Marion Upshaw grew up in Douglas, Texas. He attended Black schools in Douglas and graduated salutatorian. He then went off to Texas College and earned a degree in biology in 1955. His degree, meant for teaching, led him to work in Douglas, Texas as a teacher in 1959. In 1965, he began teaching in Nacogdoches. He taught biology and math at E. J. Campbell High School. During the integration process, he was one of the first Black teachers to go over to the White school. He retired in 1992, after thirty-three years of teaching, at the age of fifty-nine.
The interview was conducted on June 23, 2010 by Chris Wilkins in the Nacogdoches Public Library.
WILKINS: Today is June 23, 2010. I am Chris Wilkins and I am interviewing Marion Upshaw for an SFA/AAHP [Stephen F. Austin State University / African American Heritage Project] interview, here in Nacogdoches, Texas. So, I guess I will just go ahead and begin. First of all, let's just start off with where did you grow up originally?
UPSHAW: In the Upshaw community of Douglas, Texas.
WILKINS: Douglas, Texas and where is that exactly?
UPSHAW: That's twenty-one miles west of Nacogdoches, five miles northwest of Douglas.
WILKINS: Did you go to school in Douglas?
UPSHAW: I went to school in Douglas, the Black high school in Douglas, Texas, Winterfield community.
WILKINS: Did you like that experience? Was it a good…?
UPSHAW: It was a pleasant experience, except I didn't realize that I wasn't getting a full education. I had no science. But I ended up with a high school diploma. The state of Texas said I passed all the necessary requirements to get a high school diploma
WILKINS: So, you didn't have a single science?
UPSHAW: Did not have a single science class. They didn't offer a science class. The curriculum was not standard. But that was okay then for Black people. And so . . . And I was salutatorian. I didn't know I was smart enough to be, and no one every challenged me to learn anything, really. So, what I learned, I just learned it on my own. The teachers were absent a lot. And according to a lot of the little girls, busy with them, rather than teaching us what we needed to know.
WILKINS: What were your teachers like other than like you said they were absent . . . did they . . . ?
UPSHAW: The main teachers, I mean the men teachers, especially the math teacher was gone a lot. He was the principal and he had a lot of business away from school. And meanwhile, we had no one to teach us while he was gone except one of the students would stand in and taught himself to teach it while the teacher was gone.
WILKINS: So, did you end up going to college?
UPSHAW: I ended up going to college and majoring in Bi-ol-ogy [he enunciated each syllable], but I hadn't had any science at all. And that was quite a challenge. I went into the science classroom for the first time, never had seen a test tube, microscope, disectin' set. And I started from scratch in science in college.
WILKINS: How was that high school you went to?
UPSHAW: We had about ten kids graduate. That was the entire class. It wasn't large at all. How small is the question [laughter].
WILKINS: What was the name of the college that you attended?
UPSHAW: I went to Texas College. I got my undergraduate degree and then I attended some classes at Prairie View [Prairie View Texas A&M University; a historically African American college] and then I ended up with a Masters degree in Biology at Stephen F. Austin State University [SFA] there with the pre-med students. They treated me as though I was pre-med, with the way they ran me through those courses fast and furiously.
WILKINS: When did you get your graduate degree?
UPSHAW: 1970 . . . I got my graduate degree in 1955 . . . did you say graduate?
WILKINS: What did you do after you got out?
UPSHAW: I taught school.
WILKINS: Straight out?
UPSHAW: Yes at Cushing for five years and thirty years at Nacogdoches high school. But really twenty-eight years because two of the years I brought from the Navy to call it thirty years, thirty-five years all together. You could buy it, the Navy time, and add it to your teacher retirement time. So instead of having thirty-three years I ended up with thirty-five years to retire on.
WILKINS: That's good.
UPSHAW: I bought those years and added them to my teacher . . .
WILKINS: How did you decide to become a teacher?
