Presentation to the Eighteenth International Conference on Magnet Schools
Sheraton El Conquistador
May 3, 2000
I have been asked on numerous occasions, “Why have you always been so interested in racial integration?” “What brought you into the Civil Rights Movement?” “Why you?” “What has happened to you to give you this motivation to spend your life in this field?” These questions cannot be answered in a sentence. These interests have developed in an evolutionary way. One can sometimes point to an epiphany, an event so overwhelming that it can be named as the. event that brought on the greatest change in belief or life-direction, but, for the most part, life paths — indeed, life passions — are more often than not products of experiential layers, compounded over the years. These stories are an attempt to answer those questions posed to me for perhaps forty years. I have wanted to tell them for a long time. I want to thank the Tucson Unified School District for this opportunity. I hope that I can get through the stories and that they are somehow instructive for some of you.
1934. He called himself Rabbit. He dressed the way the rest of us did in Wichita Falls summers: overalls and no shirt underneath. But one thing was different: he had on shiny black shoes, and they had taps on them. I don’t know how old he was; he could have been 15 or 35. I just knew one thing about him: he could dance like I had never seen before.
I don’t remember any music, and neither does my brother. I just remember a young man who could make his feet sound like a machine gun, and he could turn, spin, flip, and move like no other person I had ever seen.
My father would ask, when I was four or five years old, “Do you want to go see Rabbit?” My brother and I would pile through the rear windows into the model-t ford and later into the 34 Chevy and go to the service station (we called them filling stations), fill the car with gasoline, and watch Rabbit dance. When the first black man that I had ever seen up close danced, the white men — the owner and customers — would pitch pennies at his feet. (This was when a penny was money.) The more difficult the maneuver, the more pennies they would pitch.
I don’t know how Rabbit felt about his occupation, whether he was embarrassed or proud. I like to think that he would return to his home every night with a twinkle in his eye, with the knowledge that he probably earned more money each day doing something that no one around could duplicate than the owner of the station made. I know one thing: I would go home and try to do what I had seen Rabbit do. With the exception of my father and my brother (four years older than I and perfect), Rabbit was my first role model.
1939 When I was nine or ten years old, the white kids from all over town would go to the Wichita Theater each Saturday morning for a kid show that amounted to a cartoon (Tom and Jerry, usually), a scary serial that required us to return the next Saturday for the next installment, a live show that could be a talent contest, a yo-yo contest, or anything, really, and a feature film, always a horse opera starring such notables as Johnny Mack Brown, Tim McCoy, Tom Mix, or a young, singing cowboy named Gene Autry.
One Saturday morning, my brother, who is now a Ph. D. cowboy and a much-honored cattleman, but was then a musical prodigy (he literally could pick up any instrument and play it), had gone to the theater because he and three other members of a washboard band were to perform during the live segment of the show. (Incidentally, his group won first place.)
At any rate, my mother gave me an extra nickel so that I could ride the bus to the theater. I was perhaps nine or ten years of age. I walked over one block from my house and boarded a bus headed South toward down town. When I entered the bus and dropped my nickel into the container, I noticed maybe 7 or 8 African American citizens trying to sit in the one seat across the back of the bus. I sat in the third seat on the left. All the way to town, I could feel the eyes on me – a small child sitting alone. I have never felt so lonely in my life.
Those who would criticize the people on the bus who did not insist on exercising their rights need a large dose of historical context. The system said that those who defied it would go the jail and lose their jobs. These folk had to feed their kids. I honor them today because while enduring the worst abuses of an evil system, they were producing a generation that included Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Jackie Robinson, to name only three of thousands. I also honor them for making a small child feel like what he was: the outsider.
One more observation about downtown theaters: two of the theaters, the Gem and the State, had balconies in which black citizens sat to watch movies. I remember as a small child hearing laughter coming from the balcony at times different from the times that those below laughed. The people in the balcony had their own codes, their own nuances that we were not privy to. They had a well-developed cultural antenna that afforded them insights that we missed.
19th. This year was a bummer. It began with the death of the person who taught me how to read, Miss Lottie Woods, my first grade teacher, who not only taught me, a five-year-old, bare-footed, overalled kid, how to read, but she also allowed me to go to the front of the room and wind the Victrola so that I could hear Enrico Caruso sing “Celestia Aida” and Paul Robeson sing “Deep River.” For some reason she had sent me a birthday card each year after leaving her class. I was now 1 2, and I would miss those cards.
In late June, my beautiful mother died. And in December, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
But two good things did happen. Number one, my brother, who had graduated from high school at age 1 6 decided to take a postgraduate course so that he could march in the front row of the band, carrying his trombone and keeping an eye on one of the majorettes just ahead of him, a girl named Dot who would become his wife a few years later. Number two, during the first week of June I went to my first boy scout camp, where I met Mr. Harrison.
My brother and I rode a bus with other scouts to Camp Boulder in the Wichita Mountains of Oklahoma, me for the first time, and my brother for the third or fourth time. My brother, whom we called Dub — short for W.J. — was there to work as a dishwasher. The other dishwasher was an African American gentleman name Mr. Harrison. Mr. Harrison was the principal of the black high school in Vernon, Texas. Is there something wrong with this picture? My sixteen-year-old brother and a grown man with a Master’s degree were the two dishwashers.
We soon found that Mr. Harrison was more than an educator; he was also a poet and a story teller. At the evening camp fires, he would recite his original poetry and tell us mesmerizing stories. All of the scouts looked forward to this activity more than to any other. We literally loved this man, but no one at that camp called him Mr. Harrison. I have purposely ignored his first name in this paper in order to correct a fifty-nine year error. Despite the fact that everyone at the camp respected this good man, everyone called him by his first name, even the children. Today I honor this man for his intelligence and his kindness to a group of ignorant twelve to sixteen year olds who did not know that he should be addressed as “Mister.”
