Where is the rest of the class?

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 15, 2010

When I started school in Natchez, it was 1970 and I went to Margaret Martin Junior High School on Homochitto Street. I was in the eighth grade and brought with me the experience of always being in integrated classrooms.

The elementary school I attended in another state served children of the military, and it was never a question of black or white. It was a question of Navy, Air Force, Marines or Army. Navy ruled.

So I was shocked when the girls’ physical education teacher pulled me aside a few days after I started at Martin to tell me that I shouldn’t play with the black kids. Those words had a lasting impression on me. I did the unthinkable and told the teacher she was wrong. I was sent to the office.

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I don’t recall the result of the meeting with the principal, but I do remember making a conscious decision to make as many friends as possible, regardless of the color of their skin.

When I moved on to South Natchez-Adams County High School in the fall of 1972, I looked forward to being around hundreds of students who came from junior high schools throughout the region.

I recall the black students talking with pride of their parents and grandparents who suffered unthinkable abuse fighting and winning the civil rights struggles of the ’50s and ’60s. These students were the beneficiaries of those struggles and were the first generation of Natchezians to realize the full benefit of citizenship.

And we made friends. We joined the same clubs; played on the same sports teams; sang the same spirit songs at pep rallies and sporting events. We stood side-by-side during graduation in 1975 after suffering the heart-breaking loss of everyone’s best friend — Joe Amacker. The friendships that the white students and the black students formed during our years at SNAHS seemed to die with Joe that horrible day in May 1975.

Next month, hundreds of former Natchez students from the classes of the 1970s are gathering in town for a massive reunion. It’s not just a reunion for SNAHS. It involves Trinity, Cathedral, Adams County Christian and the former Thomas Jefferson Academy. Students from North Natchez, the predominately black high school of the day, have been invited. But the black graduates aren’t coming, and no one can tell me why.

But there still is time. I call on the ministers of Natchez’s African-American churches to step into their pulpits Sunday and encourage members of their congregation who graduated in the 1970s to attend this reunion the weekend of July 16-18. I call on the predominately black service and social organizations to tell their membership to forge a path to the future where all people are judged on the content of their character, not by the color of their skin — be it black or white.

The organizers of this reunion have worked long and hard to be inclusive of all students who went to school in Adams County in the 1970s. And it just doesn’t make sense for the students who benefitted from the integration of the public schools — such as it was in Natchez — to purposely return to the days of segregation.

To those black students who are turning away from this reunion, I ask why? It’s the 21st century. We have a black president. We have more black millionaires than in any time in history. We have more black small business owners than ever. We have more black judges, politicians, power brokers and entrepreneurs than we could have dreamed as children.

And what value do you give to the friendships we formed in high school? For me, they are priceless.

If you really want to make a difference during these difficult economic times and recall the power we all felt by crossing the racial barriers of the 1970s, rekindle those friendships from high school.

Kelly Carson is a 1975 graduate of South Natchez High School. A writer and editor living in Florida, she is the daughter of the late Martha and Warren Koon, who operated The Natchez Democrat in the 1970s. She can be reached at kcarson1957@yahoo.com.