UPSHAW: Really I didn't decide to become a teacher until after I graduated. I just went to college. But I realized that my certification was to be a teacher. It was a teacher preparation college. I wanted to do something else and I tried for five years to find something else to do, but my credentials wouldn't allow me. So I end up teaching school, reluctantly. You know, finally I arrived at this philosophy that if you stay with a job long enough, it will end up being the job you've been lookin' for. So, I end up in the public school administration where I realized a pretty good salary that I could live with until retired at age fifty-nine. I retired at age fifty-nine in 1992 and so . . . Of course, they told me I was retiring too early. I was retiring too early at fifty-nine, no one could retire at age fifty-nine with three kids in college and they thought I owed a car payment, but I paid cash for that.
WILKINS: What was your experience when you first came, obviously you grew up here in Nacogdoches, but whenever you first came here as a teacher what was it . . . ?
UPSHAW: Yes, 1960 I came here. But, I didn't come here as a teacher until 1965. I lived here, but I taught school at Cushing while living here. I taught school in Cushing five years, commuting back and forth.
WILKINS: Cushing's out . . .
UPSHAW: Out 20 miles. Northwest of here. Cushing Texas.
WILKINS: Alright . . . Go ahead.
UPSHAW: Go ahead . . . I don't know what I was . . . You have to give me another question.
WILKINS: So, what school did you begin teaching at here in Nacogdoches?
UPSHAW: E. J. Campbell High School, Black school.
WILKINS: Where is that?
UPSHAW: On Shawnee.
WILKINS: And can you describe the conditions at that high school
UPSHAW: The conditions were . . . at the time I thought they were good cause I had no reference point, but there were many facilities that we didn't have, especially in the science. I taught science there and there was nothing in the science room to help me teach science, except for the textbook and chalk. So, the equipment was still inferior at E. J. Campbell. Just about as inferior as it was at Douglas. Of course they had science in Nacogdoches, but the equipment was absent, the science equipment that you need for doing experiments and demonstrations, was not in the classroom, because it was a Black high school. No supplies. You had to go out and try to hustle up supplies yourself. Sometimes you purchased things out of your own pocket because the budget didn't provide in the Black school the things you needed to teach. So, sometimes I bought things out of my own pocket to do a demonstration.
WILKINS: So were you aware at the time that the White teachers . . .?
UPSHAW: We were aware that the White teachers had more equipment. Especially . . . at Cushing for example, I taught biology, but there was one microscope in the classroom, so I went over to the White high school, you know, I'm bold, and borrowed microscopes from them and other things that I needed, slides and chemicals, to do demonstrations, but I never took them back. So, they had to buy some more. My wife said, "Only a crazy man would have that kind of audacious audacity . . ." [laughter].
WILKINS: You described how, like, what your conditions were like in the classroom, what was the classroom set up like? What was, you know . . . how big was the room? Stuff like that.
UPSHAW: The room was adequate size. It would hold twenty, twenty-five students. We had plenty of space, chairs, and tables, that was no problem on the space. No overcrowding. But there was no equipment. I had a table upfront with water and gas, a science table. I could do demonstrations, but the kids could only look at what I'm doing. And that's not a good way to learn, they had no had no hands on experience with the scientific experiments or what, in my classroom. Still separate but equal of course, but it wasn't equal. Separate of course.
WILKINS: So, how many kids approximately did you have in each?
UPSHAW: I think I had twenty five. Quite a few for a science class.
WILKINS: So just in general, how would the Black schools in town compare to the White schools in town.
UPSHAW: When I went over, after integration, I was called over to the White high school to teach. And looking at what they had there you realized just how unequal things were. The science equipment was there, you could use it. Microscopes were there. The facilities were just unequal and you realized just how unequal they were when you went over to the other side and then you had at that time you had a reference point to compare. You don't know how vanilla ice cream tastes until you get to strawberry. So, I needed a reference point. So I realized when I went over to the White high school how unequal our facilities were in the Black school.
