Students step back in time

(Source: KAIT-TV)
(Source: KAIT-TV)
(Source: KAIT-TV)
(Source: KAIT-TV)

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - A group of Region 8 students learned what it meant to go from separate, but equal to "truly" equal.

On Wednesday, Nettleton Junior High School received two special visitors.

Hoxie students Darrell Pickney and Ethel Tompkins stopped by to speak about what life was like for them with the school district integrated.

Hoxie student Darrell Pickney was only nine years old at the time.

"For me, it was really nothing," Pickney said. "For the city, it was a little more. It affected older people much more than it did kids."

Ethel Tompkins was one of the first black students to attend the Hoxie School District.

She said it would surprise many to know she had switched schools before it was required by law.

"We're trying to get the word out," Tompkins said. "That Hoxie made history, but we're not in the history books. We integrated in 1955. Little Rock integrated in 1957. So, we integrated two years before they did, but with less hullabaloo and things like that. We didn't have the Governor standing in the door and what have you. Plus, there was no t.v. coverage. So, therefore, they got all the glory if you want to call it glory. But everyone remembers their integration and they forgot about us. So, for years and years everyone figured Little Rock was the first school in Arkansas to integrate. But they were not. They were actually fourth to integrate. And the main difference between Hoxie and Little Rock is that Hoxie integrated the entire school. Little Rock only did the high school in certain grades."

Pickney said he was excited to see his friends in school.

"I lived right next door to the black neighborhood," Pickney said. "I played with the black kids all the time before we integrated. So, it was normal for me."

Tompkins said she was thrilled to go to the new school.

"It was an adventure for me," Tompkins said. "I've always been the adventurous type. Even as a child. And so, it was just like wow. Something different. Especially after we got a tour of the school. They had a library and indoor everything. Indoor plumbing, water fountains and all the nice things that we did not have at our school. We didn't have indoor plumbing at our school. And we didn't have water at our school. We had to take a bucket and go to one of the neighbors to see if they would allow us to fill it so that we'd have drinking water. So, to me, it was really exciting."

Like Pickney, Tompkins was also excited about all her friends.

"The other thing was my friends," Tompkins said. "My neighborhood friends. We could now go to school together. Because before we would start out together and go a couple of blocks and then they'd go one way and I'd go the other way. So, when they integrated the schools we could just hop along and all be late together."

However, Pickney said the transition wasn't as smooth for the adults.

"There was an orchestrated effort to stop integration," Pickney said. "And there was an effort to hold the white kids out of school, thinking that would keep the schools from integrating. My family, my parents, were part of the group that held me out of school for eight to ten weeks. Back in those days, we had what you call a split term. We'd go to school in July and August and then get out in the fall to pick cotton. It was in July and August when integration started. I got a long vacation that year. I understood that my black friends were leaving their school and coming over to our big school and that the adults thought that was bad. That we should be segregated."

Seventh-grade student Taliah Montgomery was excited to hear them speak.

"I thought it was really interesting," Montgomery said. "That they were able to come and talk to our seventh and eighth graders about everything because we weren't there. We weren't alive at that time. So, we want to know more about what actually happened."

Both Pickney and Tompkins said they hope students learn we're more alike than we are different.

"I hope they take away that we are basically the same," Tompkins said. "There's no reason why we can't all be together. All go to school together, eat together, play together. The only criteria should be whether or not we're nice to each other. Not the color of our skin or anything like that. I want them to understand things can be done peacefully."

"I certainly hope today," Pickney said. "When they hear what was just fifty something years ago that they realize that even though today I'm sure they think there are still lots of issues and problems, I'm hoping they can see how far we've come in fifty something years and will continue to go further and further."

Both Pickney and Tompkins still live in Hoxie today.

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