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Former black educators recall the Supreme Court's ground-breaking decision as a day of celebration and anxiety.


The memory still sticks with G.D. Tillman.

He remembers walking into Jonesboro Elementary School 40 years ago today and seeing some of the sixth-graders he taught jumping for joy - acting ``all excited,' Tillman says - when they found out about the court decision.

They had just heard the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that segregated schools were unconstitutional. And to these students, that decision gave them the chance to attend white schools, receive the same education and achieve their dreams.

It was a day Tillman, the grandson of a former slave, never thought he would see.

``I didn't believe it myself,' says Tillman, 92, the former principal and sixth-grade teacher at Jonesboro Elementary. ``What else had we changed (before the ruling)? But this broke down the barriers, that's right, of segregation.'

It's known as the Brown vs. Board of Education decision.

On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Linda Brown, a black girl from Kansas, could attend a white school four blocks from her Topeka home rather than be bused two miles away to a black school.

The judicial ruling also sent out a bigger message: Separate-but-equal schools have ``no place' in school systems nationwide.

And like almost every city nationwide, Greensboro felt the impact of the Supreme Court's decision immediately.

``I was teaching at Dudley High School, and when the news came, boy, there was some celebrating,' says William Goldsborough, a former agricultural teacher at Dudley. ``Everybody was very anxious.

``We had been considered as second-rate people and our schools were second-rate and they were not equal to the white schools, and it was just done because we were black people,' says Goldsborough, 84. ``That was not fair, nobody agreed with it, but nobody had a choice. We had to accept it.'

The day after the Supreme Court decision, the front-page headline of The Greensboro Record - School Segregation Banned - stretched across the top of the page in inch-high letters.

The Brown ruling left Gov. William Umstead ``terribly disappointed' and former governor W. Kerr Scott, a Senate candidate at the time, saying he and other North Carolina residents were opposed to ``Negro and white children going to school together.'

But later that night in Greensboro, the city's school board voted 6 to 1 in favor of complying with the Brown ruling.

It was reported that the board's decision became North Carolina's - and possibly the South's - first official supporting vote to the Brown ruling by a school board.

During the meeting, school board chairman D.E. Hudgins told the board its decision ``would let the community, the state, the South, and if necessary, the nation know that we here propose to live under the rule of the law.'

The board's 6-to-1 decision foreshadowed change - a move that meant nearly 3,000 black students and 81 black teachers in the city's eight all-black schools would be combined at some point with local white-run schools.

Fred Cundiff was one of those teachers. He was teaching sixth-grade at Washington Elementary.

``There was a lot of anxiety,' says Cundiff, 68, now a retired Greensboro assistant superintendent. ``We wondered what was it going to mean for the kids, the teachers and what would it mean to the quality of education the schools would offer.'

``But we all realized that it was the right thing to do, and right things have a way of working out,' Cundiff says.

On Sept. 5, 1957, Josephine Ophelia Boyd became the first black student to walk into the all-white Greensboro Senior High School and officially break the city's color barrier.

White students threw eggs at her, spit on her and threw rocks at the car she arrived in.

But Boyd stayed in school, signaling the beginning of the city's efforts to desegregate its schools.

``We've come a long way in Greensboro and in the county, and we need to continue to promote these equal opportunities for all students,' says Julius Fulmore, 69, a retired Greensboro deputy superintendent.

When he was a local principal in the early 1960s, Fulmore talked to wary white parents about bringing their children to Hampton Elementary, a predominantly black school.

Fulmore saw the apprehension in their faces. And today he still sees that apprehension in the newspaper photographs he pulls out whenever he talks about desegregation in Greensboro.

Because for Fulmore, these photographs are a reminder that the Brown ruling worked: ``That's a part of history for me. We did it in Greensboro.'

On Tuesday, Tillman sat in his living room and talked about the Brown ruling, the desegregation of Greensboro and the accomplishments of black students.

His grandfather - a former slave during the Civil War - would've been proud.

``It made the colored children want a better education,' says Tillman. ``They figured if they could go to the white schools and get the same thing the white children were getting.'


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