Preachers and Teachers
Remembering The Page-Jackson Era, 1940s-1950s
Joint interview at the Holiday Inn and Page Jackson Reunion, July, 2001.
(Mr. Brown grew up on Eagle Avenue, Charles Town)
“Well I’ll tell ya. One of the most important things that molded which direction I was going in life is what we had at Page-Jackson High School. I’ve never had an experience in my lifetime and I’m sixty years old, of where teachers cared so much about the students they taught. They cared so much to the point that they would absolutely put you in mortal fear, that you would learn. There wasn’t such a thing as special education in my days. If you were a slow learner, you had such fear of your teachers that you became a fast learner, and you learned. And that’s the preparation I got for life. Some of the things I learned from my teachers are the things that molded which direction I went in life. I didn’t go any place that I didn’t think I couldn’t achieve. It all depended on which goals I set for myself. And the goals I set, I met just about every one of them. Probably could have gone a little further, but the goals I set are the goals I met, and that desire came from what the teachers instilled in me as a child growing up in elementary right on up to junior high, right on up through high school.
“We had teachers and preachers. That was the things in the neighborhood that we came from. And if you didn’t respect them, then you better get ready because your parents were ready to get a hold of you when you got home . . . Wasn’t that right, Johnny? . . . So we all got molded by what we learned in school. We had our parental teaching at home, but we were at school more than at home, and when we went to school and when the teacher told you, you were getting ready to have math, you better be ready to have math. And if they said: ‘We’re getting ready to have English,’ you better be ready to have English. And by the time you got out of school, you were ready to be competitive with anyone in the world with a high school education, mainly because you knew and you had confidence in what you knew.
“One of the teachers that I always quote was one by the name of Miss Elsie Clinton. And she always told me and I still quoted it to my kids and I teach school right now. I quoted it to the kids at school and one of the things she always said was: ‘Excuses only satisfy the people that make ‘em. Now roll your sleeves up, get back to your seat and get busy!’ And that’s what I did! And I’ve been getting busy ever since.
And I still quote Miss Elsie Clinton. She played a significant role in my life.”
(Mr. Bailey grew up in Shenandoah Junction)
“I remember Mr. Cootie Fleming, when he first came to Page-Jackson. He was the type of person who could get the best out of you. I mean he could make you do things that you didn’t think you could do. He instilled in me the will to win, and to this day, I hate to lose at anything. I don’t care what it is. I hate to lose. And if you beat me, I will get even. That’s something else that he taught us. No matter what you do, you’re gonna lose sometimes, but when you lose, in the back of your mind, just say: ‘I’ll get even.’ And I’ve done that. Throughout my Air Force career, I became, I was voted as the most versatile sportsman in the whole Air Force. I participated in everything. I wanted to be the best that I could be in everything that I did. I worked hard, practiced hard, and I accomplished, I would say, ninety-nine per cent of my goals. I had some long-time goals, I had some short-time goals, but met ninety-nine per cent of them.
“You know there was twenty-two in my family. I was the only that ever graduated from high school. Some went to the eleventh grade, some to the twelfth, but they all quit. I was the type of person that would never quit. I quit school two times; I wanted to go in the service. I just wanted to get out of Charles Town. But I eventually stayed in there until I graduated. If I tell you I’m going to do something, go to the bank with it.”
“We all came from the school in the days of segregation and Page-Jackson was the black school. Charles Town High was the white school. To show you the difference in treatment we had in those days, we realized it, we accepted it and that’s where Johnny comes in with that ‘win-at-any-cost’ attitude. When Charles Town High got through with their school books, they passed them down to Page-Jackson High, the used school books. We all understood this. That was a part of the era we came up in. That was in everything. So we developed an attitude – maybe because we had to – that no matter what we did, we’d excel in it. And that’s where my attitude came from. Anything anyone felt they could do, we felt we had to do it, just a little bit better. We put our minds to it. We put our bodies to it. And we did it. And we did it effortlessly.”
“I’d like to say something about Johnny Brown’s mother. I used to live next door to him.