1941: As a fifteen-year-old junior in high school, I belonged to an organization called the De Molays, or more formally, Hope Chapter, Order of De Molay. There were three student leaders of this organization: the junior counselor, the senior counselor, and the master counselor. The person elected as junior counselor would become the senior counselor the following year and master counselor the next. This particular year I was the senior counselor, and two of my best friends held the other two positions.
At any rate, anyone in our high school who wanted to join just had to let someone in the organization know. We would go through the perfunctory motions of electing each one to membership, but no one was ever turned down. Until one day in 1943. Each time a person applied for membership, the members would individually go to a container that looked like a barrel and drop in a white ball to indicate acceptance. One black ball — an irony in itself – would prevent a person’s becoming a member.
On this date one black ball was dropped into the container. We three student leaders were not heroes; we did not say if you do not change your vote, we are quitting. But we did stand together and ask the membership to revote. They revoted and allowed the person to become a member. The person was Marvin Zale, the son of the man who started the largest jewelry business in the world. He was Jewish, and we had one bigot in our midst. We did not ever find out who had cast the black ball, and, to my knowledge, Marvin never did find out that it took two rounds of voting to confirm him.
1953: This was the year that I began teaching. But first I had to complete my degree from Midwestern State University. It had taken me eight years to receive my Bachelor’s (work and save money, then go to school, work, school, work, school), and I will be ever grateful to the basketball coach at Midwestern for letting me take Coaching Basketball by correspondence while I attended the Artillery School in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. The Artillery School was part of my military obligation as an officer in the Texas National Guard.
I already knew where I was going to teach. I had a job teaching self-contained seventh graders in Archer City, Texas, a very small city 25 miles south of my home town of Wichita Falls. This town was made famous by having “The Last Picture Show” filmed there. In fact, I coached Larry McMurtry, the author of “Terms of Endearment,” “Lonesome Dove,” and many more novels, in baseball. He couldn’t hit the curve, but he certainly could write. More recently Larry has moved his “rare books” empire to Archer City, where more than 500,000 books now reside. It will one day total one million books. (Imagine this, in a town of 2800.)
I mention this year because my commanding officer at Fort Sill, where I was stationed for about four months, was a black Marine Lieutenant Colonel. This arrangement would not have been possible even eight years earlier. (This was 1953, and President Truman had integrated the armed forces in 1946.) Also worth mentioning is the fact that Archer City had only one black family, and the children of that family rode a bus 25 miles to attend Booker T. Washington in Wichita Falls.
I recalled how during my childhood in Wichita Falls black children had ridden busses from Electra (16 miles), Holliday (11 miles), and Henrietta (21 miles) right by several school buildings in order to attend Booker T. Washington. Today it makes one wonder what the turmoil about “bussing” was all about. It was all right when bussing was used to enforce segregation.
While in Midwestern, I had completed a comparative study of equipment and supplies in Washington and Wichita Falls High, only to find that Booker T. Washington had mostly “hand-me-downs.”
1957: Immediately following a baseball game in which my team in Archer City beat a team from Chillicothe 14-0, while still at the ball park the Superintendent of the Chillicothe independent School District offered me a job as High School Principal of a school with exactly 100 students in grades 9-1 2. Oh, yes, I had to promise to also coach baseball and to teach Algebra I. And further, I also directed the one-act-play to a spot in the Texas state finals. (Until writing this presentation, I had forgotten that being high school principal was a minor part of my responsibilities.) Even then I probably got the job because almost half the people in and around Chillicothe were named Waldrip.
When I arrived in Chillicothe, I found that there were two high schools, the black high school serving about 50 students. Think how many more subjects (both horizontally and vertically) we could have offered if we had combined the high schools, but, alas, that was against the law. The principal of the black high school had to come to me for his book allotment. I was a first year principal, and he was a man approaching retirement.
I was already angry about the mistreatment of the black students when a woman asked me to speak at a parent meeting. When she asked me, she handed me several books to read so that I would “say the right things.” I began to read these books only to find that they were the craziest things I had ever read. They were worse than Ayn Rand gone berserk. I thought that we had defeated the Nazis. This was my first introduction to the John Birch Society. (For those of you too young to know what the John Birch Society was, and still is to a lesser extent, it is a right-wing hate group that wraps itself in the American flag while looking for communists under every rock and behind every door. It was the organization primarily responsible for the outset of McCarthyism, named for a Senator from Wisconsin, Joe McCarthy, who spent much of his time, along with the House Un-American Activities Committee — an organization that President Truman called the most un-American group in America–destroying the careers of American citizens. McCarthy once even accused President Eisenhower of being a member of the Communist Party.) I returned the books to the woman and told her that she had asked me to speak and that I would say “what I damned well pleased.” This was probably the first time that I was ever referred to as a radical.
After one year, even though we won district in baseball, I moved on to a school much bigger in a district in which I was supplied with a house in which to live.
1958: I moved to Olton, Texas, to find that the black school had been destroyed the year before by a tornado. The children had gathered in a central “cloak room” and the walls and ceiling were blown away all around them. Miraculously, not a person was hurt. But, even though the black school had been destroyed and even though the white school was mostly new and the gymnasium was brand new, the black children were not invited to join the rest of the community. Instead, makeshift buildings were erected so that the black children could remain segregated. 1960: I stayed in Olton for two years, but during the middle summer, I enrolled in the Doctoral program at Colorado State College (now the University of Northern Colorado) in Greeley, Colorado. While there, I took some tests that qualified me for a fellowship sponsored by the Educational Facilities Laboratory of the Ford Foundation. The following December, I found that I would become a Ford Fellow for 1960 and 1961.
During the summer of 1960 I met a man named Bob Hatch from Alabama who was the Executive Director of the Black Professional Education Association. (In Alabama there were two separate associations.) He planned to take his family on an excursion through Texas back to Alabama during the Christmas holidays. He asked me to let him know the best way to travel through the state. I began to tell him of the things he would want to see and the things he could not possibly miss, only to find that he was asking one question and I was answering another. He wanted to know where he could travel and be able to spend the night. This was 1960, six years after the Brown decision. it was becoming easier and easier to be considered a radical.
