by DORIS EVANS*
Speech delivered to the September, 1990 reunion of retired teachers of segregated schools
Black History & African Heritage Supplement
February/March, 2000, Volume 5, Number 32
WE ARE GATHERED here tonight for the purpose of reflecting on the History of our Black Schools and what we have done or can do to bring about progress. I come to you, not as a historian, nor an expert but as an experienced teacher-retiree of Nova Scotia, with a sincere interest in the educational matters of students and the community at large.
I would like to reflect on a couple of experiences of my own so you can understand from whence I have come. The students of the community where I lived were attending an integrated school. We had a few problems, etc., but we had managed to get through. When I reached grade nine at this two-room school, my problems started. The proprietor of the general store, where the members of the Black Community purchased all of their groceries, garden tools, some clothing, etc., would be sending his daughter to school in the fall. He did not want his daughter to attend school with the "coloured kids." The Trustees purchased a piece of property from an individual of the Black Community who had no children attending school. A new one-room school opened in the Black Community in September. The teacher they hired could not teach grade nine. What was I to do? I then had to go back to the school from which I had come, knowing that I was not wanted. I was determined to get my education so I went, sat in the corner all year, worked hard, wrote my exams, passed and went on to the Kings County Academy. No problems there. I graduated and went to the Provincial Normal College.
On graduation, the Inspector of Schools addressed us and told the graduates where there were openings for teachers. He came to me (the only Black student in the graduating class) and told me there were two schools with openings for teachers -- Partridge River at East Preston and Hammonds Plains School. I knew neither community so I chose the first on the list. The beginning of my teaching career was at East Preston.
Past experiences have shown us some of the reasons for not being educated. Years ago there were no schools. Our forefathers were not allowed to learn. Often times if you had a white friend whom was attending school, that friend would come home and help you to read and write. And that individual would, in return, help their younger brothers and sisters.
The friends and residents of the Black Communities saw the need to have their own schools, as they were not allowed to attend schools near their area. The first of the segregated schools were small, one-room facilities heated by a wood stove. Oil lamps provided lighting. Water was brought in containers (pails), for drinking purposes. The seats were large enough to seat two, and sometimes three students, in one. They had outdoor bathroom facilities. Only the basic material was available for teaching in the early days, a slate, chalk; later days, chalk, chalk boards, pencils, scribblers, readers, etc. On many occasions teachers bought newspapers, catalogues, books of their own and paper to be used by the students. Some prepared their own reading material. Salaries were very low, and when you received it depended on when the property taxes were paid by the residents.
From conversations with elders, I learned that in one community (Middle Sackville) Black children lived very close to the school attended by the majority, but were not allowed to attend because of their race. It was then that a concerned citizen of the white community (Mrs. Plessa Caldwell) began teaching the Black students in her kitchen. These children were being given the opportunity to get some schooling because someone cared.
As time went on, most of the Black communities had either renovated the existing building or built new facilities to accommodate the growing population of students.
These facilities were one room, two rooms, three rooms and in some cases were larger. They had electricity, furnaces for heating, and indoor bathroom facilities. One community, North Preston, had two schools; which also has the only segregated school left in Nova Scotia. Home Economics and Industrial Arts were taught by circuit teachers. Amid all the inconveniences which we encountered in these schools, one aspect of teaching in a segregated school which we cherished was the Annual Christmas Concerts. The students would go "all out" to take part -- say recitations, take part in the singing of the favourite songs, and acting in plays about Christmas events. It was beautiful! These events will always be remembered!
Many teachers for the Black schools were extracted from the high schools with no training. They were given a permit to teach in that particular school. They were hard-working, dedicated, concerned individuals; often times they attended summer school at various universities to upgrade themselves. And in some cases, there were those persons who broke the bonds that had held others back and became registered teachers. I recall, after I had graduated from high school, that the Inspector of Schools came to my home and asked my parents if I would be allowed to teach that year instead of attending the Normal College. I, or I should say my parents, refused. I thank them for that.
During the teachers' first years of teaching, they realized their duties were not confined to the classroom. They were expected to know the parents of the pupils so that they might understand the background of the children. They were expected to see that habits of courtesy and health were carried over from the classroom to the home. They must observe and correct all the physical defects and try to eliminate faulty mental and physical habits, no easy task, when much of the children's lives were lived out of her sight and beyond her jurisdiction.
The teacher's attention and services were not considered to be property of her pupils alone. They were to take part in community activities; not just to come and sit comfortably and enjoy themselves but get in there and make the project a success. The parents looked to them for guidance and advice not only concerning the welfare of their children, but of any other matter pertaining to the community.
Behaviour and my experience
Teachers were respected by members of the community and, if a problem arose at school with the students, teachers were usually backed by the parents.
I would like to tell you an experience I had with a grade nine student. During this particular geography class, one young man was talking and not doing his seat work. I asked him to stop talking. He did, but in a few minutes he was back at it again! After speaking to him twice, I reminded him that if he couldn't stop, and it happened again, I was going to send him home. After a few minutes, he was back at it again! As I had told him before: if he continued to talk, I would send him home. I had to do it. He begged me to please let him stay. I said, "Go Home". He went. The next morning at school, a knock came at the door. I answered. It was the young man and his father. His father said, "You'll have no more trouble with_______! I didn't.
In some cases, students were able to slip into the realm of getting a higher education, but the majority of students were not allowed. After receiving their education at the segregated schools, there was nowhere to go, so they dropped out of school and took a job (if they could get one). Later on, adult classes were provided for those who wished to upgrade themselves, and prepare them to write exams (GED). This has been in effect for many years.
