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New school is example of how far civil rights have come

By Gheni_Platenburg
Aug. 29, 2010 at 3:29 a.m.

Harold Cade, former Patti Welder Middle School principal and VISD educator, was honored with a school dedication, formally naming a middle school in his name.

The Victoria education system has come a long way from the days of segregation.

Longtime educator Harold Cade is living proof of that.

Cade, who is black, went from teaching classes at the historic all-black F.W. Gross High School in the 1950s to having a brand new school named after him in 2010.

Cade Middle School opened its doors on Aug. 23.

Although times have changed significantly, 83-year-old Cade, known by many as Coach Cade, can still recall a time not too long ago when his recent feat would have been impossible all because of the color of his skin.

"There have been a lot of injustices. I just hope that all that is behind us as we look forward," said Cade. "I never dreamed about something like this."

Harold Edward Cade was born in 1927 in Scotlandville, La., just north of Baton Rouge La.

The son of a homemaker and a millwright, Cade was the oldest of nine children - five girls and four boys - six of whom eventually went on to become college graduates.

During his early years, the large family lived in Jasper, where the children pulled double duty working on the family farm and attending school.

"That came with the territory. We had to get up before school to milk the cows and feed the chickens," said Cade. "I'm sure it was very hard, but we really didn't know how hard it was."

In addition to cattle, the Cades grew cotton, sweet potatoes, greens and peas and tended to fruit trees.

At the time Cade attended school, segregation was still legal under the infamous Jim Crow laws and the court ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson.

From the beginning of his education, Cade said there were noticeable differences between the black and white schools in his community.

"Our school would let out the first of May, but the others would go to the end of the month."

With a lack of proper teaching equipment, Cade remembered his teachers trying to make the best out of what they had.

"I was fortunate to have good teachers," said Cade. "We didn't have the equipment they had, but our teachers made sure we learned the basics."

Cade first became aware of his athletic gifts at an early age, initially running track and playing basketball at church.

Cade and his family eventually moved to Lufkin, where he landed spots on Diboll high school's basketball and football teams.

The effects of segregation continued to carry over into high school sports.

The team only competed against other black schools, even if it meant playing schools four hours away, and the team played only in limited venues.

"We had to use the white stadium on Saturdays," said Cade. "We couldn't use it during the week."

Although Cade had become heavily involved in athletics, he said his parents and teachers never let him lose sight of the big goal of attending college.

"All that was stressed was that we needed to go to college," said Cade. "In my situation, even though we didn't have a lot of money, it was understood that if you lived there, then you had to go to college."

College interrupted

After graduating from high school, Cade obeyed his parents' wishes and matriculated at Prairie View A&M University in the fall of 1948 with intentions of majoring in biology and eventually becoming a doctor.

"I was excited to be a college student even though I was still attached to home," said Cade. " My first thoughts were just to do a better job for me, myself and my sisters. I wanted to go further than what my parents had done not just in education but in my community and in my country so I could make things better for all people."

The new college student did not get a chance to enjoy the college life for long, however.

Cade was drafted into the U.S. Navy a little over a year after starting school.

For the next two years, Cade sailed around the world, spending time in Chicago, San Diego, Hawaii and the Philippine cities of Manila and Luzon.

Although his travels allowed him to meet more people around the world with different points-of-view, Cade noticed the attitudes among many of his crewmates remained narrow when it came to racial equality.

"It seemed like the Navy was more segregated than it had ever been in East Texas," he said. "Even though President Truman signed the order to desegregate, the message didn't seem to get down there."

Cade was discharged in 1950, having attained the rank of seamen third class.

He returned to school shortly afterward with a renewed interest in education and a new academic goal.

Cade shifted his focus from pre-medicine to science education.

In 1952, Cade graduated with his bachelor's degree and a master's in administration supervision.

World of education changes

While Cade was grooming himself to become an educator, the world of education and civil rights were also going through a big transformation.

On May 17, 1954, the landmark court case Brown V. Board of education ended legalized segregation.

Under the ruling, the United States Supreme Court declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students and denying black children equal educational opportunities were unconstitutional.

"We thought it was great, but it didn't have a big impact," he said. "Things were still the same even though the law had changed."

In 1955, the opportunity arose for Cade to teach in Victoria, joining the administration of his former Diboll high school principal, C.O. Bradley.

Cade's first teaching job came at F.W. Gross High School, an all-black school that remained unintegrated and had a student body of about 400 students.

Cade thought Victoria would be a short two-year stop. Two years, however, turned into a lot longer.

While at Gross, Cade taught biology and chemistry and coached the Gross Bumblebees football and basketball teams.

"Before I started working with the kids, my mind wasn't really into being a school teacher," he said. "I got to dealing with football and basketball and fell in love with the kids."

As school integration began to become more prevalent, Cade said Gross lost several students, particularly athletes.