1967: In 1961 I went to Spokane, Washington, to become Director of Research. This was a time when jobs were plentiful, and most people could choose where they wanted to work. My family (now two children) and I were getting more and more adventuresome. Moving to Spokane for a person from the rolling plains of Texas was like moving to Alaska.
After five years in this position, I was promoted to Assistant Superintendent for Instruction, a position that required that I plan and implement the back-to-school activities for the entire professional staff of the Spokane Public Schools. My first act was to invite Louis E. Lomax, an African American social philosopher from Los Angeles, to give the opening speech to 3500 teachers and administrator at the coliseum. When it was announced that Lomax would be speaking, the nuts began falling from the trees. Because he was an outspoken advocate of the civil-rights movement, he was accused by the right wing crowd of being a communist. Letters to the editor were printed in the Spokesman-Review claiming that he was an active member of the party and that he would somehow be a terrible moral influence if he spoke to the teachers. Editorials appeared, and every time, it seems, that his named was mentioned, it was followed by “Lomax was invited to speak by Dr. Donald R. Waldrip, Assistant Superintendent.”
When Lomax appeared before the teachers, he called each person’s name who had written a published letter to the paper to see whether he or she was in the audience. When two persons, one woman and one man, raised their hands, he asked them to come down front, where he asked them, “Where did you get your information for the letters you wrote.” He literally berated them for the lies in their epistles. As he spoke, it seemed that everyone in the audience was trying to locate me. I was half-way back in the coliseum sinking deeper and deeper into my seat, even though what he told the teachers was something they needed to hear.
While in our city, he debated Major Edgar C. Bundy, Executive Secretary of the Church League of America, on the question of whether there was a Communist influence in the civil rights movement. (Can you believe the preoccupation with the subject of communism?) Of course, Lomax insisted that no such influence existed, while Bundy said that the FBI had come to a different conclusion. (We are aware of the veracity of that organization under the leadership of J. Edgar Hoover; it even accused Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. of being a Communist.)
When a radio station recorded the debate for a later broadcast, Lomax sent the station a bill for $2500. (He was absolutely indomitable!) The school district, according to the newspaper, had paid Lomax $662.50 to speak ($500 plus expenses). The station did not pay and did not broadcast.
Some professors from Whitworth College were so happy about the appearance of Lomax that they invited him back the following December to debate John Rousselot, former congressman from California and, at the time, director of public relations for the John Birch Society. (Of course the newspaper began all over again to make it clear that Dr. Donald R. Waldrip had done the initial inviting.) The two met in a coffee-house arrangement, in which those in attendance could ask questions. As usual, some of the audience wanted to make speeches rather than ask questions. One man who was asked to stop making a speech and pose a question asked Lomax, “Are you a born-again Christian?” Lomax responded, “None of your cotton-picking business.
The subject they were supposed to be addressing was “Is conservatism a major and constructive force in America?” Lomax, taking the negative, saw conservatism as a “dripping, oozing moral cancer on the world society.” I wouldn’t have put it quite that way. One year later, when Detroit went up in flames, the local paper had forgiven Lomax. It carried his five-installment report on the Detroit riots on the front page of the Spokesman-Review. We had been one-year ahead of our time.
Louis Lomax was killed in an automobile accident about two years after appearing in Spokane, and many people have forgotten his tremendous contribution to the civil rights movement. Anyone interested in reviving his memory can read one of his books, THE RELUCTANT AFRICAN or THE NEGRO REVOLT.
I will close this portion of the presentation with one story that he told on himself. Lomax was a very successful author and reporter and was married to a very successful psychologist. He lived in Beverly Hills. Once when he was in his front yard raking leaves, a large black Cadillac pulled up into his driveway. The license plate identified the car as being from Arkansas. A man got out of the car and approaching Lomax, asked, “I’m new to these parts, and I was just wondering how much it would cost to hire a yard man for my place.” Without batting an eye, Lomax replied, “I don’t know what the going rate is, but I know as for me, the lady of the house lets me sleep with her.” The man blanched, turned on a dime, got into his car, and drove off.
1968: I was asked by the school board of Wichita Falls, Texas, to return to my hometown as superintendent. They wanted someone from outside the system, but since I was a hometown boy, I was probably safe. As you will discover, in baseball parlance, I was probably more “out” than “safe.”
But first let us go back fifteen years to Camp Hood, Texas, where I am a twenty-four year old first lieutenant and the commanding officer (a captain’s vacancy) of Headquarters Battery, Division Artillery, a unit organized to serve a Brigadier General and his staff. I reported to the general’s executive officer, a full colonel named Luther E. Orrick. One day the colonel called and asked me to have a jeep brought up for the communications officer. I called the motor pool and asked Sgt. Pruitt to send up the jeep. Fifteen minutes later the colonel came into my command tent and asked where the jeep was. “Right outside,” I replied. He went outside the tent and quickly returned yelling, “It’s not there.” My clerk and first sergeant were in the tent with me. He began screaming at me. He threw his hat down on the ground (literally) and jumped up and down on it. Here was a bird colonel, about forty-five years old, having a tantrum.
When he finally departed, I called Sgt. Pruitt back and told him of his proud accomplishment, getting his commanding officer royally chewed out. (I’m afraid that I did not use the gentile language reported here.) “Oh, I’m sorry, Lieutenant. I forgot.”
Fifteen years later I went to Wichita Falls as superintendent. Colonel Orrick was one of my assistant superintendents. He was scared to death; he thought that I would fire him. I just let him dangle a little bit for about a week before I let him know that he could relax. I was enjoying working with him. (Incidentally, he was at that time a two-star general and the division commander of the 49th Armored Division, Texas National Guard.)
Not only was my old commanding officer on my staff, but my father-in-law was a teacher in my old high school, my assistant principal when I was in high school was now the principal, my own junior high school principal was still principal in the same building, and the principal of Hirschi High School was a man who had once given me a paddling for (I think) talking too much when I was in junior high school (they used to do that, you know.) The teacher who started teaching across the hall from me the day I started to school was still teaching first grade in another building; one of my English teachers was still in the same room in my old high school. It was truly a homecoming for me. I had attended high school with two of my board members, graduated with one of them and attended college with the other. The president of the board had given me my first charge account, when I was sixteen just before I entered college, at his department store. Over fifty years later, he is still a dear friend.
