Excerpt From Daddy’s Little Girl, Chapter 2

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 Early School Days

In 1954, just before I started school, segregation was finally coming to an end in the school system. Lincoln Grade School had been told to gradually remove grades starting with the lowest one within a certain period of time, and the Negro children would be able to attend the white school in their district. But because the white school in my district was given a year to ‘adjust’ to integration, they were not accepting Negro students that year. As it turned out, I was the only 4 year old child of my race in that part of the city who would turn 5 at that time. Since my birthday was in October, I would turn 5 years old just before the age deadline which made me eligible to attend school. This meant that I could begin kindergarten – just not at the same school with my brothers and sister.

This created a problem for our family. My parents had to get permission to send me across town to the Negro school in East End. Because we only had one car and Daddy needed it to go to work, there was only one decision to make. So, at 4 years old, I had to ride the city bus to attend kindergarten at Bartlett Grade School across town in East End.

On the first day of school, my mother and I walked the three blocks to the bus stop. She taught me how to cross the street and showed me how to catch the bus. She rode with me across town and showed me what bus stop to get off at. I remember walking slowly up the hill with my mother and going through the doors of the school for the first time. She told me that when school let out, I was to walk down the hill and meet her at the bus stop. I met my teacher and the other children. To me, it was very exciting. Mama left me there and rode the bus back home. After school, she rode back and met me at the bottom of the big hill by the school so we could catch the bus back home.

Mama was just two weeks from giving birth to our brother Wayne, so after she rode the bus back and forth with me a couple of times, one morning she helped me button my coat and then asked me, “Hila Jane, can you ride the bus by yourself? Can you do it?” There was no way she could ride the city bus back and forth across town twice a day every week. I said, “Yes Mama, I can do it.” She had talked to the bus driver and he said that because I was under age, she would have to send a note with me every day allowing me to ride by myself. Mama told me to sit on the seat right behind the bus driver. She didn’t care about where people thought I should sit. She was concerned for my safety. These were the times we lived in.

I walked the three blocks to the bus stop from my house being careful to look both ways before I crossed the street. In the rain, in the snow, in good weather and in bad weather, I waited at the bus stop and rode the city bus by myself across town to East End. The bus driver told my mother that he would help me get off at the right stop and wait until I crossed the street. After getting off at my stop, I walked up the big hill to Bartlett Grade School to attend kindergarten.

At the end of the school day, I walked down the big hill and caught the bus going the opposite way toward home. I’d get off at the stop by Missouri Hospital a block from where I caught the bus that morning and walk four blocks to get home. Yes, because of segregation, I rode the city bus alone across town to the Negro school at 4 years old.

About Hila Esters