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Woman broke color barrier in Augusta schools in 1964

Friday, May 16, 2014 8:14 PM
Last updated Saturday, May 17, 2014 1:36 AM
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Maria Thompkins had no idea she was about to make history when she was getting ready to enroll in school Aug. 26, 1964.

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Maria Thompkins was the first black student to enroll in an all-white school in Richmond County. Thompkins, now a school secretary, said she doesn't think much about her place in history.   TODD BENNETT/STAFF
TODD BENNETT/STAFF
Maria Thompkins was the first black student to enroll in an all-white school in Richmond County. Thompkins, now a school secretary, said she doesn't think much about her place in history.

She did wonder why she was dressed in her church clothes, a blue satin dress with white lace socks, just to start first grade. She also thought it was strange the newspaper stopped by her Bussey Road home to take her photo and that a crowd of people lined the sidewalk in front of Forest Hills Elementary School to watch her walk inside.

On that day in 1964, Thomp­kins, then Barbara Maria Gant, became the first black child to enroll in an all-white Richmond County school. It was 10 years after the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, 60 years ago today, declared separate schools for black and white children unconstitutional and “inherently unequal.”

Like many districts across the segregated South, Rich­mond County school system officials ignored the ruling and some promised to be taken to jail before giving in to integrating classrooms.

But after a group of petitioners, represented by attorneys John H. Ruffin and Don­ald Hollowell, filed a court injunction to prevent segregated schools from opening in fall 1964, the Richmond County Board of Education ordered the first three grades to be open to all black and white students within the attendance zones.

Only 10 black children registered in white schools that year, but Thompkins, unbeknownst to her at the time, was the first.

“I really didn’t know I was doing anything different,” said Thompkins, 56. “My mother was very strong-willed, and it was her idea. She never let anything bad affect me. Momma never told me if any problems came up, and I didn’t know of any.”

Today, Thompkins works as the front office secretary of Lake Forest Hills Ele­men­tary, the school she attended the year it opened in 1969. She said she didn’t think about her mark on history much growing up or as she began working as an adult.

She doesn’t bring it up much to her colleagues or friends and just smiles when her students tell her they saw her photo hanging in the Augusta Museum of History during field trips.

“I was just going to school,” said Thompkins, who still lives in the house where she grew up on Bussey Road built by her father, a brick mason.

Thompkins said her memories of elementary school are happy – she joined a Girl Scout troop and had sleep­overs with her classmates.

She remained one of the few black children to attend a white school even in 1965, when the Board of Education agreed to open grades one through six to both races.

The community still fought hard against integration, and in 1967, the Depart­ment of Health, Education and Wel­fare said the school board’s “freedom of choice” plan was insufficient.

Two years later, when
the department suggested school districts across Georgia pair schools and bus the children together, Gov. Lester Maddox said he’d rather let the air out of the tires of every school bus before agreeing to such a plan, according to historian Ed Cashin’s The Quest: A History of Public Education in Richmond County, Georgia.

In 1970, U.S. District Judge Alexander A. Lawrence ordered a biracial committee to come up with a plan for clustering schools in Richmond County. With school officials still stalling, Lawrence refused to let schools open in the fall of 1971 until a satisfactory plan was submitted, according to Cashin.

Real progress was not made until 1972, when Law­rence issued a desegregation order that specified a plan for clustering schools and busing white and black children to learn together.

After Thompkins graduated from the Academy of Richmond County, she spent two years in the Army, worked as a medical assistant, a beauty supply store manager, an AT&T worker and a substitute teacher before joining Lake Forest as its secretary in 2006.

She never married and never had kids, but she enjoys spoiling her nephews and traveling with her sisters. She sees the children at Lake Forest, who know her by name and run in the hallways to give her hugs, as her own.

Thompkins said she never asked family why her mother pushed for her to attend Forest Hills at such a turbulent time in Augusta. But looking back, she said she knows it was to achieve the best education possible, which she believes she did.

Although she rarely talks about it, it’s a proud history to bear.

“I’m blessed, I’m really blessed,” Thompkins said. “I’m pleased my mother decided to do that. She took charge, and I’m here today.”