The day I arrived in my office, the deputy superintendent, a Mr. G. H. Kirby, shook hands with his right hand and, with his left hand, handed me an order from the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare stating that our schools must be desegregated immediately. I wrote HEW and asked for a year’s delay, which was granted, and then we began planning in earnest.
In 1968, no one even considered anything except getting the white schools, ala Central High at Little Rock, to open their doors to black kids. We began public hearings discussing the possibility of placing half the attendance area for Booker T. Washington into Wichita Falls High (or old high, as it was now called locally) and the other half into Rider High School (which was, incidentally, named for my old high school principal at old high, a man who, during World War II, rode a bicycle to work every day). All schools were strictly attended according to attendance areas. Since Hirschi High School served Sheppard Air Force Base and the economically poorest part of the mostly white community (where I lived as a small child), it was already desegregated. But the other two high schools had only the very few black students who lived in their attendance areas.
The community hearings were mostly distasteful, the only enjoyable ones being in the black community. The black high school kids had the most to lose and, we dearly hoped, the most to gain. After all, they loved their school too, and they had loyalties to teams, bands, and clubs just as other high school students did. But they also wanted to be a part of history. And, deep down, many of them wanted to check out the white schools. Without their agreement, we would never have implemented the transfer. After many public hearings, we planned a big one for students, parents, and community members at large at Booker T. Washington. The place was packed. During the discussion, a student named Kenneth Jordan, who was President of the Student Council, came up on stage and asked for the mike. I remember his words exactly: “I think it is time that our black faces darkened the doors of those white schools.” All of a sudden from another part of the auditorium, someone said very softly, “yeh.” Then more yehs from other parts of the auditorium, then louder yehs, and finally clapping and yelling and a standing ovation for this very courageous young man. I doubt, without his help, that we would ever have begun the process voluntarily. I will never forget him. We met many times after that during the year to see how he was progressing with the other students. At his young age, he was talking about opportunities and equality.
Hundreds showed up at the board meeting to adopt the first stage of desegregation, the black community appearing to support the plan unanimously and about half of the white attendees shouting “Never.” It was a bloody battle with many, many impassioned speeches on both sides. Finally the board approved the high school desegregation plan four to three. The plan that the president and I had discussed was to have the junior highs follow the next year and the elementary schools the third. But we all agreed that the biggest hurdle had been taken.
In September, the high schools were opened without incident. Old High won the state AAAAA football championship. (I thought this would surely, in Texas, where high school football is a religious experience, pacify the masses.) But in November four white segregationists from the Rider High School District (the newest part of town) ran for the school board and were elected. The board had now gone from four-three for racial integration to four-three against.
After the Christmas break, I went out to talk with Mr. Ervin Garnett, the principal of Booker T. Washington Junior High (it had been until this year Booker T. High School) to see what his aspirations were for the future. He said that most of his career had been in coaching, and he would like, more than anything else, to be a AAAAA head football coach. He said, “It has been my lifetime ambition.” Since the position was open at Rider, I asked him to apply. The trophy case at Booker T. (what everybody called the school) attested to his prowess as a football coach. He was recommended highly by my administrative assistant, C. E. (Prof) Jackson, who had been for years Booker T’s Principal prior to Mr. Garnett.
Since he was the best candidate, I offered him the job. When this was announced, every block of the Southwest side of the city exploded simultaneously. The principal asked me if I would come out to a public meeting to discuss the decision with his constituency. I went, only to have people shout what they considered to be epithets at me from all over the auditorium. It was ugly! I recognized one of the shouters as a man from my high school class and another, a woman, who had lived two doors from me as a child.
The board might have overlooked the actions of a radical superintendent if I had not messed with Mother football. That was too much. In April, the board met at 2:00 a.m., in what the paper that had supported me throughout all of this had called an “illegal meeting” and fired me. I still had about one and one-third years left on my contract.
I did not sleep all night. That same morning, I shaved and went to my office to meet with the principals to tell them goodbye. I was so tired and spent that all I could do was cry. What a terrible mess I was that morning. Following the meeting I went to the business office and picked up my pay-off check of $36,000 and went downtown to transfer my account from one bank to another and to deposit the check into my account.
A vice president of the bank where I had always done business was the classmate of mine on the board who had been a leader in the “anti-desegregation” movement. He had been an all-American football player at the University of Texas and was a very popular person with some members of the community. But not the black community.
When I arrived at the bank, it was surrounded by black citizens carrying signs saying, “Save our superintendent” and “Save Waldrip.” These citizens were using green power; they had gone to the bank to protest and to remove their money from the bank. I went up and closed my account and then went across the street to the competition and opened an account that included my $36,000. As I was entering the building, a drunk stumbled out, walked right up to my face, and pointing across the street, slobbered, “I’m sure glad my name ain’t on any of them signs.” “Don’t worry, sir,” I responded, “it never will be.” (The next year my old all-American classmate moved to another bank in another city.)
That night, the biggest traffic jam in the history of Wichita Falls occurred around the Waldrip home. Hundreds of citizens came for half the night singing “We shall overcome.” The police were out in numbers directing traffic. I still had not slept.
The next day, a judge, arguably one of the most powerful men in Wichita Falls, came to my house. He told me, after we served coffee, “I guess you know that you are not going to lose your job.” The conversation led to the payoff. He said, “You have not picked up the check, have you.”
“Yes, I have.” “Do you have it with you?” “No.” “Did you deposit it?” “Yes.” “Into escrow, I hope.” “No, I deposited it into my account.” “Oh, no!”
I had never seen $36,000 before. I had gone first thing to get the check and deposit it, because I was afraid that it would blow up in smoke. Since I accepted the check and deposited it into my account, I was indeed the FORMER superintendent of Wichita Falls ISD.
