Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Two Communities Into One
By Jeff Clark
Race riots may be coming to Weatherford.
That was the talk around town. Images of angry police dogs, fire hoses and bloodied protestors across the
Deep South paraded across sets in the early
1960s. Some feared a repeat performance here. Parker County
When Weatherford schools opened that first 1963 day of integration, all was quiet. The reasons are both simple, and complex.
Our mystery begins in church. Two years after the Civil War ended, blacks organized the Prince Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal Church on
Oak Street. This oldest “still in business”
church in Weatherford was named after the Rev. A. Bartlett “Bart” Prince, its
first elder (as is Prince Street,
near the first black public school). The church’s building went up in 1871, and
was modified in 1912.
CME” sign in front meant “Colored Methodist
Episcopal” until the 1960s, when it changed to . It’s believed to
be the second oldest Christian Methodist
Church CME church in
the nation. There’s no Texas Historical Marker here.
Within this pioneer church’s walls, black students received their first education, until the county built them a schoolhouse. Smythe’s 1877 “Historical Sketch of Parker County” lists thirty-seven county schools that year, each tied to a geographic “community”, save one: School No. 33 – The Weatherford Colored School. Seymour Simpkins taught thirty-nine “colored” students. Prince Memorial pillars Willis Pickard, Rev. Henry Johnson and Rev. Prince served as trustees.
” gets mentioned in the newspaper
off and on down through the years. In 1887, land just south of West Oak and
west of Prince was purchased for $200, its schoolhouse built in 1917. A brick
school house replaced that structure in 1927. Today that forgotten brick
schoolhouse stands proudly among the weeds. Colored School
September 8, 1933 Weatherford Democrat lists five ward
schools that year, plus the “ ”. Tillie Woods was
principal and Ella Varnel was the teacher. The “ Colored
taught Cub Young, who pitched against Satchell Paige in the Negro Baseball League.
Weatherford’s Negro League team played where Colored School
is now. Weatherford High School
Leonard Smith entered first grade at
in 1939, three years after it was renamed the .
The school’s two classrooms taught nine grades then. Mount Pleasant School
Most black students walked to
from four Weatherford neighborhoods – The Flat (First Monday Trade Day Grounds
area), The Hill ( West Oak Street
area), (near Akard & Sloan) and The
Neck (near Sand Town ). Cherry
Black and white kids played baseball together, had rock fights, and cut up like children still do. Raymond George and some of his white friends walked to school together in the late 1940s. When they reached the
the white boys went inside. Raymond kept walking. Stanley School
“That’s just the way it was,” he said.
Raymond remembers there being about fifty students, though that number swelled when migratory families came to town with the railroad or picking cotton. Raymond’s teachers (1946-1953) included Ella Varnell, Lucille Rucker and Mrs. Roddy.
“Lucille Rucker built the foundation beneath those black kids’ sense of respect,” Raymond said, “respect for others and for themselves.” Not only was she a good teacher, she was highly regarded by whites and blacks alike. Rucker made the boys play out back and the girls play out front during recess. “She taught us to treat the girls like ladies. Because of her, my generation of students stayed married, kept one job our whole lives, and successfully retired from those same jobs.” Still, when
closed, Mrs. Rucker was forced to do odd jobs to survive. “She wasn’t taken
care of,” he reflected sadly.
Wilson Hall was added to the northwest edge of the
Pleasant campus around 1944. Named after Superintendent
Leonard B. Wilson, it was a barracks-like building used for classes and
assemblies, with a stage on its west side.
Each large classroom had wood floors and large windows along two walls. One can see daylight looking up through fourteen foot ceilings to the sky. “These classrooms were filled with little desks,” Charlie told me. “There were kids everywhere.”
“Every morning all the kids would walk out here, to the flag pole,” he said. “Say their Pledge of Allegiance and sing a patriotic song.” The flag pole base remains. He showed me where the swings were, the slide, the concrete front porch to Wilson Hall. “We had more fun than you can shake a stick at.”
The schoolhouse road entered from
rising up the hill then circling the school. The old schoolhouse sits on
private property, contiguous to
on its west. Love
This was a time of separate white and black drinking fountains in our city. Blacks couldn’t enter white restaurants (unless they worked there) or attend most theaters. Blacks could buy Texas Theater tickets, as long as they sat in the balcony. Raymond remembers walking through the Texas Café to the kitchen out back as a little boy, wanting to spin the bar stools around. He couldn’t since the place was whites only.
Weatherford had black churches, a black tabernacle, and a two-story black Masonic Lodge on
Fort Worth Highway, east
of the courthouse. There were few black businesses.
If black students aspired to go to high school, they were on their own. Raymond and Leonard went to
I. M. Terrell High School. Most of these kids didn’t have bikes, much less cars
to make the thirty-one mile journey each way.
Raymond’s dad John Lorenzo “J. L.” George stepped up between 1953 – 1963. He left his upholstery shop twice a day to drive black students to Cowtown in his Ford station wagon at his own expense. Local businessmen later chipped in to buy gas. When J. L’s car got too crowded, a bus was finally supplied. J. L. spent five hours a day toting school kids, losing this time at his store.
Mitchell Rucker was another pillar of the black community here, born in 1899. “He was respected by the white community,” Raymond told me, “but held at a distance.” In the white community, Rucker was employed at the M & F Bank as a janitor. In the black community, he was superintendent at Prince Memorial for over fifty years, taught classes to Senior Citizens for the WPA in 1944, taught soldiers at
and was a board member at Camp Wolters in Texas
College Tyler for forty years.
Rucker was one of the main conduits between Weatherford’s white and black
“Pappa Ike” Simmons was another black leader. He attended school at Prince Memorial, before
was built. “Pappa Ike was more of a politician – he knew everybody, running
that mouth 100 miles an hour,” Charlie told me. Ike and brother “Uncle Charlie
Simmons” each raised families off shining shoes at the Palace or Texas theaters and at
Many prominent white families had black nannies, butlers, and groundskeepers. There was a parallel but unseen black society here, one from which trusted black men like Rucker, Pappa Ike and J. L. George could communicate informally with the white establishment.
Equally important, several white leaders reached out to the black community – Jack Borden, Borden Seaberry, the Cotton Family, and James and Dorothy Doss, among a few others. Respected whites and blacks interacted, albeit at a distance. Though not treated equally by any means, attacking one group would’ve meant attacking their own.
Mary Kemp remembers when the integration meetings took place in the third floor study hall of the old
. “It was a
great time for all, very peaceful. I remember thinking, ‘This is a great
historical time.” Weatherford
Charlie Simmons was one of the first black students at
in 1963. He did well, as hundreds of other black students had before, riding atop
the shoulders of Weatherford High School Mount Pleasant’s
teachers and black leaders. “It was a simple transition,” he said. “Nothing
This would be another “happily ever after” Weatherford story, save one omission. Unlike so much of this great town’s heritage, the
hasn’t been added to the roll call of hallowed historic touchstone sites in our
town. Mount Pleasant School
Raymond George tried to ignite a movement to get
Pleasant a historical marker some years back, maybe
have the site turned into a museum or park. The
site and several surrounding acres can be accessed from the city’s Mount Pleasant School and four city streets.
The old school’s roof stopped turning back the rain many years ago. This
historic place is not long for the world. Love Street
marks a chapter in Weatherford’s
history where two communities became one. Unlike much of the South, this town
pulled it off peacefully and with respect. As I put my camera back in its case,
I noticed graffiti on the wall of Miss Rucker’s last classroom: Mount Pleasant School
“Hold on to the ones you love,
cuz you never know when you’ll lose them.”