In the late 1960s, the process of integrating public schools began in earnest during the Civil Rights era. When recalling this period, Central High School in Little Rock, with the confrontations between the federal government and that of the Arkansas state government are often referred to. Though there was a lot of drama around that event, Texarkana had its own version of that going on which has largely passed unnoticed, even by locals.
Willis Green, a local who experienced those years as a student and high school football player, began recalling those years and events when researching his alma mater, Dunbar High School, whose student body, including himself, would be integrating into the student body and faculty of Texas High School in the late 60s.
"It started in 1967," said Green, "A few black students in the Newtown area were sent to Texas High that year as a pilot program to get an idea of how integration would begin."
According to Green, Pine Street began integrating around the same time, starting in 1968.
"Central, Newtown, Sunset, after 6th grade, those students originally went to Dunbar for grades 7-12," he said. "I went from Theron Jones to Dunbar. But when I finished my sophomore year, I was part of the integration transition, starting my junior year at Texas High."
The population of Dunbar knew integration was coming, but the students were understandably nervous about it.
"I didn't feel good about it at the time, it was scary," he said. "We didn't know what was going to happen. We were aware the general feeling at Texas High was opposed to the move and we worried about what would happen when we got there."
Green was part of the player roster on Dunbar's football team and the school had come off a state championship loss. But they had made it to that point and took pride in their accomplishments.
"We were a high performing school, both academically and athletically," he said.
Segregated schools played other segregated school in their category, racially speaking. Integration would change all that and no one knew how that would go down at the time.
"Some families, both black and white, moved to other areas to avoid the integration situation," said Green. "The way I reacted to it, I was sophomore varsity at Dunbar and was looking forward to my junior year of being 'the guys'. We were practicing under Watty Myers for a championship team. But when we began integration, in a way, we had to start all over again. That summer, we had to process to play for Texas High. With an influx of talent, some people from both schools didn't make the cut. With race and integration concerns, level of devotion to football, and players being bumped from both schools, this caused an increase of tension on the field and in the locker room. There was lots of ill feelings everywhere, breaking out into fights sometimes, with intense competition, broken face masks, chin straps and the like."
All this took place before the school year even started, with student athletes, staff and supporting personnel contending with this drama.
"Then, it was time to go to school," said Green.
Classes began, with the tension that took place over the summer continuing into the academic year. However, it did ease at the games themselves.
"Students tended to self segregate and congregate with those they were most comfortable," Green said. "However, at the games, they tended to come together more than they did otherwise at that time."
The football team had dealt with the tension the previous summer. And their experiences, training and games were bringing the student athletes together, despite the previous tension of some students forced off the roster due to numbers.
"Jimmy Goff was assistant coach at the time," he said. "He and the rest of the coaching staff emphasized the fact that the players were all on the same team, with the same goal. Dan Haskins, head coach from Dunbar, was a practice team coach at Texas High, the only African American coach at Texas High in the early days of integration. Coach Haskins was offered coaching jobs elsewhere when Dunbar began to integrate with Texas High. He had job offers at other high schools, even the college level. He refused to go, to leave his players in their situation. He mentored them, ensuring they all got their best shot. That was the honorable thing for him to do and I admire that."
Over the next two to three years, Green described Texas High's football program as "great." Watty Myers moved into Texas High's school administration as an assistant principle in 1971.
"He wanted to see that the guys he came over with made it through," said Green. "Once that happened, he took his next step."
The newly integrated Texas High football team won their first year playing that way, 68-69, when Green was in his junior year.
"We lost two games that year, losing the district contest to Temple. In my senior year, we lost the first game of the season to Arkansas High, 69-70, then went undefeated the rest of the season. We made it to third round in state playoffs. In spite of still-present racial tension around us, we still managed to win two district titles," he said.
Despite the football team performing well and students making their way, tension was high enough to require a peacekeeper presence in the form of local and county law enforcement as well as the Texas Rangers and Texas National Guard.
"Most fights broke out in the cafeteria, with thrown chairs, etc. Go see the present chair and table setup at Texas High, they are configured in such a way to prevent that," he said.
Green graduated in 1970, 50 years ago. He went to a couple of colleges and now works as a transportation contractor. He was in the process of designing a couple of shirts to honor those transition years, with the Buffalo Tiger, showing both Dunbar and Texas High.
"These years, history has been on my minds," he said. "I wanted to tell the story and give back to the district, about the transition from Dunbar. I broached the topic with Texas High and they liked the idea. I've been doing this presentation for the past several years.
Green notes that Dunbar, the school building, is still around, now a pre-K school, the "baby buffaloes", at 10th and Peach.
He also notes that students have very different racial attitudes now than they did in his day.
"I love what I see now when I give these presentations," he said. "Black and white students, casually sitting with each other in the first few rows. Girls and guys sitting with friends of different colors. You don't know how far the district has come in those 50 years."