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AutumnLeaves
10964
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AutumnLeaves 05/16/14 - 09:02 pm
9
0
We are blessed to read this

We are blessed to read this story of the little innocent child, Maria Thomkins, that unknowingly made history that day and her mother who had the courage to dress her in her best and send her off to school. Thank you so much for sharing this story with us.

jdsgirl63
3552
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jdsgirl63 05/16/14 - 09:57 pm
4
0
I'm also glad she shared her

I'm also glad she shared her story. I remember what the 60's was like, even in Maryland, right outside of DC, segregation was real. As a child in 1969, I wasn't aware of the significance of it all - we were just kids, we had friends that we liked, we didn't notice their color, even amid all that strife, we were just kids being kids. I remember the looks on some adults faces, the note sent home to my parents telling them it wasn't "acceptable" for me to be friends with a "colored" girl.... and I remember my father going to the school and telling them that his daughter "could be friends with anyone she damn well pleased". Still, we had no idea what was churning in the streets... because we were kids and our parents did their best to shield us from the ugly and to teach us that we're all people, regardless of color or even religion (they frowned on Jewish folks back then too).

I like to think we've come a long, long way.... but have we?

nocnoc
53230
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nocnoc 05/17/14 - 07:47 am
2
0
50 years behind us, but are we are moving forward?.

While the integration was extremely problematic, and not without several incidents here in Richmond Co. and/or on a national scale, it was absolutely needed. Because, there is no such thing as Separate But Equal, in the real nation.

What saddens me is the fact Dr. King and those true to the Civil Rights Workers cause, fought so hard to peacefully to join us together. Now so many have abuse that effort and made a living off of it. I speak of Politics, as a whole.

While doing some personal research, I came across many websites.

Aside from my distaste for the Website name, quickly I found it was loaded with eye opening documented facts. Facts that clearly show we still have educational issues that desperately need addressing.

http://blackboysreport.org/national-summary/black-male-graduation-rates

The site contains real facts, and walking thru the tables I quickly noted: New York, DC, Ohio and Illinois have the largest gaps White vs Black graduation rates among all the states, while North Carolina, Florida and Georgia have much smaller rates.

NEW YORK @ 41%
District Of Columbia @ 42%
Ohio @ 26%
Illinois @22%

While an updated State Plan is needed to address in a non-political manner, why there is still a 17% gap between White and Black students graduating in Georgia. It is obvious the nation still needs to address Problems that impact black education.

I feel, no longer can Education offered as a reason for the poor rates of graduation. I feel it has become cultural, environmental issue, combined with a Government process that that has separated the Poorer Black Community and students from the rest of society.

To me it seems the very government that set out to integrate the black & white communities, is holding back the Black community and students with it political meddling.

But how do we truly break the cycle, as long a Politics are shove in the equation?

nocnoc
53230
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nocnoc 05/17/14 - 07:50 am
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0
BTW: To a some friends I got to hang with in 1970-72

didn't we catch some hell hanging out together.

edcushman
7930
Points
edcushman 05/17/14 - 07:50 am
6
2
A good story but the sad part
Unpublished

A good story but the sad part is the Great Society, liberals, democrats and black leaders have destroyed what Ms. Thomkins and others like her did.

edcushman
7930
Points
edcushman 05/17/14 - 07:56 am
4
1
"It is obvious the nation
Unpublished

"It is obvious the nation still needs to address Problems that impact black education."
The problem is over 70% of black babies are born out of wed lock. Black kids without a father that drops out of high school is probably over 60%. Thanks Great Society and democrats.

Oldsarge77
10
Points
Oldsarge77 05/17/14 - 10:17 am
1
0
Color barrier broken

I remember going to Houghton Elementary and the first black students joined us back in the late 60's. It was not a big deal for us,we were too young. I'm sure there were incidents, but for kids in the first few grades it was big deal. Problems started when they tried to integrate Richmond and Butler, as well as Tubman. White families pulled their kids out and I believe stayed away for a few weeks. I was forced bussed to Laney starting in 73. It wasn't easy because there were only a few whites that followed the rules and went where they where supposed to go. The county should have made Laney a 50.50 mix it would have been much better. I developed some good black friends in those days, they made it live able,but it wasn't easy. Looking back,forced bussing was wrong, it didn't work, schools that were once all white are almost all black. White flight to Columbia County took care of that. Only the poor whites that couldn't afford to live near Richmond Academy were integrated into black schools. Today kids go to school where they live,my kids followed me throughout my career in the Army, and attended integrated schools, they were never tokens. Forced integration via bussing was a very bad idea.

my.voice
5440
Points
my.voice 05/17/14 - 10:19 am
0
0
Makes you wonder if any of

Makes you wonder if any of those BOE members are still around. These were sad, and at the same time, revolutionary times. Despite being founded on critically awesome principles, the mindset that our brothers and sisters of color were somehow less than people still humbles me. Disentitlement based on the color of ones skin is the antithesis of ignorance.

I wonder what our society would be like had our founding fathers not had such a blind spot.

