INSTITUTE FOR RURAL JOURNALISM & COMMUNITY ISSUES
Reunion stirs memories of a little-reported integration in Ky.
By JENNIFER P. BROWN / Copyright 2005, Kentucky New Era, Hopkinsville (Aug. 6, 2005)
Stanley Russell wore a crisp dark suit and had an easy smile as he sat for a grilled chicken dinner at the reunion of Todd County Training School Friday night in Hopkinsville.
He knew just about everybody in the room, about 200 people, and he could tell you almost everything there is to know about the former African-American school in Elkton. He remembers the coal-burning stoves in the high school, the dirt basketball court and the outhouses. He remembers the hand-me-know books from white schools, and he remembers teachers who were sincerely interested in his future.
But Russell, 58, who lives outside of Elkton, did not earn his diploma from Todd County Training School. He left his senior year and was part of a group of students who forced the issue of integration in Todd County.
It is a story many people have never heard.
Forty-two years ago, on a Tuesday morning, the Todd County superintendent's office put out a 10-word news release, a terse acknowledgment in those days that integration was under way in one local school.
"Todd Central enrolled 82 students who formerly attended Todd Training," an official announced to area newspapers.
It was Sept. 3, 1963, and Todd Central had opened as the first consolidated school in the county to replace aging high school buildings for white students in Elkton, Trenton and Guthrie.
But black students in the county saw the new school as something more -- a chance for them to challenge the status quo and push for an integrated high school.
"If they had a desegregation plan in Todd County, I didn't know about it," said Russell, one of the first black students to walk into Todd Central that morning.
News reports at the time indicated there was not an integration plan in Todd County. Still, many of the black students at Todd County Training believed they had every right to attended Todd Central.
"We thought, if they were going to consolidate, then they should really consolidate," Russell said.
Russell, 58, who leaves outside of Elkton, was a senior that year. He and three other seniors --Wilbert Shanklin, Norma Smith and Joe Ligon -- left the black high school and enrolled at Todd Central.
On the opening day of classes, 82 students at Todd Training told their principal, William Gilbert, they wanted to go to Todd Central. Gilbert had prepared for the move and had three buses waiting for the students so they could drive across town to Todd Central. He called the principal at the new school, Robert Bush, and told him the students were on their way.
Russell remembers he was on the lead bus when it pulled up to the school. The white students had already arrived.
Bush, the principal, stood at the front door and waited. When the students approached, he opened the door and motioned them inside.
"He had a smile on his face, and he told us to come in," Russell recalled.
Although Russell didn't always feel welcomed at the school, he said he never forget Bush's greeting that day.
"That was huge for that day and time," Russell said.
Bush died a few years ago, and Russell regrets he never talked to him about that first day.
"I wish I had told him how I felt about it. It meant a lot," he said.
Russell earned his diploma at Todd Central in 1964. He was one of four black students in the class.
Russell still thinks he made the right decision to leave for Todd Central that year, but today, his fondest memories of school are tied to Todd County Training.
At Todd Central, Russell never felt the same camaraderie he knew at Todd County Training.
The white teachers seemed to have a tougher time accepting the change, Russell thought.
"I didn't have any trouble with the students," he said. "But it wasn't easy. You sometimes suffer in silence just to keep things going."
Friday's reunion at the Hopkinsville-Christian County Conference and Convention Center is one of several Russell has attended in the past several years. The school has a reunion every two years. He has not been to a reunion for Todd Central.
Recently, Russell and others have been working on a historic marker for the site of the old black school, which is now the bus garage for Todd County schools.
Annie Morehead, who organized this year's reunion, said she believes it is important for people to remember the old school.
"We were close at Todd Training. It was a small group, and we were close," she said.
Jennifer P. Brown can be reached by telephone at 887-3236 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues helps non-metropolitan media define the public agenda in their communities, through strong reporting and commentary on local issues and on broader issues that have local impact. Its initial focus area is Central Appalachia, but as an arm of the University of Kentucky it has a statewide mission, and it has national scope. It has academic collaborators at Appalachian State University, East Tennessee State University, Eastern Kentucky University, Georgia College and State University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Marshall University, Middle Tennessee State University, Ohio University, Southeast Missouri State University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Washington and Lee University, West Virginia University and the Knight Community Journalism Fellows Program at the University of Alabama. It is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the University of Kentucky, with additional financial support from the Ford Foundation. To get notices of Rural Blog postings and other Institute news, click here.
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Last revised: Feb. 6, 2006