THE HISTORY OF ROSE
Two Schools Become One
BY SOFI VAN COUTREN NOVEMBER 25 2014
“I had never held a black person’s hand before,” Registrar Pam Taft said, in regard to the integration of Rose High School in 1964.
For many years, white students attended Greenville High School, which was built in 1915 and was located in the downtown area on what was then known as the "Town Common.” Meanwhile, African-American high school students attended the historically black C. M. Eppes High School near Memorial Boulevard. These two schools were strictly separated by color until the 1964-1965 year of integration commenced. Eppes and Greenville High School combined as one building, but some students refused to combine as a student body.
“The police were at the school every single day because of the fighting and riots,” Taft said. “Threats of blowing up the school forced us to evacuate the school more than once.”
Although there were riots and fights initiated by students, most of the anger towards integration came from the parents of the students.
“The students just wanted to go to school; the parents were the ones most angry about it,” Taft said.
The number of angered students barely put a dent in the number of prejudiced parents.
While certain students were posing bomb threats over the integration, others weren't upset over integration itself but were uncomfortable with the changes in Rose High tradition. Taft was a senior at Rose during the first year of integration. Her senior class was not fond of this idea due to the reduction of senior privileges and many changes that occurred their last year.
“They combined the schools; now everything you wanted to be a senior for was taken away,” Taft said. “You would walk in a certain door when you were a senior, and that was taken away.”
Rose changed the mascot, the school colors and the uniforms for sports to encourage equality and fairness. Band members were forced to wear white shirts and black pants so the school would look united; meanwhile there was a gorgeous brand new uniform hanging in the closets dying to be worn, but not in the school colors of the newly united Rose. Unfortunately, uniting as a band came quicker than uniting as a school.
From one perspective to another, teacher assistant Margaret Sugg was a part of the merging of schools as a 10th grader coming from the all-black Eppes to the newly integrated Rose.
“It was hard to study because you were always scared and did not know what was going to happen through the course of the day,” Sugg said. “It was hard to focus on education.”
Sugg tried to avoid getting trampled on the way to the bus, eager to get away from any riot or fight that might occur. Sugg had no interest in arguing over this issue; she wanted to get home to where she felt safe with her parents.
“I believe that there would have been a better outcome [of the integration] if the parents had stayed out of it,” Sugg said. “Because it wasn't that a lot of the students didn't get along, it was their angered parents.”
Sugg, like Taft and most other students, wanted to go to school and learn, but the tempers of parents and other students hindered their simple request.
“We did it, and it was a rough year, but we did it,” Taft said. “I will be the first one to say that it needed to be done.”
Despite her aggravation towards the removal of the senior privileges, Taft knows the integration was a progressive movement overall.
“We learned how to love each other because of who they are, not because of color,” Sugg said.
The integration of the two schools, C.M. Eppes and J.H. Rose, struggled in the first couple of years, but strengthened with time. According to Taft and Sugg, all it needed was a little getting-used-to.