After the judge left, I turned on the television to see what the news people were saying. Most were decrying the “illegal” board meeting. But I also discovered that black kids all over the city had walked out of their classes and schools. I jumped into the car and drove out to Booker T. Washington. When the kids saw me get out of my car, they ran toward me. The junior-high girls came as close to me as they could, a couple of them taking each of my arms as we walked into the building. The young men walked behind us and began this rhythmical clapping. We entered the hallway, and I stood on a chair to talk with the students. I was so emotional I could barely speak.
I told them how proud I was of them for standing for something and how much I appreciated their support. But, I said, “we have gone through this so that everyone in Wichita Falls would receive a better education, and we can only receive a better education if all of you go to class. So, please, be proud of yourselves and return to class. I will never forget you.” Without a word, but with a few waving or pumping their fists, they all returned to their classes. I then went on television on the program of Warren Silver, a very supportive board member, and asked all of the other students to please return to class.
Before the ink was dry on the minutes of the illegal meeting, I was offered an endowed chair at Texas A. & M. and an assistant superintendency in Dallas. In fact, everything I have done since that day was not in spite of, but because of, the firing in Wichita Falls. It was the greatest thing that ever happened in my career. Who I was had been defined. I took my family to Europe for six weeks and blew as much of the Wichita Falls’ largess as I wanted to.
Mr. Garnett never oversaw a single football snap at Rider. Instead, Prof Jackson retired and Mr. Garnett took his place as Administrative Assistant to the Superintendent. The board attempted to undo the desegregation plan, but Federal Judge Sarah Hughes, the person who swore in Lyndon Johnson on Air force One following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, ordered Wichita Falls to implement the three year plan as envisioned by four courageous members of a school board two years earlier. In fact, I met many wonderfully courageous citizens in Wichita Falls, but none more so than the President of the School Board. I hope that someday the city honors him in a meaningful way for his courageous stand for the children of Wichita Falls. Even though sales at his department stores were affected, he never wavered in his dedication to and support for all the children of the city.
Wichita Falls began to be recognized almost immediately following the Hughes order as a Southern exemplar. Now the district boasts many magnet schools, including the first winner of the Simpson Award, the top award given by MSA. Incidentally the school, Washington-Jackson Elementary School of Math, Science, and Technology, is located in the same Booker T. Washington building. The Jackson in the name was added to honor my administrative assistant and former long-time principal of Booker T., C. E. (Prof) Jackson. I might add that Huey Elementary School, where I began my formal schooling as a five-year-old first grader, is now a magnet. My old high school is also a magnet, but my junior high became the administrative building for the entire district.
1970: From New York City, as soon as we landed from Europe, I called the dean at Texas A & M and told him how much I appreciated his offer but that I still wanted to be a large-city superintendent and that the Dallas position was probably a shorter road to that goal. The dean later became Chancellor of the A & M system. At any rate, I then called Superintendent Nolan Estes and told him that I accepted the position of Assistant Superintendent for Accountability and Personnel Development. This position gave me the opportunity to work in the areas of performance contracting, in which businesses were paid on the basis of student performance, and to work in the development of teacher centers, in which universities came into schools to train teachers. I also became Chairman of the Planning Committee for Skyline High School, a contemplated “super” high school of several curricular strands that would serve high school students and adults, would keep its doors open sixteen hours a day, and would attract a diverse population from throughout the city of Dallas. (Does that sound familiar?)
At this point, Dallas had done quite a bit in the area of desegregation at the secondary levels, but the elementariness were virtually untouched. My children entered the neighborhood schools, my daughter into a totally desegregated middle school and my two sons into an all-white elementary school. I began to represent Nolan as a speaker everywhere he couldn’t go. I spoke on the subjects of accountability, performance contracting, teacher centers, continuous progress education, and what we were then calling alternative schools, but would now be considered magnet schools. Alternatives have since acquired a different connotation in several parts of the country.
Our first year, my family joined Midway Hills Christian Church, a church that had some Christians in it. It also owned a bus. Through the efforts of the church, the second year, not wanting our children to grow up thinking that North Dallas was America, we put thirty-six children on a bus and sent them to Paul M. Dunbar Elementary School, a six-university teacher center in the center of the city that served 900 public school black kids in grades k-6. One of my sons was in the fifth grade and the other in the second grade.
This school offered Suzuki Violin. My second grader joined the class, and before we could say Yahudi Menhuin, could play sixty-four versions of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Every time the school had a Suzuki concert, the teacher would put Tim in the center of the stage. He was the only white kid in the group.
1972: The next year I went to Cincinnati as Superintendent of Schools and, again, my boys entered the neighborhood school. My daughter took the test and passed it so that she could enter Walnut Hills High School, a college prep school in the public school system that had been operating since 191 8 and boasted several renowned citizens as graduates.
My older son, Jay, was doing great. He knew everyone in our neighborhood the first week. My younger son, Tim, began studying violin with a member of the Cincinnati symphony and was doing well in school except for vocal music. He made 0’s (for outstanding) in all subjects except for the N (needs help) in vocal music. I had been a choir director in a large church in Spokane and his mother had had a voice scholarship to college, and Tim was flunking vocal music. It made no sense. “I refuse to sing those dumb songs,” he said.
The next year we organized the Creative and Performing Arts School, and I asked Tim, now a fourth grader, whether he wanted to audition. “No,” he said, “I want to go to the same school two years in a row. You get picked for kick-ball the second year.”
During the second half of the year, the teachers went out on strike, and the only schools in session were the magnet (nee alternative) schools. After Tim had walked around his school once picketing his father, I picked him up and took him over to see the Arts school in action. He loved it.
He went back during the summer to audition. I knew that he would be accepted playing the fiddle, but when he auditioned, he was also accepted in theatre (he had never been in a play), dance (he had never danced), and vocal music. “Vocal music!” I remonstrated, “he hates to sing.” “He has a beautiful voice” was the rejoinder.
