Condition at area schools during segregation 'shameful'
STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS
HOBBS — Today marks the 50th anniversary of the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that declared segregation unconstitutional and ended decades of separate schooling for whites and blacks.
The legacy of Brown vs. Board of Education endures in New Mexico. In February, Clovis Community College adopted a resolution recognizing the decision in light of the anniversary.
“Let us make a pledge to be a model entity for all that is right,” LaTanya Lowery, Director for Multicultural Affairs at the college, told the school’s trustees.
New Mexico’s segregation history dates back to the 1920s when several communities established segregated schools. Eventually, Clovis, Tucumcari, Hobbs, Las Cruces, Roswell, Artesia, Carlsbad, Vado and Alamogordo would have segregated schools.
State law passed in 1923 and amended in 1925 allowed municipal or county boards of education to establish segregated schools when it was “for the best advantage and interest of the school.” It stipulated that classrooms and instruction for black and white students had to be equivalent.
But a 1949 report by a three-member team from Peabody College in Nashville showed that was not the reality, describing the state’s segregated schools as “forgotten and substandard” and largely in a “shameful condition.”
Here in Clovis, five teachers taught 154 students at Lincoln-Jackson School. There was no biology equipment, and the school subscribed to no magazines or periodicals for its spare library.
In Roswell, four teachers working in shifts at Carver School taught 110 students in twelve grades. They borrowed lab equipment from Roswell High School, and water for the chemistry lab came from a hose connected to an outdoor spigot and run through a window.
Even so, some fought integration in New Mexico.
Less than a week after the Supreme Court’s decision, the Hobbs school board moved to integrate its two junior highs and lone high school by the following fall. Within two months of the school board’s decision, a local group led by the Rev. Bill Carter of Rock Chapel Baptist Church launched an anti-integration campaign.
Carter tried and failed to get a state District Court order halting desegregation of Hobbs’ schools and said the town would “explode into riots” if integration went forward.
When students entered integrated classes in late August of 1954, school officials reported no major incidents and few absences, despite Carter’s calls for a student boycott.
“There was a small group of people in this town who were opposed to (integration), but the majority, I think they just rolled with it,” said J.W. Brewer, a 65-year-old Hobbs teacher who was in the first group of black students to attend the integrated high school. “I think these people in this town, they are law-abiders. When the law was segregated, they abided by it. When it wasn’t, they stopped.”
By 1954, only Clovis and Hobbs still had fully segregated schools.
In Carlsbad, segregation had ended in 1951 after the principal of Carver School, Emmitt M. Smith, asked whether the school’s lone graduating senior that year could participate in commencement ceremonies with white students at Carlsbad High School.
“There were no race riots, there was no picketing,” said Carlsbad resident Minner Crockett, president of the Eddy County branch of the NAACP. “We didn’t go to school with each other one year, and the next year there was a smooth transition.”
Fifty years later, the impact of Brown vs. Board of Education has not been forgotten in New Mexico. For Annie Mae Wimbish, Booker T. Washington Elementary in Hobbs is more than a school — it’s a living piece of history.
There segregation is not solely a topic relegated to textbooks. It’s part of the legacy of a school where, at one time, only black students like Wimbish’s older brother went to learn.
“Booker T. means a lot to us. You can’t take history away from us,” said Wimbish, who’s worked for 24 years as a custodian at the school. “This is where our ancestors went to school. ... It’s hard to explain how much it means to me.”
Before 1954, Booker T. Washington was for black students only, grades 1 through 12.
Now, Booker T. Washington’s student body is now about one-quarter percent black, two-thirds Hispanic, and the rest Anglo.