2021 marks fifty years since cross-town busing began in Wilmington, NC. That spring, those of us in the eighth grade at Roland Grice Junior High, left school thinking about the fall. Having paid our dues as seventh and eighth graders, were ready to be “king of the hill” as ninth graders. However, due to court rulings that few of us understood, things changed that summer. Instead of staying at Roland Grice, we were bused across town to the former African American high school, Williston. Each school, instead of drawing on the neighborhood makeup, was to be 70% white, 30% black, which was the county make-up at the time. Racial tensions were high that fall as 9th graders from three formerly Junior High Schools (Williston—which had become a Jr. High after it stopped being a High School, along with Sunset Park and Roland Grice) were merged into one school. While I am not sure I learned much in class that year, I learned a lot about life. This is one of my stories (which I wrote many years ago and have edited it for this blog post).
Walking into my fourth period class at Williston Ninth Grade Center, I couldn’t believe my eyes. A new girl sat in a desk to right of me, in the back corner by the window. A blonde, nicely dressed as if trying to impress her classmates on her first day at school, she smiled. Stumbling for words, I introduced myself and welcomed her to my corner. I attempted to impress her by telling a few things that went on in the back of the class. Then Mike, who also sat in the corner, took his place, and joined the conversation. We were in competition, each vying for the new girl’s attention. We tried to outdo the other with our stories. She smiled, even blushed a bit. So intent we were to impress, we didn’t give her time to say anything. The bell rang, the teacher stepped up to the front, class began, and reality sat in.
Our latest test was returned. I quickly took mine and put it under some other papers, shielding it from the new girl. “She looks smart and wouldn’t be impressed with my grade,” I thought. We reviewed the test, and I saw where I’d made my mistakes in calculations. Then she handed out our report cards. Again, I snatched the card quickly and stuck it in a book. The new girl was the one person other than my parents that I didn’t want to see my grades. I promised myself I’d study harder and do all my homework this next term. She deserved such sacrifices.
As the class wound down, I tried to think of a good line to sue after the bell, as we herded down the hall to the cafeteria. But a few minutes before the bell, the principal, Mr. Howie, stepped in. He’d never been in this class, and I thought this was strange as we’d been well behaved that day. Politely, our teacher yielded to the floor to Mr. Howie. He informed us that our teacher was being promoted to an assistant principal. At his clue, we clapped. None of us were sure what this meant. By this point in my academic career, assistant principals weren’t on my radar. I was the type of kid who bypassed the assistant’s office and head straight to the big guy’s door. After only six weeks at Williston, Howie and I were on a first name bases.
A new teacher
After giving accolades to our teacher, the principal, as if he was introducing a political candidate, said it gave him great pleasure to introduce our new teacher. Then turning to the back corner, he said, “Ms. Gooden, will you stand.”
The new girl in the class stood and stepped forward. Mike and I slid under our respective desks. I swear, as she introduced herself to the class, she smirked every time she looked over our way. This was going to be a long year.
Like most schoolboys, there had been a few teachers who, because of their looks or kindness, had encouraged my fantasies. Miss Freeman, my fourth-grade teacher once brought me a Coke. I was a cheap date and impressed. And then there was a seventh-grade math teacher who had ten dresses and I could tell the day of the week by her dress. Of course, two of these dresses were quite short and showed lots of leg. Yet, fantasies about these teachers remained where they belonged, deep in my psyche. I never said anything inappropriate. But now I found myself with a new teacher who was beautiful, and I’d already played my cards to impress her to be mine.
Ms. Gooden was fresh from college. She was probably twenty-two but could have easily passed for fifteen. I’m sure if she went out for a drink, the waitress would have carded her. And now she knew who, in her class, to keep an eye on.
Perhaps to make the point that she was no “Mrs. Robinson,” Ms Gooden fiancé drop by one day. A Marine officer, he stood at attention in the front of the class, decked out in his dress uniform. On his side was an engraved sword that said to me, “hands off my girl.” As he greeted us, he kept looking over at my corner. I’m sure he knew all about us.
More to come…
I should say that nothing ever happened, but that wouldn’t be quite true. Certainly nothing romantically happened, but there were adventures to come in this fourth period class. I’m sure nothing in Ms. Gooden’s teacher training prepared her to have a class like ours at such a time in history.