Milam County Historical Commission
Milam County, Texas
All Credit for this article
goes to Deborah McKeon
Temple Daily Telegram
Brown v. Board 60th anniversary
One in a series
Integration Was Easier For Some Students
by Deborah McKeon
Temple Daily Telegram - May 17, 2014
A man who was among the first to integrate Cameron Independent School District has mostly positive memories of those rough years, he said.
Samuel “Sam” Knight, a retired lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy, remembers the signing of the Civil Rights Act by President Lyndon Johnson, and remembers that blacks were happy to be able to go to previously all-white places like the swimming pool.
“Something so small and insignificant now but back then it was a major milestone,” Knight said.
Knight also recalled one Cameron laundromat that had “whites only” on its front door. The sign came down when desegregation began, but two different water fountains were placed inside, with a sign over one reading “Whites.”
Two Latinas started school in 1965 at O.J. Thomas, which was the “all black” school then. This took place after freedom of choice desegregations plans were enacted in the South, Knight recalled.
The early education of Cameron’s black students focused on church instruction at Little Rocky Church in Marlow, according to the Milam County Historical Commission. Oscar John Thomas joined the district as principal and teacher in 1923. He helped get funding for a new facility in 1925 and it was renamed for Thomas in 1938. After integration, the building became Cameron Junior High.
In 1974 a petition changed the name back to O.J. Thomas.
The school closed in 1995 and the building was sold in 1998 to the alumni group to use as a community center, according to the commission.
Freedom of choice was aimed at the integration of schools in states with a segregated school system. Ten years after the 1954 Supreme Court Brown v. Topeka Board of Education ruling that said desegregation should begin with “all deliberate speed,” many school districts with segregated schools were giving students the choice between white and black schools, independent of race. Only a few black students decided to attend white schools.
It wasn’t until 1971 that a federal judge handed down a statewide desegregation order in United States v. State of Texas that affected more than 1,000 Texas school districts, according to the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. The enforcing agency was the Texas Education Agency.
“I had been told for years how hard the white schools were; so being a good student, I asked my mom if I could go to Ada Henderson,” Knight said.
Knight went to Ada Henderson in September 1966 as a seventh grader. As he remembers it, a black girl was in that class, too. He remembers two or three boys and a couple of girls in the eighth grade class who were black.
Neither teachers nor students in Knight’s classes were ever hostile toward him in junior high, he said. Knight still remembers several teachers and coaches. And he never gave them reason to treat him any differently from other students, he said.
“I’ve always been a ‘live and letlive’ kind of person so I don’t remember being afraid to go to school, but that was probably because we’d all gone to school together, knew each other and were the majority. I have often wondered what it was like from the minority perspective,” said Diane Lucko Hunt, another C.H. Yoe High School graduate from that era.
John Chubb was the principal in Cameron from 1970 to 1978 and said the predominantly Czech population of the area plus the mixture of other races helped ease the transition.
“We had a bunch of good teachers at that time, too,” Chubb said. “I was a disciplinarian. The classroom was a place to learn.”
Total desegregation happened in Cameron in 1968 when C.H. Yoe High School and O.J. Thomas High School combined. Knight said he didn’t face any real adjustment period because he’d been with most of his classmates at Ada Henderson.
Only one negative memory scars that time period for Knight.
“The only incident that I recall during my high school years was during my freshman year. We were walking home late one fall evening after football practice and a couple of white guys drove by and pointed a rifle out the car and called us the ‘N’ word. Of course we knew who they were but never reported it.
Needless to say, I never spoke to those two guys again during high school. I believe they were juniors or seniors at the time,” Knight said.
One disappointment Knight still recalls is that only two black teachers kept their jobs once the schools integrated. Chubb said the remainder of the black teachers just weren’t qualified to teach in Cameron.
“I still feel that injustice but we managed to survive, and I must say that most of my teachers at Yoe High were great and did not show any resentment toward me,” Knight said.
“Although life was not easy, it was not as rough as the integration in some other cities and towns across America,” he said.