WILKINS: And you discussed how different it was as far as you know, like, equipment and classes and stuff like that. What about . . . did ya'll . . . was the pay a lot different?
UPSHAW: Pay was the same.
WILKINS: Pay was the same?
UPSHAW: See the state of Texas required equal pay eventually, but in the old days Blacks received less the salaries . . . unequal. I think they passed the Gilmer Aken's law [passed in 1949] that required them to make all salaries equal for degree and experience. And so they had to make Black teacher's salaries the same as Whites with the same qualifications and years of experience. And that was good. So, finally the state of Texas realized that they were allowing Jim Crow to raise his ugly head and make Black teachers fear inferior by paying Black teachers less than White teachers in the state of Texas. And so promoted the attitude that Blacks are not as good as Whites. And they had that problem that state of mind, all Black teachers had that feeling that, "hey we're not as good," because they didn't pay us equally. They paid me equally, because I'm not from the old school. But, the idea about the equipment and our schools for us to teach our kids as they should be taught, made us feel that we were not worthy of being equal, the way we were treated. And the kids realized that they were being denied equal opportunities. And they realized it more. So when they went to the White school, they saw just what kind of equipment they had to learn.
WILKINS: Did the teachers take any, teachers at the African-American school, did they take any measures to you know try to bring the kids up and make them feel more at . . . you know . . . like they had a place?
UPSHAW: We would always tell them they had to work twice as hard to stay equal. You had to run twice as hard to stay even. And you had to be super, because of the fact you lived in a society that had a lot of segregation and discrimination. And we pushed our kids, we prodded them, and made them realize that they had to work hard to get what they needed in life. No one was goin' to hand it to them on a platter. And when I told them my experiences, how I went to college. Startin' out it was eighty five dollars to enter college, at Texas College. I did not have all of my money, but I was able to talk my way in to get my degree in four years, because I was willing to struggle. I realized that the only real opportunity that I had was the opportunity to struggle and to succeed, in spite of the odds.
WILKINS: Just looking back, what would you say, like, the average success rate . . . It's kind of hard to equate careers to success. But just like, you know, did kids coming out of the White school did they generally become more successful than the kids coming out of the Black school because of their better education . . . ?
UPSHAW: We had a lot of drop outs. A lot of our Black kids did not go to college, because they did not have money. Being poor. White kids, they had more money, and more powerful, they could go to college without too much effort. We taught our kids that you had to work and struggle to get what you wanted out of life. You couldn't just sit around and wait. You had to be willing to work, to make ends meet. You could go, but you have to realize that if you go you have to work to stay.
WILKINS: Alright, so, let's move in to the racial relations within Nacogdoches itself. Could you describe the Jim Crow system that existed?
UPSHAW: Well you know the Jim Crow system that existed, like ridin' in the back of the bus, we accepted that as being the standard. I mean the standard, that's being graceful, you got on the bus and you assumed that was your place and you didn't fight it. And then, back of the restaurants to get a hamburger. That was your only way to get a hamburger. You couldn't . . . some of us would try to go in the front and then get embarrassed or get arrested. But, we just accepted the separate, unequal status as being the best that we could do at the time, in order to stay out of trouble. I remember goin' to get hamburger at the bus station here, they had a little a cubby hole, they'd sell you your hamburger and hand it through the cubby hole and you sit and eat it there in, you know, a room. Of course the same hamburger, cost the same thing, but it was given to you in a separate room and you didn't see the rest of the people in the restaurant. You were there in that room eatin' that hamburger. Hamburger was good, but we felt we were being treated like an animal.
WILKINS: It's hard for me, you know, as a young person lookin' back to understand just how segregated the city was. Other than just the hamburger joints and stuff . . . what all was segregated?
UPSHAW: Transportation. Hotels. Restrooms. Restaurants. Sometimes my dad, in my dad's day, it was against the law, against the rule really, to walk on the sidewalk if you were facin' up to a White person. You got off the sidewalk and let them pass through.
