Tuesday, August 25, 2009


No school buses in the city for us.  We walked to school.  My school was all Black, with a few exceptions.  The term that is now used is de facto segregation, that is in practice, not necessarily by law.  Chicago was called the most segregated city in the country and we went to school in our neighborhood, which was a Black neighborhood.  In the South, schools were segregated by law and public Black schools were very underfunded and underequipped.

Since many African Americans were migrating from the South our schools were crowded.  Unfortunately and wrongly, school officials thought that students from the South were not prepared for schools in the North and most of them were put back several grades.  It was not unusual to find a 16 year-old student in an eighth grade class.  This was another type of prejudice.
We had over 40 students in each class and 48 desks and seats were fixed to the floor.  Notice how each student is seated with hands folded.  You were expected to sit like this whenever you were not working on something.  We had an inkwell in each desk where we dipped our ink pens.  Most of the time we wrote with pencils.  Good students, and the students teachers wanted to keep an eye on were seated in the front.

We didn't dare talk back to a teacher because discipline problems were handled differently.  We were whipped in school or at least we were smacked on the hand.  If we were disciplined in the schools, our parents didn't want to sue the school, they brought the teacher a cake and thanks.

Rote learning was the rule: a focus on memorization and repetition.  Every morning, after The Pledge to the Flag, we would repeat (in rhythm) our multiplication tables in unison.   We didn't have to understand it, as students do today, we just repeated:  6X6 is 36,  8X3 is 24, etc.  It worked.  Have you ever been to McDonald's and the cash register was broken?  You have to tell them how much you owe them and how much change to give you because without a calculator or computer they don't know what to do.  Whatever you tell them they believe.

Spelling tests every Friday... naming the Great Lakes...listing the continents...knowing the capital of each state(48 states then)...diagramming a sentence...singing the Negro National Anthem at assemblies, Lift Every Voice and Sing...memorizing poems and still knowing them today,  Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary...knowing the Latin Names of plants, this and more.  We read, read, read.  Book reports were due every week.  We didn't buy many books but we all had library cards and we used them.

We were very patriotic. We learned a lot about World War II and the places where our soldiers were fighting.  We recycled at school and, even though we didn't have much money, we bought savings bond stamps.  Whens we completed a book with ten cents stamps, we received a $25.00 savings bond. Air raid drills were common.

During recess we played ball games and had swings, slides and a pole with a rope hanging off of it for kids to swing around. We also played hopscotch, jump rope, or marbles.

We wore gym uniforms:  ugly green short jumpsuits and you had better polish your white gym shoes, even though girls only played half-court basketball.

Graduation from 8th grade was a big event because many students didn't finish high school.  Notice the graduation ribbon.  We received those about a month before graduation and you wore it everywhere you went.  Everyone needed to know that you were graduating to high school.  There was a party and flowers celebrating this achievement.



  2. Absolutely beautiful Miss Chris. My parents graduated from Phillips. I loved this!