James Tucker Story
O'Bannon School is located in New Madrid County, Missouri. It was a school for African Americans. Schools were segregated and it was not until 1966 when I attended New Madrid High School.
The school year was unique. Student's School vacations were based on the farming season. School vacation was during the early spring so students could chop cotton. School would reopen early summer and during the fall students had a fall vacation to pick cotton. It was common for students not to attend school to make extra money to help feed their family. In the rural area, Black families lived in houses owned by white land owners. It was common practice for children not to attend school until most of the crops had been harvested.
Black students had positive role models. Some Black teachers were required to teach two or more grade levels. Two grade levels were in one room. For example, grade 6 would be on one side of the room and grade 7 would be another side of the room. During instruction time, one grade level was required to work on assignments while the other grade level would actively participate in class activities. O'Bannon didn't have a library and indoor gym. School activities were very limited.
An annual picnic was held during the spring. Parents and family member would visit the school and eat lunch during a special day set aside. Various activities were held throughout the day.
Spelling bees were held and awards were presented to winners.
During recess, we played soft ball, basketball or just spent time with our friends. There was a swing set for elementary students.
Prior to integration, O'Bannon School consisted of grades 1 through 12. There was a cafeteria for students, teachers and staff. Grades 9 through 12 attended New Madrid High on or about 1965.
I remember trying to integrate New Madrid Junior High. One morning, I decided to go and enroll. When I arrived, I went to the principal office and requested to attend the integrated school. The principal asked why I wanted to attended. I said, "New Madrid Junior High has a library, gym and better textbooks." At that time, I felt the facilities were better than O'Bannon School. Joe Walker, Claude Harris and Callie Flourney (African Americans) were the first to integrate New Madrid Junior High. Joe and Claude didn't live in city limits.
Special Note: Sometimes, we had second handed books that were from the "White School." I recall receiving new books on several occasions while attending elementary school.
Note; The morning I decided to try and enroll at New Madrid Junior High, my mother didn't approve it. She was afraid for my safety. I remember her crying and saying "Red" wait until next year when you will be allowed to attend New Madrid High.
There was a cultural shock attending the "White" high school from 1966-1970. The "White School" did not hire or transfer African American teachers to New Madrid High. I strongly feel most White teachers had a difficult time adjusting to having Black students in their classes. I remember failing a required class. In my opinion, the teacher did very little to assist or encourage me to be successful. I remember her negative attitude and behavior toward me.
O'Bannon School gave me an opportunity to appreciate African American teachers. Black teachers at O'Bannon School were dedicated and committed to providing the best education possible for one of the poorest counties for Blacks in the United States of America.
As a student growing up in the small town of New Madrid, Missouri I was not aware of my surrounding like most of my friends. I remember O'Bannon High School Basketball team playing other Black High School teams. The high school team played local games at New Madrid Junior High School. The gym was small. Basketball was the major sport in Southeast Missouri. It was one of a few activities for African Americans in the Bootheel known as Southeast Missouri.
As a junior senior citizen, I am just beginning to appreciate the rich Black culture that existed during the time I lived in New Madrid County and the surrounding counties.
I didn't realize there were many Black communities in the state of Missouri. Today many of the communities have disappeared. I recently learned about Pinhook, Missouri that was destroyed by flood in 2011. Please research and learn about Pinhook and other Black communities.
Jul. 7, 2015
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