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Sunday, February 17, 2019

Integrating Kerrville public schools

Doyle School students, May 1, 1947
Click on any image below to enlarge
I was reminded this week the stories we tell about a community's past and the actual history of a community are often different from each other. I'm not sure one has more value than the other, especially when each provide a way to better understand the forces that shaped today's community. Eyewitness accounts can vary, and stories can morph as they pass from teller to listener.
Tivy Jr. High 8th grade students, 1947
When I can find written, contemporary accounts of an event, often from the pages of local newspapers, I rely on them more than trying to remember events from decades ago. Many of the stories I tell happened well before I was born, in the early 1960s. Researching those stories requires me to find old newspapers, letters, and diaries.
Recently I found an old letter in my files, mailed in March, 1956, and signed by the president of the Kerrville Independent School Board. The letter hopes to explain the board’s stand on its“Integration Policy.”
“In the spring of 1954,” the letter begins, “the Supreme Court of the United States ruled unanimously that segregation in the public schools was illegal, and commissioned the various school boards in the nation to progress toward integration during the next few years.”
No timeline was established and no set method of integration was ordered; the requirement was for school boards to “act in good faith.”
Doyle School, 1960s
The Kerrville school board decided in the spring of 1955 that students from Doyle School (which served African-American students) would be admitted “upon special approval” to attend a few classes at Tivy High School.
However, in Big Spring, Texas, a similar decision there resulted in confusion “whereby State funds might be held in jeopardy if integration was accomplished.” Kerrville quickly changed course, pending a Texas Supreme Court decision in the matter, which came in September 1955. That court ruled “State funds would not be jeopardized because of integration.”
A study in Kerrville by the University of Texas found “that the educational program at Doyle School was inadequate and recommended some type of integration be accomplished to remedy the situation.”
Part of the problem, the study found, that “an adequate educational program at Doyle School could not be accomplished with five teachers teaching twelve grades.” The school’s continued accreditation depended upon “more facilities must be added and more teachers must be employed.”
Tivy High School, 1950s
The Kerrville school board quickly realized hiring twelve teachers at Doyle would be required, one for each grade. Buildings would have to be erected “to adequately house the additional teachers. Science laboratories and vocational facilities must be provided to maintain a first class high school.”
Making these changes would have meant a change in student/teacher ratios: at Doyle, after making these changes, the student to teacher ratio would be 8 students per teacher. “In the Kerrville white schools, the ratio is approximately 28 to 1.”
The local school taxes collected in 1956 was around $165,000. The needed buildings at Doyle would cost close to $80,000; the additional operational costs would be around $25,000. To meet these new expenses, the Kerrville school board realized they’d need to raise the tax rate to the legal limit ($1.50) and to further increase property valuations by 15%.
Continuing segregation in Kerrville was going to be very expensive.  It was an immoral practice which was also economically unsound.
Even with this dire financial information, full integration was not chosen as a remedy. Instead, the board decided the program at Doyle would be “under the supervision of the Tivy Junior-Senior High School principals, and that Doyle students in those grades would participate in the same academic curriculum as Tivy students as far as facilities and teaching staff would permit…Upon special approval, those students at the Doyle School who wish to participate in courses not offered there will be permitted to enroll for those courses in Tivy High School for one period per day only.”
Even this timid approach to school fairness was met with open opposition from those in the community who did not favor integration of any kind. In April, 1956 – the same month our county celebrated its centennial with a great amount of pomp and ceremony – a Kerrville school board election was held.
Several local school board candidates openly campaigned for segregation – “Vote for Segregation” their newspaper ads stated. Those candidates won election.
The very next week the new school board voted to rescind the earlier weak “integration program” outlined above.
Over the next few years the Kerrville board took baby steps forward and several big steps backward on the issue of integration. These were the biggest decisions the school boards of that era tackled, and getting to the right answer took a long time.
Doyle School finally closed in 1966, after all students were integrated into one school system. Integration began for older students in 1964.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who started first grade at Kerrville's Starkey Elementary in 1967. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times February 16, 2019.

Yes, it's true: I have published a new book about Kerrville and Kerr County.  All of my books are available at Wolfmueller's Books, Herring Printing, and online by clicking HERE

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