"Kids who would normally attend Gross were courted by other schools for their athleticism," said Cade.

He said many students left Gross to attend Victoria, Goliad and Cuero high schools.

Despite losing so many students, Cade said his teams maintained a high level of success.

"I like to think we held our own. We weren't at the bottom of the list," he said.

Although schools were quickly becoming integrated, Gross continued to play amongst a league of all-black schools, which was formed under previous Texas University Interscholastic League mandates.

John Richard Hill, a former student of Cade's, recalled playing under his former coach's rules.

"He was very tough, but fair," said 65-year-old Hill, who was the former quarterback and team captain of the Gross football team.

Cade was also known for being a staunch advocate of early no pass, no play policies among his athletes.

"He'd be standing there when you got off the bus," Hill said. "If he caught you with no books in your hand that meant you didn't bring any home the night before so you'd better grab somebody's book before he caught you."

Notable players who played under Cade's leadership at Gross included former Minnesota Vikings defensive back Marion Bates, and former Boston Patriots linebacker Willie Porter, both of who attended Texas Southern University before being drafted to the National Football League.

When Gross closed in 1966, Cade took a 10th-grade counseling position at integrated Victoria High School.

For Cade, the experience of working at Victoria High School was a good one, he said.

"Things went remarkably well. I got along with the kids and their parents," said Cade. "If they didn't care for me, they never showed it to me."

Cade stayed for two years before transferring to the newly opened Stroman High school where he worked as a counselor for students of all grades.

After four years, Cade was promoted to assistant principal, making him the first black assistant principal at any of the integrated schools in Victoria.

In 1963, Cade accomplished a new feat, attaining the principal position at Patti Welder Middle School.

Naming of school a surprise

"I prayed over taking the position, and I was accepted," he said.

Cade said one of the most memorable events of his time at Patti Welder came in 1985 when lightning struck the school and it burned.

"We had classes in the gyms and portables. We just kept going," he said. " The teachers worked real hard to keep the students together so they would not have to be split up."

Former Patti Welder librarian Gillian McDaniel shared her thoughts on her former employer.

"It was the happiest times of my career working with Mr. Cade," said 85-year-old McDaniel. " He was compassionate, understanding and always willing to listen.

McDaniel said she her colleague relationship with Cade began way back at F.W. Gross.

Cade retired in 1992 after 19 years at Patti Welder.

"I wouldn't say everything was peaches and cream, but no job is," he said. "I felt like I made a difference in a lot of kids and parents lives.

"I hope they would say I was tough, but fair."

Former student Jim Wyatt agreed.

"Cade was a father figure in my life," said Wyatt. "He always made sure he shared with us how to take the right road and not the road leading to nowhere."

Ron Peace, who was superintendent of Victoria schools from 2000 to 2005, said he became aware of Cade's impact on Patti Welder Middle School the first time he walked through the schoolhouse doors.

"There was a huge life-like photograph of him in the trophy case. It was amusing, but certainly a testimony of how the people felt about him at that school," said Peace.

He added, " It's always neat to see things like that."

When asked what it was like to prevail through all the obstacles in his way over the years Cade replied, "When I got to those markers, I didn't have time to think about it. I thought I had to be good so they couldn't find anything wrong with my work or I'd be out of there."

News of a school with his namesake came as a surprise to Cade.

"When I was first told about it I said there's so many more people more deserving of it," he said. "I'd like to thank the superintendent, school board, and the community because it seems like they've embraced it."

Lisa Blundell, principal at Cade Middle School, plans on her students living up to the school's namesake.

"I feel very proud that our campus is named after Harold Cade. I understand that with that name comes high expectations and it is our intention to be an exemplary campus," said Blundell.

Keeping busy in retirement

Cade said the new school is one example of how far civil rights have come.

"Race relations have improved greatly. People have started to accept you as you are. "It's up to both sides now though there are still some who don't want to be bothered," said Cade. "I hope the community is no longer looking at race and is looking at everyone just as people."

Although Cade maintains a family home in Jasper, these days he spends most of his time around Victoria, though he's not taking it easy.

In addition to working with the Kiwanis, American Heart Association and the Retired Teachers of Victoria Association, Cade continues to volunteer and work as a deacon at Palestine Baptist Church.

" I would hope they would look at all the things I've done for all people not just black people," said Cade.

He also spends time with Josephine, his wife of 49 years, their son Darryl and their two grandchildren.

To many, Cade's ongoing service to the community further illustrates his true character.

"I find Mr. Cade to be the epitome of a gentleman. He's considerate, kind, very knowledgeable about children and he cares about public education," said Peace.

Cade admits he maintains a busy schedule, but said he does so based on a lesson he has learned many times over throughout the years.

"If you're going to be worth anything to your community, then you have to accept challenges, take them on and try to make things better."

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