The initial interview was conducted via phone on 11/20/06 with Sheryl Row, Jesuit Archivist, and revised with Mr. Edmond’s additional comments sent via email on 7/22/11.
In the spring of 1955, while attending St. Peter’s Catholic School in the ninth grade, a nun who was also the principal approached me to recruit me to integrate Jesuit High School. I believe that I was chosen because she observed me to be mild mannered, level headed and capable academically. They were integrating the school for the first time. I was interested mainly because I wanted to play in the band and I couldn’t afford an instrument. Jesuit would let me use one of theirs.
After I agreed to attend Jesuit, this nun advised me to keep quiet, focus on academics, create no problems, avoid trouble, and avoid any situation that would create public scrutiny. I realized that I was to be the forerunner of an epic event in Dallas history, to be the first black to integrate a school.
I worried about how I would handle any problems with my integrating the school. Fortunately I adjusted well and had no trouble with the students.
My life at Jesuit was good. I did not knowingly receive any racial backlash from my classmates, parents, or teachers. However, I did feel isolated because I had no contacts with my classmates after school hours. I never attended social events or mother/son events at Jesuit. I had one phone call from a student in my three years at Jesuit. He called to ask for help in math.
My neighborhood was different culturally than the Jesuit environment. I lived in East Dallas, near Fair Park in a 100% African-American community in contrast with the wealthy Jesuit neighborhood. In fact, very few people in my neighborhood knew that I was attending Jesuit so there was no backlash from my community.
In one sense that worked to my advantage because my neighborhood was dangerous because of the gangs, and I believe that attending Jesuit took me away from that environment a good part of the day.
I received an excellent education a Jesuit. My best subjects were Latin, English, and Math. My activities were the band and altar boy club. I did not attempt to participate in athletics because sports were not integrated at that time.
My tuition was waived since I couldn’t afford it. I did pay for lunch. I took public transportation to school. I caught the bus to downtown and transferred to Oak Lawn. Some other students also caught the bus downtown.
Latin, math, and English were my best subjects. I wanted to go to college, I would be the first in my family to do so, and I believed going to Jesuit would help me. I had a poor academic background, but Jesuit helped me improve. Being mild mannered and focusing only on academics worked to my advantage.
One moment that stands out while at Jesuit was a sign of the times. I was on a trip with my classmates as part of the traditional retreat for seniors to Grand Coteau, LA. I was not allowed to eat with my classmates but had to eat in the kitchen in the back.
I knew Arthur Allen ’59, who entered Jesuit as a freshman, because we both had attended St. Anthony’s church and elementary school. However, we were a year apart and he was active in several activities, where, as I said, I was not.
During my senior year I received a partial scholarship to St. Edwards College in Texas but I declined to accept because of my family’s financial situation.
After graduation from Jesuit in 1958, I attended Grambling State University, graduating with a degree in mathematics, and I left Dallas for St. Louis. I have worked for the last forty years as a secondary teacher of mathematics, activities director, athletic director, dean of students and retired as a high school assistant principal.
I have not returned to Jesuit at the old school on Oak Lawn nor the new school nor reunions not because I have not wanted to, but because of the isolation I felt while being the first. I still, to this day, do not feel a kinship to the establishment or the classmates.
*As an aside I was the first African-American male teacher on staff at the University City High School, University City, MO.