6/17/13

Could Chinese Attend White Schools in Mississippi in the 1950s?


Jin Jue, a Chinese who was born in and grew up in Mississippi during the 1950s shared his observations about how it was determined whether Chinese children could attend white public schools. Although Mississippi law at that time was unfavorable toward Chinese, he pointed out that the situation was not handled the same way in different communities:

Chinese rights to attend a white school were determined on a county by county basis. While my family attended a white school, my sister's husband was not allowed in the county he lived in, and he had to travel 40 miles to another county (to attend school).

One summer, my parents moved from Cary, Mississippi, where the Chinese attended a white school, to Warren County where there were no Chinese attending the local school. My dad asked a local customer when the local school was starting and where the bus stop was.

That morning of the first day of school, my dad sent my older brother and sisters out to stand at the bus stop to see what would happen. The bus came by, and my brother and sisters boarded the bus with the other (white) kids. As was common in those days, the Chinese parents never went with their kids to school. The kids had to fend for themselves and somehow were enrolled in their proper classes.

The bus driver, who most likely, never saw an Asian in his whole life, didn't know what to do about these strange looking (Chinese) kids boarding his bus. He could have refused to let them on (anyone can say no), but figured it was none of his business to decide what to do with these kids.

My brother and sisters arrived at school, and the teachers didn't know what to do, so probably the Principal was called and the matter placed in his hands. The Principal called the Superintendent of Education for the County and some time after much debate, a decision was made to let them enroll.

So the first integration of Chinese in (a) white school in Warren County was allowed because a bus driver was passive enough not to get involved, or wasn't "redneck" enough to say "No way they getting on my bus!!!,” which in turn started the chain of event that led to their eventual enrollment.

My discussions with other Chinese who grew up in the Delta between the 1940s and 1960s confirm Jin Jue's experience that in some towns Chinese were accepted into white schools with little difficulty while they were denied admission in other nearby towns. His cousin, Lillie, in fact, who stayed in Cary was able to attend white schools. Apparently if your father was well-regarded and or knew the 'right people' his kids found little opposition in attending white schools.

3 comments:

  1. Jin's cousin Lillie, in Calif., was helpful in supplying more background info.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dr. John, This story illustrates the randomness early MS Chinese children faced in determining whether they could attend white public schools. This restores my faith in human nature, if people are given a chance, goodness and decency will prevail. In Warren County without prejudging, level headed people gave Chinese an opportunity to belong. Growing up I only knew about restrictive towns (Greenville, Cleveland, etc.) but later I learned there were isolated small towns who allowed Chinese children to attend their white schools because the community knew and accepted the Chinese family. Thank you for locating the author and posting! Frieda Quon

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Frieda, for sharing your own experiences... only when people can tell their own stories can we get a fuller picture of the complexities and factors involved in the societal folkways.

      Delete

About Me