Campbell Street Elementary teacher and student reflect on experience at all-Black school
BY ASHLEY D. THOMAS
Geneva Loper has only good things to say about the students she and her colleagues taught at Campbell Street Elementary during the 1960s.
“We had some very smart kids who have gone on to have great careers,” she said in an interview with the Daytona Times. Campbell Elementary was Daytona Beach’s all-Black elementary school from 1962-1969.
“I went back to school after 14 years of marriage. Teaching was always a great desire of mine,” Loper relayed, chuckling as she recalled the days of her youth holding a switch in one hand while teaching youngsters their ABC’s and numbers.
Loper graduated from then-Bethune-Cookman College (now University) with a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education in 1962 at age 35. She already had received an associate of arts degree in 1960 from Volusia County Community College (now Daytona State College) and taught on the kindergarten level for three years before receiving either degree.
“I was just there to teach because that had always been my desire,” she said.
“My experience at Campbell Elementary was most rewarding. It was really my first teaching job. It was just a learning experience for me and my students, we just learned together.” She continued, “Campbell Elementary was a great school for learning. All the teachers were competitive and wanted to see the students do well. The parents were so involved and everyone was interested in everyone. We were one great team.”
Life after integration
One reason the students and teachers were so well connected was because they really knew each other, Loper explained.
“I would walk through the neighborhood and visit the families. I’d visit the parents. They knew me.
They’d say what they wanted for their kids and were supportive. It was altogether different during integration,” Loper noted.
“Campbell was phased out in ‘69 so it was about ‘67 or ‘68 I was sent to Westside Elementary along with four other teachers. The principal came in and asked if we wanted to work at his school, to make an appointment and come in for an interview. They needed Black teachers to integrate their faculty. There were four of us who went over – Dorothy Moore and Elouise Edwards too. Others went to Leonard school, I think Mary Fears, our librarian came to Westside too.”
“He (the principal) was really nice to work for and treated us professionally,” Loper related. “We worked hard; we thought we had something to prove.”
In 1974, Loper was nominated for outstanding teacher, a national award.
Loper explained that there was a type of anticipation she faced during integration that the other kids would be smarter than those she taught.
“I found out it was altogether different. You could hold up any of our Campbell Elementary students to any of the others. They could stand their ground anywhere,” she said.
“I always thought about if we would have had all the material that the other schools had, as we had limited resources and the teachers spent so much of their own money for our kids to make them shine.
But what it would have been like if we had the money they did?”
“I would have loved to just stayed there with Black boys and girls all of my teaching career.”
A reunion for alumni, teachers and staff who attended Campbell Street Elementary School takes place on Saturday, Aug. 23. Dr. Patricia Jackson-Smith, a former student, is heading up the reunion and gave insight to how planning the reunion brought back memories from those beginning years.
“Our first few meetings we spent a lot of time reminiscing, remembering the teachers, and talking about the ones we’ve kept in touch with, the ones who have gone on,” Jackson-Smith said.
“We were at an all-Black school, with all-Black teachers and an all-Black administration. We didn’t have the problem of racism. We saw each other in the neighborhood, in the church. There was a sense of community. Students now don’t have that, where your teacher may sing in the choir with your mom or is someone you would see outside of school,” she continued.
‘They gave us self-confidence’
“I was very enthusiastic (about school) because the teachers motivated us, they always had something exciting going on. I felt that I could do anything because the teachers inspired us to think that. They believed in excellence and encouraged us not to be slackers. They gave us self-confidence. We were creative, I can remember in the fifth grade; we produced our own play, made our own costumes for “The Land of Talking Birds.” I still remember what bird I was,” she said with a laugh. “We had spelling bees and the teachers enjoyed us and made us enjoy being there.”
“There was one teacher- Mrs. Eula B. Gray. Before we left every day, she had us line up and we said our evening prayer. Everybody talked about Mrs. Joretha Hayes, our P.E. teacher, and every May we had May Day and she had us wear all white and we plaited the maypole. I remember our music teacher taught us the Negro National Anthem. They taught us about Black poets so we could be encouraged to write. It was really a good experience.”
“I am really happy that we have an opportunity to let our teachers know how much we appreciate them.”
How things changed
Jackson-Smith gave her account of integration after Campbell.
“We had teachers we didn’t know. They didn’t have any history of us,” Jackson-Smith said. “They didn’t know if we came as advanced students, our abilities, didn’t know our families, and didn’t know our neighborhood. Just like any type of change, there were those who really weren’t ready for integration.
There was resistance.”
“I was an advanced student. I’ve always been strong in math, however, my math teacher did not believe I was a good math student. I made all A’s and B’s on my quizzes and tests in math but when it was time for report cards, I brought home a C. I wasn’t allowed to bring C grades home,” she remarked.
Jackson-Smith explained how she was able to show her parents all of her quizzes and exams and then as she puts it, her mother “was able to handle that.’’ The teacher was forced to give her the right grade.
“I had teachers who made me think I wasn’t capable and that was a really harsh experience,” she continued, noting that she attended Mainland Junior High during the integration transition.
“I no longer had classmates from my neighborhood, none of my playmates. There were three Black students in math and I was the only Black student in English. I felt left out, I felt isolated. My experience was so different. They were used to each other all their lives; I wasn’t used to making friends with White students.”
Jackson-Smith recalled one White student with whom she had a budding friendship with, but it was only allowed during the schoolday.
“My daddy would give her a ride home from school, but I was never allowed to ride in her car or go to her house.”
On Campbell reunion
“I am looking forward to seeing my former classmates that I haven’t seen in a while,” Jackson-Smith told the Daytona Times. “Some since junior high.”
“It has really been a pleasure meeting with my classmates and plan the event. I was sitting at our last meeting and I said, ‘I remember when we were kids sitting around the table, creating plays and paper mâché. We would never have thought we would be sitting around a table as grandparents sitting around a table again.”
Campbell Elementary alumni who attended the school from 1962 to 1969 will celebrate the school’s legacy with a banquet recognizing and memorializing the school’s faculty and staff. Students from around the country are expected to attend.
A banquet is set for Saturday, Aug. 23 at 2 p.m. at the John H. Dickerson Community Center, 308 South Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd,. Daytona Beach. The public is invited.
For more information, contact Dr. Pamela Jackson-Smith at 386-447-8997.