In the 1950s, some changes took place. All schools in the Halifax County area were taken over by the Halifax County Municipal School Board and I presume all schools in Nova Scotia did likewise. This included salaries for teachers along with materials -- long a problem.
Integration of schools came about. Students could now further their education by attending schools in other areas to hopefully graduate and be able to continue their studies at a university level if they preferred.
This is a good policy, but there are some problems regarding that. Racism is one. As long as racism exists in the school system, there will be problems. Two things I have encountered in the school system is stereotyping and double standards -- one set for Blacks, one for the majority. This is where we have to take a stand and be vocal.
Consolidation of schools was instituted which would encourage integration. Many of the Black segregated schools were closed and students bused to schools outside of the community. Some parents didn't like the idea of their children always being bussed from the communities but did feel the importance of their children being integrated at an early age. A parent told me one time that a student at the school where her daughter attended told her daughter, "My mom said if you were white, you could be my friend." There is where the problems lie.
While teaching at Partridge River, and schools were built to provide integration, I often said to myself, "Can I teach other children." In 1970 when Ross Road School was built -- with students from five other schools feeding into that school, one being Partridge River -- I decided to prove to myself that I can teach anyone regardless of colour. I was there 15 years, enjoyed most of my time there and learned a lot.
I've already mentioned the first young man. Now I'll tell you of an experience at the integrated school. Again a young man was talking. I told him if he couldn't control his talking that I would send him outside in the hall. After a few minutes his friend raised his hand. I said "Yes." He said, "Chris says if you put your hands on him, his mother will sue you." I told him, "Don't worry! We'll handle that when it happens."
In 1966, another important factor in the lives of the Black students was the forming of the Education Incentive Program for Black Students, initiated by the Negro Education Council (now the Black Educators Association). Gus Wedderburn and I, along with others, were members of that Council. This program gives bursaries to Black students who qualify to further their education through universities or other institutions. Although this program is approximately 27-years-old, members of the majority community do not understand the objectives. They often talk about, 'Blacks getting paid to go to school.'
In the early years of integration, as well as before, it was very difficult for the students to learn about the achievements of Blacks. Many Blacks have contributed, in many ways, to the welfare of our country. But that history appears to be "Lost, Stolen or Strayed." Students were unable to have any self-esteem because they had always been "put down," and they knew nothing of the past contributions of the Blacks. Today black history has been incorporated in the curriculum but it is merely a course for whosoever wants to take it. I feel that it should be incorporated in the Social Studies Program -- starting with the elementary grades.
The Black Educators Association was formed in 1969 to assist communities throughout the province to develop strategies to improve the quality of education for Blacks. ...
The Black Professional Women's group organized in 1969. They wanted to seek ways to improve some of the poor conditions which existed in the schools (segregated). Their objectives were to develop awareness through educational, cultural, and social means and also to provide a bursary to assist Black female students who would be attending institutions of higher learning.
The Black Cultural Centre, 1983, is a centre for the preservation and protection of Black Culture. It depicts pictures, photographs, artifacts, and documents, providing an opportunity for Black residents to learn more about themselves and have a deep sense of pride and identity amongst themselves. It is also for the general public to learn about the contributions Blacks have made to society.
To the teachers
I know that you have the foresight to know that you can make a difference in the lives of your students. Believe in them. If you are concerned and interested in the success of all children, you will make a difference.
A little boy in grade two said to his teacher, "Teacher, you always tell me when you are disappointed in me, how come you do not tell me when you are appointed in me?"
Two teachers from Bell Park Academic Centre have produced a video that can be used to show how Black history can be taught in the elementary schools. This has been widely accepted by the department of education and is used quite widely in schools. Challenge your students to be the best they can be.
To the retirees
Although you have retired from the teaching profession, there is still an opportunity for you to be of use in society. There is always something you can become involved in.
My motto, from my first day of teaching, has been, "If I can help somebody as I go along, then my living shall not be in vain."
* Slightly edited for the purposes of this publication from Telling the Truth: Reflections on the History of Segregated Schools, Doris Evans and Gertrude Tynes, Lancelot Press, 1995. Since her retirement, Mrs. Evans has taught job entry programs and career exploration for women, and served as a resource person for the Literacy Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Preston Area Learning Skills Program, North Preston.
Weymouth Falls School, built in the late 1800s. 70-80 students were taught in one room.
Partridge River School staff, East Preston, in the 1950s.
The two-room Henry G. Bauld School was built in 1949 for the children of the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children. It became a community centre after it was closed in 1967.
Gibson's Wood School, just outside Kentville. The children of this community attended an integrated school until 1941, when trustees of the Centreville School dictated that Black students should be segregated. The school was a one-room facility with outdoor bathrooms, no electricty, and a wood stove. Drinking water was provided in a water jug. After the first few years, no qualified Black teachers were available for this school.
The Acaciaville School, Digby County, was opened in the late 1800s when two communities, Acaciaville and Joggins-New Conway, united to build it. In this one-room school, primary to grade three was taught in the morning and grade four to eight in the afternoon.
Upper Big Tracadie
Upper Big Tracadie School in Guysborough County. A one-room school with grades primary to grade seven, it existed until around 1958 when consolidation took place and local schools were integrated.
The September 7-9, 1990 reunion of retired teachers from Nova Scotia's segregated schools, at the Black Cultural Centre of Nova Scotia
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