Congratulations on this fine lady and her parents.

corgimom
41317
Points
corgimom 05/17/14 - 12:20 pm
1
5
edcushman, your obsession is

edcushman, your obsession is humorous, to say the least, but bears no relation to the truth.

Back in the 1900's and 1910's, most blacks lived in two-parent, stable families. In the 1920's and beyond, when the Great Migration started, and people moved far away from their families and communities, that's when black illegitimacy rose. The white illegitimacy rate rose too, but not in as great of numbers, until the Great Depression and WWII. But the difference then is that white women got married, or went to maternity homes and gave up their children for adoption.

Many factors contributed to the explosion in illegitimacy. Public attitudes changed; the "free love" movement of the 60's happened; sexual mores changed, in response to social change and access to cheap birth control and the legalization of abortion. The restrictive welfare laws made it impossible for fathers to stay in the home. Liberalization of divorce laws also played a big factor, where single-parent households became commonplace instead of being rare.

To blame it all on Democrats is absurd.

I remember in high school, where pregnant girls were not allowed to attend school and was a shocking thing. The high school that I attended now has a daycare for high schoolers who have children, where they come and learn child care.

Please, edcushman, learn your American history.

corgimom
41317
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corgimom 05/17/14 - 12:22 pm
0
4
"I feel, no longer can

"I feel, no longer can Education offered as a reason for the poor rates of graduation. I feel it has become cultural, environmental issue, combined with a Government process that that has separated the Poorer Black Community and students from the rest of society. "

nocnoc, you know, your ideas follow closely with spreading Section 8 out in neighborhoods, instead of having poor people in a cluster.

Are you for that idea? Are you ok living next door to a Section 8 renter?

corgimom
41317
Points
corgimom 05/17/14 - 12:26 pm
1
3
Here's my idea, and some may

Here's my idea, and some may not agree:

As long as certain parents are more concerned with their children having X Boxes, the latest grossly overpriced tennis shoes, and the latest cell phones, gold chains, rims, stereo systems, big-screen tvs, tattoos, nails, and hair, there is going to be a huge problem with education.

Their values are elsewhere other than education.

And no school, no anything can overcome that.

edcushman
7930
Points
edcushman 05/17/14 - 02:16 pm
3
0
"The high school that I
Unpublished

"The high school that I attended now has a daycare for high schoolers who have children, where they come and learn child care."
corimom, I know history very well. I do not need to study history to know what has happen for the last 50 years I have seen it with my own eyes. The Great Society and the entitlements program of the democrats have helped destroy the families of the poor. Generation after generation of leaches that live off the taxpayers. It is not in the history books because most are written by liberals. corigmom, you are welcome to think what you want I would never consider trying to change your mine.

edcushman
7930
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edcushman 05/17/14 - 02:20 pm
4
0
" Are you ok living next door
Unpublished

" Are you ok living next door to a Section 8 renter?"
anyone that supports the Great Society and the democrats should have at least one section 8 house next door.

Oldsarge77
10
Points
Oldsarge77 05/17/14 - 02:45 pm
1
0
School integration

I remember attending Houghton Elementary in the late 60's when the first black kids started attending school. To me it was no big deal, I imagine that there were some problems,but I don't recall them. I do remember lots of problems a few year years later when Richmond and Butler integrated. Whites walked out for about two weeks. A few years later I started high school and was forced bussed to attend Laney. As there were less than 25 white kids it was no fun. I was lucky to have a few good black friends, that made it tolerable. Most whites refused to go to Laney or Josey, and lied and went to Richmond or moved to Columbia County. Luckily those days are gone and my kids were able to go to integrated schools where they were not a token white kid. Forced bussing did not work and should never happen again. As for the lady that was the first to integrate the county schools,I'm glad it all worked out for her, but it was no fun for many of us. I'm just glad that whole era is behind us and that students today don't have to face that in most places.

willie7
1047
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willie7 05/17/14 - 06:00 pm
0
0
I was an assistant principal
Unpublished

