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Hamilton School Alumni Remember Segregation in Frisco ISD (February, 2006)

Kenny Mayes, retired teacher and businessman, and Sam Turner, Frisco Independent School District maintenance worker, are from different generations of Frisco families but both share the distinction of having attended Hamilton School in the days before integration.

The two shared their memories and personal experiences with 8th graders throughout the district Wednesday in a distance-learning event televised from the Clark Middle School library.

Mayes attended the school on Half Elm Street in the 1940s and Turner for just two years in the 1960s before Acker was integrated.

“Hamilton school was a one-room school house with no electricity and no running water. There was a coal house, a shed, out back. When you got in trouble you had to grab the bucket and go out to the shed and bring back coal. And in the summer there was no air conditioning. You had to bring your lunch in a pail and lunch was usually what you had for dinner the night before. You don’t know how lucky you are today,” Mayes said, speaking to a room of children representing all ethnic groups.

“It had gas heat and two rooms when I was there, one big one for all the elementary children and a smaller one for the middle school children. We were a close-knit community. It was just all black kids. It was a nice place for me,” Turner said, remembering his first and second grade years when he was unaware of racial discrimination.

The different generations of Mayes and Turner shed light on the changing America and Frisco in which they each matured. Mayes remembers the days of the segregated buses and trains, the segregated seating at the movie theatre on Main Street and the hand-me-down textbooks from white schools. He noted that his family’s attitude was to make do with what you had. “Frisco was a better place than some,” he noted. “It was a farming community. The white folks owned the land and they depended on the black people for labor. We all had to get along… The people my family worked for helped us if we needed something and we helped them if they needed something.”

In some ways the memories of Mayes were similar to anyone of his generation and somewhat surprising to today’s young people. He described an event from his school days when he disagreed with his teacher and called her a liar. “She grabbed the broom and chased me,” he said, adding that she followed him home and used the broom to get him out from under his bed. That was the only time he ever got in trouble at school.

Turner admits that as a child growing up in a Frisco in the 1960s, he wasn’t really aware of racial discrimination until he watched the events surrounding the shooting of Martin Luther King, Jr. “I had lots of white friends,” he said. In the 70’s as the Black Power movement grew and more black students moved in there were some disagreements as students found their way and proved themselves, but nothing that he would describe as racial tension.

In discussing the mascot of Frisco High, which is the Raccoons that was formerly called the ‘coons, both Mr. Mayes and Mr. Turner said that in Frisco no one thought anything of it and students of all races wore the name proudly. Those outside and moving in had different opinions, however, and Mr. Turner said he agreed with the decision to make the change to the full name of Raccoon. He stated that anything with the potential to disrupt the education of students is not necessary.

The district’s middle schools students took turns asking questions of the two men, one student asking them their opinion of the N word.

“It makes me mad for someone to call me that, it makes me mad when you call each other that and it makes me nervous just to hear the word,” Turner said. He told students it is disrespectful to those from the older generation for them to use that word.

Mayes said in his younger days being called that word would have led to a fight, which was how most disagreements were resolved. He admitted that he had experienced the new slang usage of word as a teacher and had not cared for it and it upset him to see it taken so lightly. “I understand, I see and hear students using it. But people have died under that word.”

Mayes and Turner had been scheduled to be joined by Mayes’ first cousin Jimmy Jones who had to be hospitalized that day for a heart condition. Mayes admitted he almost didn’t come but knew that his cousin, who still lives near the site of the Hamilton School, wanted Frisco students to be aware of the events of the past. Mr. Turner made sure that the students were aware that a new elementary school is being named for Mrs. Portia Taylor, a long-time teacher at the Hamilton School. She would come in from Dallas and teach during the week and live with local families and then go home on the weekends. Mr. Turner said that students knew that she was a good teacher and that she was there to help them get an education and that they needed to listen and learn.

“Having a school named for her is a great honor for the black community,” he said.

The Hamilton school only went to the 9th grade, so Mayes’ father took him and his brothers to Dallas to school as they grew older so they could get a full education. Mayes added that if you weren’t in school or working you were going to be getting in trouble. Mayes and three of his brothers went to college and he became a teacher and later owned two McDonald’s franchises. He recalls that the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan frequently parked at one of his restaurants and often came in to get food. “As long as he was coming in spending his money, I was down with that,” he said, making the students laugh at his use of modern slang. Turner on the other hand has never had much experience with the KKK or such groups and that to him they seem more like a fairy tale than reality.

Mayes looked around the Clark library, full of books and computers and told the students that in his opinion it isn’t the size of the room in which you go to school, it is what is in your head. “School today is altogether different. You have so many advantages. We didn’t even have a radio.” His hope is that they are taking advantage of this foundation of learning.