That year, at age eleven, he sang the soprano solo in Vivaldi’s “Gloria.” He was chosen as the only child in a professional production of “Revolutionary Romp.” Tim was paid $15.00 per week. The next year, at age twelve, he played Oliver in “Oliver!” professionally and then went to Broadway as Yul Brenner’s son in “The King and I.” After he turned thirteen on stage with Yul Brenner leading the singing of “Happy Birthday,” he went on the road as Ed Ames’ son in “Shenandoah.” Here was a kid who had flunked vocal music in his neighborhood school who would have never discovered his talent if it had not been for magnet schools. Singing was not the thing to do in his neighborhood school; it was expected and respected in his magnet school.
Let us now return to the time that Cincinnati asked me to come interview for the position of Superintendent of Schools. I was interviewed perhaps six times during a two-month period by community groups, parent groups, administrative groups, and the school board. What started out with 186 applicants was reduced to two, and someone leaked the two finalists to the newspaper. I told the board that it would be an honor to lose to Mario Fantini.
When I was interviewed the first time by the board, an African American member named Ron Temple, who was a dean at the University of Cincinnati, sat at the other end of the table with his feet propped up on the corner of the table and stared at me through the bottom of his eyes. He was not buying anything that I said. Following the meeting, I walked up to him and asked him what his problem was. He said, “I have a hard time with white men with Texas accents.” “Oh, you’re prejudiced,” I responded. He smiled. “Why don’t you come to Texas and check me out?” I asked. “I think I will do just that,” he answered.
He came to Dallas and was wined and dined by some of the most influential liberals in Dallas (which, at last count, numbered about nine. I’m joking.) Anyway, he was getting a good impression in Dallas, but he still wanted to know what had happened in Wichita Falls. Someone in Dallas knew a business man in Wichita Falls and gave Ron a number.
When Ron called, the business man, not knowing that Ron was African American, said that “Don was a good oI’ boy, but. He then told Ron that Don was just too close to the black community. The idiot even used the N word in describing my relationship. “Thank you very much for the information” was Ron Temple’s only response.
Ron returned to Cincinnati and made the motion that I be made Superintendent. I was elected unanimously. That board — four members of them, anyway — were looking for a person with my qualifications. If there is anything to be learned from these reminiscences, it is that no one need vacillate from a principled position. If a person stands for something, someone out there will agree with that position; but if a person waffles with the wind, no one knows who that person is and consequently cannot know whether that is the person for whom he is looking. Stand tall for what you believe; others out there will agree with you, are looking for you, and will find you if they know who you are.
Because of a man named Glenn Hendricks, while I was in Cincinnati, we were able to start sixteen magnet schools in forty locations. Because of Glenn, we started the first public Montessori school in the nation, the first arts magnet going from elementary through high school, and the first foreign language immersion magnets beginning in the primary grades. Glenn’s steadfast leadership, his loyalty, and his dedication are the reasons that Cincinnati has the magnet schools that it does today. And, another thing, everybody needs a friend like Glenn. If you don’t have one, begin looking for one today. They are a rare commodity, but they are out there.
One of the schools, the Creative and Performing Arts School, began in the artsy community of Mount Adams. When my son entered there, he practiced his violin in the boys’ restroom, took math over Mike’s Meat Market across the street from the school, and went to the library in the hallway. It started in grades four, five, and six and added a new grade four as the sixth graders became seventh graders. After two years it had outgrown its walls and moved into Yavna Day School and the Jewish Community Center, facilities that were two blocks apart. I can still remember kids carrying cellos (my son Tim, who is married to a world-class cellist, reminded me that the plural was celli) two blocks through the snow from one building to another. After one year the school was moved into the Cutter Junior High building on the site of the oldest secondary school west of the Alleghenies. For one year it shared space with an attendance-zone school, and finally took over the whole school. It had more than 600 on the waiting list and was accepting five per cent of its students from surrounding school districts and from several in Kentucky. Kentucky students had to pay the total cast of educating a student in Ohio (state and local contributions), and students from other Ohio districts had to match the local contribution for educating a student.
A group called the Friends of SCPA was formed when the school was organized and began to bake cookies and sell them for funds to support the school. By the early eighties, the budget for this organization was one million dollars per year. Some of the old wealth of Cincinnati had been tapped.
We were always looking for a place large enough for this fine school to grow. We finally settled on the Union Terminal, a beautiful art-deco structure built in 1933 and holding some of the finest Reis Murals depicting early industry in the city. It was located near a large 1 00% African American public housing project in the Taft High School attendance area. The city agreed to sell it to the district for one dollar and to dedicate $100,000 a year in perpetuity for its upkeep. In addition, a local philanthropist named Ralph Corbett, who had made his millions from selling, of all things, the Avon doorbell, had told me personally that he would donate two million dollars to the cause.
“You didn’t know that you would get that much when you came here, did you?” he had said to me. The board voted seven to zero to hire the architectural firm of Hardy, Holtzman, and Pfeifer of New York City (the group that has just completed the renovation of Time’s Square) to design the structure. Glenn Hendricks and the staff of the school had written the educational specifications.
After having spent more than $100,000 in architectural fees, the school board election brought two citizens to membership who thought that the terminal should be turned to commercial use instead of educational use. They convinced two sitting members to change their votes so that the vote went from 7-0 for to 4-3 against. About this time, I received a letter from Ralph Corbett stating how sorry he was that his banks had found it impossible to release funds for the school at present. Ralph Corbett did so many wonderful things for the city of Cincinnati that I would never criticize him, but his letter was easily recognizable as a smoke screen. Even the CINCINNATI ENQUIRER congratulated the school board on reversing its decision. (The ENQUIRER had supported moving the arts school to a vacated girls’ school in an all-white suburb, but it did not support moving the school into the Union Terminal, located in an all-black community.) It was at this time that I decided that even though I had one year remaining on my contract, I would resign and dedicate my time to magnet school consulting and chaperoning my teenage actor-son. My lawyer negotiated a two-year consulting contract with the school board.
Union terminal became a conglomerate of shops and eateries and went broke in two years. It now houses an historical museum.
