I lived in government projects in the north end during and after World War II. I used to walk to Woodrow Wilson School during Kindergarten (I think) and from grade 2 (1945) through grade 6 (1949) when my family moved to a house in the Fairlawn section of Waterbury’s east end. In grade 1 (1944), I attended a special reading class at Slocum School. I don’t recall when I first met Billy Boston but for as long as I can remember we were best friends, walking to school every day. Since Billy lived up the hill from me, also in government projects, I assume I would meet him and we would continue to school. It never occurred to me that he was black. He was a kid like me. We would fool around with other kids as we walked through the woods on the way to Wilson. There was a large boulder in our path and we would play “King of the Mountain.” Then, during the 1949 Christmas vacation our family moved and despite thinking that we would continue our friendship, I never saw him again. He passed away recently after a career in the U.S. Army.
My first class as a teacher was also at Woodrow Wilson School. I had no idea what to expect since I was an emergency teacher as part of the Intensive Program for College Graduates (IPCG) at Southern Connecticut. I didn’t even know the Pledge of Allegiance! (I had to follow my students’ lead.) My first class was a fifth grade with 33 students. There were 31 blacks, one Puerto Rican, and one white. A few days later, my mother asked me what was it like teaching so many black students and I told her that I honestly didn’t think about their color. They were 10 and 11 year old boys and girls and that is how I saw them. This was 1964 and I taught at Wilson for three more years until 1968. During this period of time, blacks began demanding their rights nationwide as well as in Waterbury and, at times, my school and its neighborhood became tense. I have to admit there were stretches when I had problems with some of the black students but it was because I was the teacher not because I was white. In fact, the black teachers at Wilson probably had it worse than me. In 1968, I transferred to Chase School which had, I believe, one black student. Chase School, the largest elementary school in Waterbury at the time was known as a “country club”: it was the polar opposite of Wilson School. When Waterbury was ordered to integrate its schools in the late sixties, the busing of black students into Chase School began. Those teachers who had taught at Chase their entire careers had a culture shock. They actually had a few black students in their classes. Many of them had a very difficult time adjusting. Personally, I had no problem, since I had worked with them for the past four years. Six years later, many teachers, including me, transferred to the first middle school in Waterbury. Wallace Middle School was built under orders from the federal government in order to further integrate Waterbury’s school system.

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