetized except for the three black students, who appeared at the end of the senior pages. Although there is nothing written to explain this development, there is a story that the policy was started by a member of the board of education who was unhappy that his daughter's picture appeared between Swisher and Cervera. This cannot be confirmed, but there was girl on that page with the same last name as a member of the board.
This is from the 1931 Pow Wow. The white seniors at the end of the alphabet, Marvin York and Helen Zumbrumm are followed by the three black seniors, Annie Jackson, Marguerite Taylor, and Merrill Taylor in the 1931 JCHS Pow Wow.
For the rest of the 1930s, Pow Wows showed only one black student in each class. All were women and, with one exception, all appeared at the end of the class list. The exception was the class of 1935, where the lone black woman was listed alphabetically. There is no surviving documentation as to why it changed back to the segregated pattern in 1937.
In the Class of 1943 the black students were activists. They were mostly children of Ninth Cavalrymen who were going overseas. They felt both pride and solidarity. Seven were on the football team and one of these, Arthur Fletcher, was on the Kansas All-State team. While they contributed strongly to Junction City’s winning football season, black students were not permitted to participate in all extracurricular activities. They were not selected for the Pow Wow staff, for example.
Given this situation, all 13 black members of the Class of 1943 determined to boycott the Pow Wow. They agreed not to submit their class pictures to the senior section. A casual observer looking at the Pow Wow would think there were no black students in the class, though some appeared in group pictures for sports teams.
From 1944 to 1947 there were various devices to make it appear that the black students were not segregated. For instance, the pages were laid out with pictures in triads. The black students weren't at the end, they were clustered together but never in a triad with white students. The 1948 Pow Wow marked a return to simple alphabetization, with all students appearing in order, regardless of race.
Interviews with two African-American members of the 1948 Pow Wow staff provide insights into the changes that had taken place between 1943 and 1948. Patricia Barksdale Heron recalled that things began to open during her senior year. It was her impression that some of the teachers got together and quietly decided to give all students an even chance. This meant that three black students interested in the Pow Wow were named to the staff, including Heron.
According to Starkey Caver, another black student on the Pow Wow staff, the change did not take place without a struggle. Starkey’s idea of effective action was quite different from that of the Class of 1943. He believed that the key to change was to enlist the support of his white classmates. His recollection was that black and white students on the Pow Wow staff were united in the desire to end the unequal treatment of the past. Though they met some resistance from their adviser and the school administration, the students continued to insist on justice.
            Thenceforth the discriminatory practices in the Pow Wow and at commencement were ended. A few weeks after graduation on July 26, 1948, President Harry S Truman signed order No, 9981 establishing racial integration in the armed forces. Junction City and Fort Riley were on a continuing path to ever greater diversity and complexity.