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After all, I assumed. parroting most of the writers of the time, black teachers came out of these sub-standard conditions, and, through no fault of their own, perpetuated the system. I was right on all counts, save one. For until that moment I had not met Magnolia Price. And she was not the exception who proved the rule. Rather, she was one of many black teachers I came to know later who were exceptional in their teaching abilities, intelligence, wisdom, compassion, and skills honed in that very hard school of adversity. Skills that many white teachers, especially in small Southern towns, simply had never had to develop. Neither was I prepared that day for the depth of the tragedy of her children’s lives. It was true, of course, that they were poor; that they sat at desks carved with initials made years ago by white students long since grown, on chairs too short or too tall; that their books were old, torn and totally irrelevant, in any event, to their lives; that none of them had money for paper, glue, scissors, crayons or pencils. \(I found out later that Magnolia bought their supplies herself out of her While the children carried all of the above burdens, their real learning problems grew out of conditions much more basic and inexcusable. They were simply tired and hungry and had been for most of their very young lives. Magnolia Price tried to meet those needs while she also tried to teach them to read and write and do simple arithmetic. She took them home with her and fed them, often bathed them, bought their lunches, combed their hair, washed their small hands and faces, went after them those mornings they didn’t show, tried to keep them awake during most of the day and she prayed a lot. It was a losing, uphill battle; they each one had to go home in the evenings. Home was anything from a drafty, damp, crowded shot-gun house jammed up against rows of the same to the poolhalls and alleys of their neighborhood. They lived with mothers who worked in other women’s homes till dark for $3 a day; whose fathers were often out of work, angry, drunk, or even worse, absent; whose older siblings were street-wise long before their time and taught the younger ones their skills. Magnolia’s children often knew the pimps and prostitutes, the gamblers and hustlers, better than their own mothers and fathers. The children knew nothing of the world outside the boundaries of their neighborhood. There were no field trips to the library, the local newspaper, the museum, a bakery, or a park filled with flowers unless Magnolia, or other teachers like her, were willing and able to pay for the trips themselves. “Chemical Row,” the linear city of oil refineries and chemical plants just outside the town, and which gave the town its life, was as foreign to Magnolia’s children as Alice’s Wonderland. No one had ever read them a book. Their homes had no books, no radios, no TV’s, no toys. They were the children who even fell through the cracks at Christmas-time when the ladies came with their ritual baskets for “the poor. These children were the poorest of the poor, the hungriest of the hungry, the coldest of the cold, the sickest of the sick, and, for their brothers and sisters who had reached adulthood, the angriest of the angry in the pivotal year of 1964. THERE WERE NO miracles for Magnolia’s children that year except Magnolia. She managed, through an enormous amount of creative teaching, determination and love, to help the children hang on and learn enough to legitimately be promoted to the second grade. \(The other miracles would come later: in a society’s commitment born out of the War on Poverty which would, we believed then, save the children of her into the evening of that day. Integration of the public schools was not nearly enough, I quickly learned. She talked of the need for early educational programs, as early as three-years-old for some youngsters, Magnolia believed; of the need for remedial programs that did more than just hold children over from grade to grade; of the need for day-care centers open before and after school; of the need for nutritional programs, free breakfasts and lunches; of the need for pre-natal care for mothers of children not yet born \(she didn’t have to wait for the results of sociological studies to know that poorly nourished mothers produced She knew that “freedom of choice” meant one-way integration; no white child would transfer into an all-black school. \(That’s why freedom of choice failed, of course, and busing took its children were going to make it within the system, that the whole educational system would have to be restructured; indeed, the whole social system would have to be restructured. We did not dare hope that day that Lyndon Johnson would attempt to do just that. Or that the country would so quickly accept such changes. Head-Start, Medicaid, the free lunch and breakfast program, remedial reading and math programs, day-care centers open from 6 to 6, adult literacy programs, food stamps \(which replaced the degrading and nutritionally-poor poor mothers, affirmative action, student grants and loans, and many, many others would soon become a part of the fabric of our communities. Before we left Orange, three years after my first meeting with Magnolia, many of those programs would be in place. \(In fact, we left to work and teach in a Job Corps center But Magnolia and I, and other black and white women, began on our own that year in a very limited way. We wrote letters and spoke wherever we could about the conditions in the schools and the needs of the children; we laid the groundwork for the integration of the PTAs, the school-sponsored Cub-Scout and Bluebird programs; we gathered up clothes and food; took children to the doctor; hustled money for utility bills; had meetings and visited each other’s homes in broad daylight. We took black children to the public library’s read-aloud series and to the summer programs in the city parks. No black children had ever been seen at either of those two public programs. Black mothers had been turned away. White mothers with black ,children, along with their own in tow, were stared at, but not turned away. It was a time of beautiful camaraderie and gentle euphoria . . . and real hope. Looking back, it all seems so ridiculously small. But that fall, integration of the Orange Public Schools at least proceeded without violence even though it was not happily accepted by the larger community. Perhaps it would have occurred without violence anyway, no matter what we had done. We’ll never know, of course. What I do know is that my life would have been less rich for not having known men and women like Magnolia and Kelly Price; Michael Harrington’s other America might still be only printed words on dusty pages; and my children would have missed experiencing one of the most important chapters in American history. \(All five have pursued peaceful, humane, life-protecting vocations and avocations. I do not take credit for that fact; they are all warm, compassionate men and women in their own right and would have followed these careers, very likely, no matter what. I do believe that our commitment to the struggles of the 60’s and early 70’s gave them an added depth of understanding as well as a bit of an edge, so to speak, on life’s harsher But now, back in the real world of THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17