Cuero natives recall life during Brown v. Board decision
May 16, 2014 at 12:16 a.m.
Updated May 17, 2014 at 12:17 a.m.
About Brown v. Board of Education
• Brown v. Board of Education was the name given to five separate cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.
• Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund handled the cases.
• Marshall came to Victoria in October 1955 as part of a state conference.
• Chief Justice Fred Vinson originally heard the case, but died in the process of trying the case. Gov. Earl Warren, of California, took over the case. The justices unanimously declared segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.
• Despite the ruling, the Supreme Court left desegregation to be handled by the attorney general in each state. The desegregation process would last through the 1960s and into the 1970s.
Joyce Ann Williams cracked open the new-to-her schoolbook, ready and anxious to learn.
The book, already written on, its back hardcover missing, was from the white school.
In the 1950s, though, none of that mattered; a book was a book.
That was until she turned the page.
"Some of us had the following page of the chapter; some didn't," remembers the now 74-year-old about her time at Daule Colored School - Cuero's school for black students, as everyone knew it.
Someone did not want the black students to learn, Williams still contends.
Cuero, like many cities across the nation, was on the verge of social change. Martin Luther King Jr.'s poetic leadership and the civil rights movement were still years away from sweeping the nation. And one of the movement's most monumental cases was Brown v. Board of Education.
The case, which struck down school segregation, thus leading to integration, marks its 60th anniversary Saturday.
While the days of racial segregation can seem far off for some, the days are still alive in the minds of many of today's silent generation and baby boomers generation.
Those days don't seem long ago for Williams.
To Williams, a book was not just a book; a book was a key to her future, the answer to success she knew every human deserved, she said.
"They would send us all those raggedy books," she said. "I tell you, it was a dirty shame how they did us back then."
John McNary, also 74 and still living in Cuero, graduated a year before Williams in 1958.
McNary and Williams saw nothing wrong with Daule School. They thought the teachers cared and that they were receiving quality education.
"Integration is very important, but we didn't know anything about it then," McNary said. "It wasn't as important to me then as it was when it happened."
Like Williams, he remembers receiving handed-down books.
"We had books with other kids' names," he said.
Eventually, McNary and Williams would find their own successes.
McNary attended Prairie View A&M University, graduating with his business education degree. He taught school for a year and ended up leaving to work for Alcoa, which at the time paid him double his salary as a teacher, $8,000.
Williams went to Coastal Bend College in Beeville and worked for Child Protective Services.
Though McNary and Williams did not experience integration, Viola Holman, a 63-year-old also from Cuero, did.
The year was 1965, and Holman was entering the ninth grade - not at Daule School but at Cuero High School.
Integration had begun, and the experience was enlightening but also disheartening, Holman said.
"I had to work hard to make the grades I wanted to make. It was tough. We were so behind in our books, and we weren't up to par," she said. "We were two or three grades behind."
Someone who may have been an A student at Daule School was a D student post-school segregation, Holman said.
Holman agreed with McNary and Williams, saying the lack of care for the Daule School left them straggling.
"We were in a mental educational bondage," she said. "When you can't read or write, it becomes a form of bondage, and you can't go further than you can go."
Integration began to level the playing field in schools and open the doors to opportunity.
Williams, McNary and Holman all have children and grandchildren who have gone further than they could have ever dreamed, and they owe it to the Brown v. Board of Education decision, they said.
But what if the court had not made the landmark decision? Holman is glad America did not have to find out.
"I think we would not have had a black president today. We would not have black mayors, senators, governors or astronauts," she said. "I think we would still be in the dark ages. Someone had to go forth. It had to be done."