Two of the board members who hired me are still two of my closest friends, and my children still consider Cincinnati home.
1976-79: My first consultant job was with St. Louis, followed by Pittsburgh, Nashville, San Diego, Los Angeles, Birmingham, and finally more cities than Glenn and I could serve. It was during these years that we established Magnet Schools of America and conducted three conferences, in Dallas in 1977, in New Orleans in 1978, and in San Diego in 1979. Following the Dallas conference, Harold Webb, Executive Director of the National School Boards Association asked me to be an invited lecturer at their annual meeting to be held in Houston in 1978. When one of my adversaries on the school board in Wichita Falls, a woman who had been President of the Texas School Boards Association, found this out, she went to the Executive director of the state organization to try to block the invitation. Harold Webb and the board of NSBA displayed tremendous political courage in standing their ground and supporting my right to speak. Courage, loyalty, and character seem to be the hallmark of many of those with whom I have had the privilege to work over the years, from my buddies in De Molay, to Al Ayars, the superintendent in Spokane, to the citizens who marched on the bank in Wichita Falls and the students who supported desegregation, to the citizens and professional educators who have made my old hometown school district the model for equity and student achievement that it is today, to the members of the Midway Hills Christian Church in Dallas who provided the bus and the children to voluntarily desegregate one elementary school, to that gutsy school board that hired me in Cincinnati, to Judge Battisti, Al Tutela, Wanda Jean Green, Seymour Friedman, and James Coleman in Cleveland, to Harold Webb, to Judy Stein, the first president of MSA and a loyal, courageous, and tenacious colleague and leader, to Glenn Hendricks at almost every stop above.
One of the other five invited lecturers to the NSBA conference was Alex Haley, the author of ROOTS, and it just so happened that he and I shared a general session, in which I was scheduled to speak first. I rose and walked to the podium to face three or four thousand people in the Coliseum, the largest audience before whom I had ever spoken. “I want to thank all of you,” I said, “for coming to hear me speak.” The audience roared with laughter.
1980: In 1980 I decided incorrectly that everybody who was going to start magnet schools had started them, so I accepted a job with the Cleveland Public Schools as Desegregation Administrator. Since two years earlier a person with a similar job to mine had been killed by a berserk parent in Dayton, Ohio, Federal Judge Frank Battisti ordered that I have bodyguards from morning to night. (I lived in a controlled apartment complex in downtown Cleveland, so I did not need them for twenty-four hours.) But from 7:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. each day, I was accompanied by one or two armed associates.
Upon arrival in Cleveland, the judge had us all in his court room to issue the order employing me. The order stated that if the superintendent were unable to find office space equal to or superior to the space he was occupying, the superintendent was to move and give me his office. Not wanting to begin that way, I looked over the building and found an unused curriculum library that would be more than adequate. This was on Friday evening. On Monday morning I came to work and found the curriculum library transformed into a beautiful office. It contained leather chairs; a huge oak desk; a long, heavy, antique oak conference table with ten leather chairs around it, and a couch and chair arrangement before the fireplace at the end of the room opposite my desk. The office was palacial! Never before or since have I an office to come even close to it in beauty and size.
One of the first things that I did was to have a private telephone line installed in my office so that no one could accuse me of using the phone for personal reasons. (I was being so careful so that I would not embarrass the Court.) Each month, the Business Manager, who was by law the Secretary to the Board of Education, would send the bill down to my office, and I would make a check out to the Cleveland Public Schools. About a year after we began this practice, I received a call from the superintendent in Elkhorn, Indiana, telling me that a reporter had called him and asked what he and I had talked about. The next day, I received a call from my stepmother saying that someone had called to find out what we had talked about. A reporter was going to the business manager and asking to see the telephone records. He would go down the list of my calls and recall every number to see whether he could get some dirt on me. He was unable to, but what an extent the reporter would travel for a story!
The second night in Cleveland a party was given in my honor, whereupon one of my new bodyguards dropped his gun and it bounced across the marble floor — an inauspicious beginning for a person who would become one of my best friends. We began to call him Barney Fife. In all seriousness, though, my body guards, for the most part, were either former policemen or former special agents or both, and also in seriousness, one becomes very close to people with whom he spends virtually all of his time. We are all still very close friends.
The stories about the board, all true, are unbelievable. The president, who at one time had ambitions to become governor some day, was caught by a local police officer, on a St. Patrick’s Day, mooning his brother from the window of a speeding car. The end of his ambitions, to say the least, was abrupt. Another member of the board, who had been a member for more than forty years, assumed the responsibility for naming all of the craftsmen to be employed in the district. Each craftsman paid into a “flower fund” (for funerals and weddings) ten per cent of his wages. The fund was administered by the board member (wink, wink). Another member of the board had his safety threatened (I heard the threat in the hallway prior to the board meeting) if he did not vote for a certain person for Board President. The threat caused him to change his vote.
After attending one board meeting, I decided that the better part of valor was to send a representative (Al Tutela) to most of the board meeting rather than attend personally. His response to many questions was, “The administrator has not authorized me to answer that question.” My job was like being a superintendent and not having to attend board meetings.
Toward the beginning of my tour of duty, I attempted to visit each school in the district. About the third school I visited, I found that the black kids were in separate rooms from the white kids. In this building we had segregation inside a school building. Shortly after I had reported this to the judge, the board president asked for a private meeting with me.
He blatantly offered me the superintendency and said, “Money is no object.” In other words, if you will betray the judge, you can become the highest paid superintendent in the nation. I told President Gallagher that I would ask the judge. I did not know whether the judge would prefer that I be the superintendent or his administrator. The judge said, “You can become superintendent if you want to, Doc, but if you do, I will get me another man.” Needless to say, I turned down the opportunity to become superintendent.