I was an assistant principal at one of the high schools when integration first started---the white students didn't want to be at the former black schools and many of their parents encouraged them to disrespect black teachers and principals. Policemen came to our school everyday because some white parents stated that their daughter was touched by black boys. The girls would leave campus and go to their boyfriends' houses to party or on a picnic. They would go home around school-closing time and tell their parents that black boys had bothered them. The next day, a policeman and parent would come to the school telling us about the black boys assaulting the white girls.
We had one white parent came to the school and stated that he was going to blow up the dam "N" school if the "N" boys continue to bother his daughters.
Finally one day , a white football player came to me and told me what was going on with the girls. And where they were going daily---around 25 0f them. Several policemen and I checked the places out where the girls were partying and also Thurmond Lake. They were very surprised and even then, some parents didn't want to believe their daughters were telling lies on the black boys and leaving campus. I still admire the football player and see him occasionally and we talked about those situations.
We had many incidents like the one I described . I had one white parent left home with a shotgun to come to the school and shoot a black male teacher. His daughter told her father that the teacher winked at her. Fortunately, The mother called the sheriff department , notifying them that her husband left home to go to the school and shoot a teacher.
The deputy arrived about 3 minutes before the father ,took his gun and arrested him.
Many of the white students didn't want to go to schools with black students and deliberately did negative things to get away.
The positive side-- the white students from staple and good home environments did well and didn't create trouble.
At first the black students welcome the whites---but after being lied on many times--they became negative and fought back.
By that time , most of the white students left to go to private academies.
It was quite a struggle and we received little support from the board of education at that time.

nocnoc
53230
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nocnoc 05/17/14 - 06:38 pm
1
0
C-Mom ----- On section 8'ing

I have been extremely clear about my position on Section 8'ing over the years.

The Political process that is currently used is seriously flawed.
It is a setup to fail and cause problems in stable communities.

What fool in the government feels taking a family that grew up and lived for generations in the project can socially adapt to a house with a yard and renter responsibilities to keep it up overnight?

Culturally it is an impossible task, to be trans-planted overnight into a totally alien environment and be expected to fit in.

IF the Section 8 goal is really MAIN STREAMING and promote True cultural integration, then PRE-MOVE classes, a hose and a lawn mower would be provided.

One cannot turn a BLIND EYE to the facts there are major differences and expectations in middle class communities vs Project Housing.

in 2010-12 In Goshen we had 2 Section 8 families that I knew of.

#1 was older lady that lived in the Goshen Retreat, and there was never NEVER a problem at her location.

#2 Was a Baby Mama, with 4 young'ins 2+ dad's between the 4, a live in Boyfriend, a live in Brother and his son. (A clear violation of the Section 8 rules).

But a few of us adopted the family.
We loaned them a mower.
We help feed the kids.
We bought groceries.
We even drove her to work when their car broke down.

But because of the "Others" staying with her the place became a Problem magnet with "Friends" visiting her live in Boy friend while she was working night shift.

Remember the Murder that happened on Rio Pinar about 2.5 years ago. The murderer and his friends were frequent Party visitors when the baby mama was working.

To add grease to the fire, HIS Pit Bull got out a few times causing problems and killing a pet next door.

In short Section 8 is a idea doom to fail, the stupid way it has been implemented and continued to be.

Like that women recently be FORCED to Leave the Cherry Tree Project, after 40+ years.

What has government down to help her fit into Main Stream America over the last 40 years?

BTW:

SECTION 8'ing has become a CASH COW, a new version of Slum Lord.

There is 1 guy in the ARC area, but uses a Mississippi & Atlanta area double shell address, that has about 41 properties that the Taxpayers are buying for each month.

If the tenant damages the property or not the Taxpayers repairs it for him. The Property on Burning Tree Lane in Goshen was a foreclosure purchased and APPROVED for Section 8 housing WITHOUT AN INSPECTION. How do I know this? The Housing Closing and move in were done the same day.

LillyfromtheMills
14545
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LillyfromtheMills 05/17/14 - 06:42 pm
0
0
Noc

An idea that got high jacked

corgimom
41317
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corgimom 05/17/14 - 07:01 pm
0
2
noc noc, I don't know what

noc noc, I don't know what that woman's personal history is, that lived in Cherry Tree for 47 years.

But what I do know is that many people have mental, emotional, and physical problems that they are either born with or acquire early on, and so I have no opinion about that woman, other to say that don't be so quick to judge. There are far, far, far more people than you think that are permanently disabled.

People are now conditioned to think that medicine and doctors can cure everything, and no, they can't.

corgimom
41317
Points
corgimom 05/17/14 - 07:02 pm
0
2
noc noc, where do you think

noc noc, where do you think that poor, disabled people go? Where do you think poor, disabled children, that grow up to be adults, go?

edcushman
7930
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edcushman 05/18/14 - 01:02 pm
1
0
"Where do you think poor,
Unpublished

"Where do you think poor, disabled children, that grow up to be adults, go?"
corigmom, once again you missed the point. Disable adults CANNOT keep up a house and the sorry able bodied leaches will not. But I'm sure I am wasting my time.

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