‘There’s not enough room for us all’
By Ruby Walden
Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of six opinion pieces by Ruby Walden about the educational system in Suffolk for African-American students. The series will be published on Sundays.
This article is the fourth in a series providing a synopsis of many years of Negro parents working constantly, trying to acquire a decent education for their Negro children in Nansemond County. It sheds a light on a system that was put in place and worked to keep an unlevel playing field between the schools for colored and white children.
The parents of Nansemond County Training School students continued their efforts to improve education in Nansemond County for Negroes. Even though problems still existed, the principal at the school never complained. During a PTA meeting, a parent questioned why one of her children was having to come to school from morning to noon, and the other one having to come from noon until closing. The principal told the parent that it was not happening. The teacher who had given those instructions to students was present in the meeting and spoke up stating that it was true. She had done so because there were not enough seats in the room for each child to have a seat of their own, and she was trying to give tests. The principal was asked why he did not let the parents know so they could ask for more rooms. His response was that he had nothing to complain about and that he was perfectly satisfied.
The principal was very loyal to his boss, and the boss was very loyal to him, with neither ever speaking of, acting on or providing what was needed on behalf of the students, parents or the school. For 42 years, the same uncooperative spirit existed even though this was an area of the state where Negroes were progressive and strived for the best at all times. Having been a student at Nansemond County Training School from 1934 to 1938, and becoming active in the PTA early after finishing high school, I am quite aware of many hurdles parents had to jump over during those years. According to an old PTA record book, parents drew up their first petition in July 1930 asking for a change of the principal with hopes that it would help progress. The petition was ignored by the school system just as two other petitions signed by hundreds of patrons and citizens had been presented to the board asking for the same change of the school principal.
The PTA appointed a committee to go to the school board to ask for rooms to eliminate the overcrowded classrooms that the principal said he did not know about. As a result, two rooms were added to the seven-room Rosenwald building, which was still inadequate for the number of students enrolled. Years of the same continued as some of the one- and two-room schools (grades one through seven) gradually started closing and children who were entering the eighth grade needed buses to get to NCTS. Buses were still on the list of things that were needed and after repeated trips, asking over and over for buses, finally, a few would be added. However, those were not nearly enough.
To validate the need for more buses, parents began counting the number of children on the buses. They would count 90 to more than 100 children getting off the buses, but the superintendent would say the numbers reported were wrong, pulling out the principal’s report and reading that there were only 59, 60 or 65 students on those particular buses on the same dates. Parents got worn out begging for what was deserved for their children, which was no more than what was provided for the white children of Nansemond County.
Despite all their efforts, little progress was made from 1924 through the next 35-plus years. Parents felt they had no choice but to file a suit suing the school system and superintendent of schools for the equalization of all schools in the county, making education for Negro children equal to what was provided for white children.
The fight continued…
Ruby Walden, a lifetime resident of Nansemond County and Suffolk, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.