It was the first day of school for Alphonso, Roland and Margaret Scott.
Their mother, Pearl Scott, led the children from a nearby base housing complex on a short walk to Havelock Elementary School, where on a typical first day they would meet new classmates and new teachers and find their desks in new classrooms.
But this was no typical first day. The men in military uniforms with rifles lining the walkway into the school showed the children that this was different.
On Aug. 28, 1959, the three Scott children were among the first 11 black students to attend the previously all-white Havelock Elementary and Barden Elementary schools in Havelock. The schools were the first in the state east of Goldsboro to open their doors to both white and black students.
Roland Scott, now 62 and a resident of Louisville, Ky., said he has vivid memories of that first day as a second-grader.
“The memories run kind of deep and it’s something that’s kind of hard to get away from,” he said. “I didn’t know why all of the soldiers were there. They were lined up on the sidewalk on both sides and we went between them. There were a few people shouting some things. At the time, I didn’t understand why they were shouting. None of them was allowed to come inside the line where we were walking. We were escorted up the steps and reporters were in front of us, behind us, taking pictures as we went into the building. It wasn’t too bad.”
Older sister Margaret Scott Rivers, then a third-grader and now a resident of Monks Corner, S.C., remembers being on the front page of the paper and on television.
“Mother took us and the principal gave us permission to come to the school and some reporters came and put us in the newspaper and on TV because we were the first black kids to go to that school,” Rivers said. “When we came outside for recess, we were playing with the kids and we saw some people taking pictures.”
Alphonzo Scott, now of Monks Corner, was in first grade.
“I remember walking to school and some people were saying some things, you know, and I just tried to ignore them,” Scott said. “I felt uncomfortable because of all the name calling and things like that. There were people on both sides of the steps going to the school. It wasn’t a very good environment. You got the feeling that people didn’t like you and that they didn’t want you there. I remember getting our picture in the newspaper going up the steps and into the school.”
The three were the children of Cpl. Roland Scott, a Cherry Point Marine. The Craven County Board of Education passed a resolution allowing the black children of military personnel to attend the previous all-white public schools in Havelock, clearing the way for integration.
At Havelock Elementary, eight came on that first day, while at Barden Elementary, three attended.
Black students of non-military parents remained barred from public schools. The school board’s “integrated but segregated” decision was prompted by a local committee ruling that came after “a pointed request from the air station authorities that something be done to correct the situation then in existence,” according to a story in the Havelock Progress on July 16, 1959. The decision was based on that federal money was used to build the schools.
The Scott children had attended Annunciation Catholic School, and Roland Scott said he liked the school, despite its strictness. He said one day his father, now deceased, informed the children they would be switching schools and offered no explanation.
“All I remember was not wanting to change schools,” Roland Scott said. “They did say that it would be good, or something. I don’t remember what his exact words were. He didn’t tell us that we would have to go through a lot of changes and stuff like that.”
He said he remembers name-calling and insults, but no violence, on the walk to school. The newspaper reported that integration went smoothly.
“There were some people yelling some things but I wouldn’t understand what they were saying,” he said. “They weren’t very happy, I guess, that I was going there. That’s what I heard later on.”
Things weren’t much better inside the school, Alphonzo Scott said.
“I never felt welcome at the school,” he said. “It was a bad experience. I was glad to leave there. I never felt comfortable. I blocked a lot of that out. You heard a lot of the N word and stuff like that. I heard that a lot. When I went to the classroom, I just sat there and didn’t say anything at all. Nobody would talk to me anyway.”
Roland Scott said he felt isolated as well.
“None of the kids would every talk to me,” he said. “None wanted to play with me. They all pretty much wanted to stay to themselves. Whenever we would have contests and stuff in class, no matter how hard I tried, I never could get anything right. It was just stuff I had to deal with. I understood it after a while.”
He said the worst part was that no student wanted to be paired with him for class projects.
“There was one white little girl who wasn’t very attractive and was kind of heavyset and people tried to avoid her too, and a couple of times we got stuck together and the kids would laugh at her and stuff like that and I didn’t understand it,” he said. “One day, me and her got paired off and we had to do a project together and apparently I guess she got tired of being paired with me and we were sitting beside each other and she took a pencil and she jabbed it into the center of my hand and I looked at my hand and the lead was still stuck in my hand.”
Recess didn’t offer any relief, Roland Scott said.
“I found out I couldn’t go outside and play unless I was getting beat up,” he said. “I would stand in the doorway at recess every day, because the first day I was out there I must have been surrounded by about 20 kids, mostly boys, that wanted to beat me up and I didn’t understand why. I was just saved by the bell on that particular day.
“I spent all of my recesses just standing in the doorway. They were waiting for me to come out into the open, so I would just stay up there by the doorway for all my recesses. Then I began to understand it was a black thing, because I didn’t have that problem at the Catholic school.”
He said he did manage to have one white friend.
“I believe his father was also in the Marines, but him and his sisters were very good friends of ours,” he said. “They were good people. No prejudice at all. Me and him played daily even though his friends would try to turn him against me. I believe his name was Tony. He was my only friend, but he was a good friend.”
He wishes he could reconnect with the family.
“If I could see her and her brother today, I would tell them thanks for being true friends and not letting people around them turn their feelings against us,” Scott said.
He said not all his memories are bad.
“When we went up to the shopping center, people there treated us really great, so I really didn’t think nothing of it,” Scott said of the Commercial Shopping Center.
Six months after entering the school, his father was transferred and the family left the area. Roland Scott eventually joined the Army and later became a minister.
“There has been a tremendous amount of change compared to the way it was back then,” Roland Scott said. “It was like day and night I would say. I wasn’t prepared for a lot of that stuff that was going on. We weren’t taught to hate people because of their race. It’s gotten a lot better.”
But just because race relations have improved doesn’t mean history should be ignored, he said.
“Even though it’s not a pleasant time in our history, I feel that it should never be forgotten,” he said. “It’s too early to forget about it. It should be remembered that there are still people alive that came a mighty long ways just to get to where they are today.”