Meridian High School

Meridian High School photo courtesy of Mark Levy

On our first full day visiting Meridian this October, Mark Levy and I accompanied Roscoe Jones to visit classes at Meridian High School.

One of the highlights of our visit was seeing the commemorative mural surrounding the entrance to the school library honoring the five young women who desegregated Meridian High School in 1965:    Sadie Clark, Sandra Falconer, Faye Inge, Patricia Stennis, and Larrece Hopkins.   I recognized their names and faces: all five young women had attended the Meridian Freedom School in the summer of 1964.

Elsewhere in Mississippi in 1965 and the years following there were hateful crowds blocking school  entrances to blacks students; there were court battles and demonstrations.  In Meridian, from the outside, desegregation appeared to proceed quietly.  The mural depicts the pioneers as serene, against a heaven-like backdrop. However, from the perspective of the black students who were on the front lines in those first couple of years, daily school life was constantly stressful.  In 1966, I  returned to Meridian with the Southern Courier, and wrote about the experiences of some of the pioneers at Meridian High School during the second year of desegregation.

Gwen Clark, was the younger sister of Sadie.  She along with several other black students, including some boys, came over to Meridian High School in September 1966.  I knew Gwen from the Freedom School; she described her experiences in the first week of class in 1966, this way:

On Thursday, I went to the library to work on an assignment.  When I began, one of the white boys wrote, “‘White Power — KKK’ on a piece of paper and put it on my table.  I let it sit on the table until I’d finished my lesson.  When I finished, I turned and laughed at him.  He got so mad, he began to call me “nigger’ and other things.

When the bell rang for us to change class, I picked up the piece of paper on the table and threw it on the floor and stomped on it. The boy said ‘You damn nigger’ and walked out. I left, leaving the paper on the floor. 

The same day I went to the cafeteria and the white kids were calling me and the other Negroes ‘nigger.’ So I got sick of it and turned around and told the white boy who was talking, ‘Shut up, nigger, you’ talking about yourself,’ because ‘nigger’ means anyone who is nasty.

After finishing my lunch, I was going into the main building when one of the white boys spat on me.  I spat back on him, and that evening I told the principal about it. 

The next day Randolph Hopkins, one of the Negro boys that goes out to the school, was in a fight with one of the white boys.  Randolph was sent home for three days, and the white boy, who started the fight, was sent home for five days.”

Rereading this today, I am struck by the difference in attitude between the Meridian students who had attended Freedom School and been part of Freedom Summer when compared by the passive victimization described by Elizabeth Eckford in Little Rock (see Blogppost Elizabeth and Hazel).

A few weeks later, the harassment continued, and the black students met on a Sunday afternoon with Roscoe Jones, who himself was experiencing harassment as one of the first black students at Meridian Junior College that fall. I wrote,

The students began to tell what had happened to them.  A white boy had thrown Coca-Cola on a Negro student at the school.  One of the white students had ‘white power’ written on his shirt.  Several white boys had eggs, and were bragging about what they were going to do to the ‘niggers.’ A white boy had pulled a knife out on a Negro girl, saying ‘This is meant for you.’ Also, some white boys had burned some books that they thought were Negro kids’ books (they were wrong.)

One student at the meeting said the high school principal, Charles Armstrong, always wants the black students  to tell him  the name of the white kids who do things.  ‘But,’ said one of the students, ‘Armstrong must know it is impossible to learn all those white kids’ names.’

One girl added, ‘He always wants you to go and get the guy who did this, when he knows good and well that you cannot go and get a 180-pound white boy and bring him to him.’

I quote Roscoe Jones as telling the high school students:

You are out at that school and you must stay , no matter what happens.

Stay they did,  and in my next blogpost, I will tell you what I saw at Meridian High School in 2011.

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Comments

  • Kristin Glaser  On December 12, 2011 at 10:56 pm

    I like getting these bites of story, to be continued. Those girls must have had to be brave, whether they wanted to or not. Kristin

  • Dana Omobude  On February 8, 2014 at 3:07 am

    Sadie Clark is my Aunt. I am so proud of what she did. If it had not been for her and the rest I would not graduated from Meridian High School.

  • Michael F McDonald  On June 25, 2014 at 3:32 am

    Mr. Roscoe Jones: Are you the same Roscoe Jones that attended Yankton College in the late 1960’s? If you are, please contact me at oisins_remnant@yahoo.com — one of the American History students you taught at Yankton High School when you practice taught with Fred Mehrman — saw you on South Dakota Public Television this evening in PBS show called “Freedom Summer”.

    • freedomsongs11  On June 25, 2014 at 12:20 pm

      Yes, This is the same Roscoe Jones. He lives here in Meridian, MS. I will try to get your message to him, Michael.

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