I was always poor, going to school, no money for lunch. She stopped me almost every day and she’d say: ‘Johnny come here.’ And she’d give me twenty-five cents. And I’d go to school and I’d have a little bit of money to have lunch with. None of the kids ever knew this. In fact I just told Johnny’s brother this past summer in Arizona, and he made the statement: ‘No wonder she never gave me any money. She was givin’ it all to you!’ But she was a very, very nice lady.
“There was a couple of women around Charles Town that were very influential in my life. This next lady I’m going to tell you about she actually almost saved my life. I was nine years old; I’m sixty-nine now. I was up at King’s Daughter Hospital. They gave me up to die. My body was saturated with poison I’d eaten off of apples; they said: ‘He isn’t going to make it on through the night.’ And I made it. Johnny’s mother talked me into going to the Episcopal Church on Lawrence Street. I went to the church. See, before all this, I used to want to be – I was the bad little person – I wanted to be bad because I wanted to mess around with other bad folks. I wanted to curse better than anyone in Charles Town. So I started going to church. I eventually got baptized, confirmed and it was October, 1951; and to this day, I have never used another curse word. So, I’m sayin’ that church was a powerful thing around here in our day, because the average person went to church. I think that was just a part of our bringing up. They didn’t make you go, but sometimes they made you wish that you had gone. But they didn’t make us go.”
“I’d guess you could say that we were a product of our environment. We were raised up in an environment where you respected the teacher and preacher. And you went to Sunday school and you went to church and you had to do it. And so having to do it, you learned what it was teaching, you actually learned to live by the doctrines in church and school. That’s the reason we learned to respect our teachers so much.
“In looking back on it, I think that we accomplished a great deal more when the schools were segregated than when they integrated. When we integrated, we lost the interest that the preacher and the teacher had in us, and we became incorporated into a universal type of situation, where either you sink or you swim. And we didn’t have that personal nurturing that we got in the segregated school. We didn’t have that morality that was taught in a black church and black neighborhood. One thing they had in there was moral standards. Not saying that someone else didn’t have it, but that’s what we leaned on. We had to have something to lean on. Almost like goin’ back to the slave days when they had the songs that they sang to encourage them to hold on, hold on. Well that’s the same way we were raised up in a black neighborhood and a black school. That moral standard that we learned from our parents, that you had to do this, you had to do that to make it. And that’s how we survived and that’s how we became a nation.”
“The thing I think I missed out on in segregated schools was that I felt the integrated school gave me more opportunity. I love sports, to compete against the best. We had only been competing against the best among us. I never did get a chance to actually prove that I was the best at what I was doing, because I wasn’t allowed to compete against the white folks. I never got it in school. I graduated in ’52.”
Delores Jackson Foster
Jersey City, New Jersey
(Ms. Foster grew up on Gilbert Street on Harper’s Ferry and was the subject of a documentary on the Public Broadcasting System as a principal in a very successful inner city elementary school. – ED).
“I would say Page-Jackson High School gave me the foundation for the type of educator I turned out to be. Page-Jackson had teachers from the South and they taught at the high school that we were somebody; and that we had the knowledge to go anywhere in this country and in this state, and if they compared us with other students, we’d probably rise to the top. And when I became a principal, I instilled in my teachers – had to instill - the attitude that our kids were going somewhere. And they teach them as though they were their own children. We’re hoping to have the best product in the very end. So when I thought about the common environment that I wanted at the elementary and high school level, I thought how Page-Jackson was a very small community, teachers knew us and our potentials. They knew how far to push us. We could achieve. And we did achieve.
“My first job as an educator was at Page-Jackson, where I taught English and secretarial studies. While it was strange being there at the high school with teachers that taught me, I soon learned that I had a role to play at the school as well as the older teachers. And I left Page-Jackson and went to New Jersey where I spent thirty-nine years in education. I went from being a teacher to finally a principal at an elementary school. While there, I often thought about the kinds of teachers I had at Page-Jackson. But I would say my role model was my mother, who was unable to finish high school, but told us we had to go beyond high school even through college. I had to finish college to be a teacher. And my mother would say: ‘You have to finish college because you want to be a teacher.’ She and the teachers that taught me the basics were the motivating factors. I owe a lot to Page-Jackson and also to Grandview Elementary.”