Furthermore Judge Battisti told me to put everything I wanted done in writing to the superintendent in the form of a directive. The superintendent, Peter Carlin, knew that I had to do this and was not offended. One day, after I had directed the Superintendent to pay a consultant for codifying the board policies, the superintendent called and said, “What do I do? The Board President and Secretary will not sign the check.” “I don’t know,” I answered. “I’ll call the judge.” The judge asked me to be in his court room at 11:00 a.m. that day. When I arrived all of the board members and the superintendent had also been ordered there. I was put on the stand. The conversation between the judge and me went something like this:
“Dr. Waldrip, did you hire a man named Mitch Brickell to codify the board policies?”
“Yes, Your Honor.”
“Did he do a good job?” “Yes, Your Honor.” “Has he been paid for his services?” “No, Your Honor.”
“Did you order that he be paid?” “Yes, Your Honor.”
“Who signs the checks for the district?”
“The president and secretary of the board, Your Honor.”
“Marshals, arrest those men,” the judge shouted.
I could not look. Two large men frisked the board president and secretary, handcuffed them, and took them to jail. In fifteen minutes, the check was signed and both men were released from jail.
Judge Battisti’s Remedial Order had said that the court had not decided how extra curricular activities would be determined to be desegregated. I thought that I should help the court out in this regard.
In examining the programs citywide, I discovered that all basketball teams were all-black and all baseball teams were all-white. Inasmuch as Cleveland had employed the first black major leaguer in the American League, Larry Doby, a great center fielder, I could not understand how this could have happened. My decision was to recruit black kids for baseball and white kids for basketball. I wrote a new member of my staff that I thought we could consider these teams desegregated if we had two white students on a basketball team and four black students on a baseball team. After writing this note, I returned to my home in Cincinnati for Thanksgiving. On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, this insider that I had invited to be a major player on our team had a courier send the note to every high school in the district with the admonishment that these guidelines must be followed explicitly. He did not mention that I was talking about recruitment of students. He made it appear that the teams could not play if these guidelines were not met.
One can imagine the brouhaha that followed. I made the national news immediately. The old picture of me driving a bus was pulled out by NBC. William Raspberry had me writing on the blackboard one hundred times, “Integration and desegregation are different.” I made the funny papers, Tug McGraw to be explicit. Even Eddie Murphy performed a sketch on Saturday Night Live. I was mortified. I wrote a letter to send to every newspaper in the nation, but the judge asked me not to mail it. “Don’t stir it, he said. “Leave it alone and it will go away.”
When John Gallagher left the board, a new board president named Ted Bonda was elected. He was a billionaire who drove a brown Rolls-Royce to board meetings. He was a business partner of Senator Metzenbaum, had started Avco Parking, and referred to himself as a parking lot attendant. As is the case with most billionaires, Ross Perot, for example, who paid my salary and those of many other school administrators when I worked in Dallas, Bonda had a great self-concept and considered himself to be beyond criticism.
I wanted so much to get along with this board that I went along with his desires even when I did not think them practicable. Once when it appeared that the district did not have enough money to continue high school football, I met with Ted to discuss the problem. I told him that we could find the money in the deseg budget. He said that he wanted to call a press conference, announce that football would continue, but he did not want to tell the press where the money would come from. Having been a superintendent who had met often with the press, I begged him to reconsider. I told him that the press “would hang him out to dry.” He insisted that he knew best, so I went along.
At the press conference, he announced that be. had saved football for the present. The first question asked by a member of the press was, “Where did you find the money?” He said, “I’m not going to tell you.” Ted Bonda, newly elected President of the School Board, then dismissed the meeting.
A man from the I team (meaning Investigative) from Channel Eight came over and asked me whether he could interview me. I said, “Although I disagreed with the policy, I agreed not to talk about the source of the funding. But if you will promise not to ask me that question, you may interview me.” He promised, and we shook hands to seal the deal. When the television lights came on, his first question was, “Where did you find the money?” “You said that you would not ask me that,” I responded, as I walked out of the room with the cameras following me. About two years later, this same reporter pulled a similar stunt with the wrong person, and his television station (ABC) fired him.
Even though Cleveland has done much through the years to lead this country toward a more equitable future, (electing the first African American Mayor of a major city — Carl Stokes –who, when I was there, had become a judge and a good friend, for example), it was still very segregated from 1980 to 1982. There was the Polish Community, two Italian Communities, a Lebanese Community, and a Greek Community, to name only a few. Some folk had rarely been out of their communities. Despite these distinctive communities, the Cayahoga River separated the city for the most part into two parts: one predominately African American and the other predominately Irish. In fact, many Polish immigrants during the twenties had changed their names to Irish names in order to be employable. By 1 980, the most obvious segregation was black-white. This segregation had extended to the schools for which the Remedial Order had been written.
1982: Since I had completed my job by November, 1982, I resigned in Cleveland, and Judge Battisti cut a very complimentary order. When I met with the principals to say goodbye, they took their keys out of their pockets and waved them to me. They reminded me of my very first directive, more than two years earlier. It was to issue keys to the principals for their buildings. Until that time, only the custodians could open buildings, and if that happened after hours, the custodian was to receive at least four hours pay. Principals were, in effect, prohibited from meeting with parent groups at their schools after hours. I was warned that if we fooled with the custodians union they would “pour cement into the locks of every building.” I had met with the union president and asked for his cooperation. I had told him that I did not think he wanted to mess with the federal court. He had agreed to back off, and the principals were allowed free access to their own buildings.
I moved back to Texas to get back into the retirement system. I spent the equivalent of one year at the University of Texas and one year acting as Assistant Principal at an Austin Alternative School, defined this time as a school for students who had difficulty adjusting to their assigned schools. (These two years qualified me to re-enter the retirement program.) This was followed by reinventing MSA ml 985, having the fourth international conference in Milwaukee in 1986, and moving MSA for three years to Kansas City, where again, with the help of Glenn Hendricks but also with the help of Irving Phillips and the late Ron Simpson, for whom the Simpson award is named, we were able to initiate thirty magnet schools during the first three phases of a six year plan, and then moving for three.
Raise the level of performance consistent throughout school districts nationwide and creates a platform from which all magnet schools can flourish. Magnet Schools of America’s national certification process is designed to recognize the hard work of the best magnet schools in the nation and to help them as they grow.