WILKINS: So, the African American had to step into the street?
UPSHAW: You had to get off and let this White person pass. And my dad said it was customary in the old days when you were talkin' to a White man, you pulled your hat off, put it under your arm. You were being submissive and humble. The White man appreciated your attitude. For example, E. J. Campbell had this attitude, he understood the system. You know, E. J. Campbell. Name sake of E. J. Campbell Black high school. He had two cars, two kinds of cars. He had an old run down jalopy of a car and a brand new Buick. But, when he went to see the superintendent he said, he'd drive the old jalopy run down car, that was rattlin' and shakin', and he's drivin' it up to the superintendent's office. But he wouldn't drive his new car because that would be intimidating to the superintendent, cause his car would be lookin' better than the superintendent and at that time the superintendent wouldn't appreciate him drivin' a better lookin' car than his. So he used psychology on his superintendent boss man and drove his old raggedy car up to him when he wanted to get him to do some favors for the Black schools. Can you imagine?
WILKINS: [sigh] No.
UPSHAW: And they said he was an Uncle Tom, because he did that, but he had to do what he had to do to in order succeed.
WILKINS: You said in the Black community, was there any resentment whenever, you know, played into the system, you know, made sure, made sure the system work for you?
UPSHAW: Well, they'd say you were an Uncle Tom. They'd say you were able to move forward in the system because you are an Uncle Tom. You bow to the White man. You do what he wants, and you will receive some advantages, because you sold out to him. You lost your self respect. A lot of Black people really thought that you had to do that and that if you did succeed, you did it to get there. In other words they would say they put you in the lead position because you are considered to be the gate keeper. Okay, "we're letting you in John, just you, but you are to keep the others out. So, don't try to recruit anymore Blacks. You the only one we're gunna hire here. We'll put you up front here. "When people walk in they'll say, 'oh they hired a Black man here, so everything is equal.'" But, when you walk back no one else is Black. The front . . . desk would have one Black in the set up. And so when people walk by they think, oh they have integrated. But twenty five people working in the office, one Black.
WILKINS: Brown [Brown v. Board of Education, which passed in 1954] was a landmark decision in the U. S., in U. S. history, but reactions to it in the South were slow.
UPSHAW: Slow, reacted very slowly
WILKINS: How did African-Americans react to the slow pace of change?
UPSHAW: Well, some really didn't want to move over to the White school. Then there are others who were impatient with the change and they became activist and tried to prod the congressmen to bring the law into fruition. Give us equal schools or let us come into schools that are in existence. At the time school districts begin to build Black high schools to make them equal. After that long past, they had the attitude that if you build them good high schools, better than ours, maybe they won't seek to be integrated with us. So we had better schools. E. J. Campbell had a new building across the street. We have an old building and a new building there. And Cushing built a new school for the Blacks, while the Whites stayed in the old schools. So, we would say, "we have the best. We are now separate and equal." But, that didn't last for long. They passed the law that said separate and equal is not equal. You had to be in the same classroom, at the same time, under the same teachers for separate . . . I mean for integration, for things to be equal. You can't have separate schools and have equality.
WILKINS: So the theory in the pre-integration South was that once Brown was passed was just to say "Hey we'll actually make things separate and equal and see if that will placate . . . ?"
UPSHAW: Placate and they won't clamor to come to our schools. But that didn't last very long. Someone became wise to that effort and so finally they required them to abolish one of the high schools, just shut it down, like they did here at E. J. Campbell. They shut it down. And so they all had to go to the White school. I was one of the first . . . I was the second teacher to go to the White school.
WILKINS: When was that?
UPSHAW: I believe it was 1968 . . . late sixties. There was only one guy already there when I got there. We had some . . . well, I didn't know what was goin' to happen, goin' into the White high school teachin' predominantly White students for the first time. I didn't know if I could do that. I didn't know if I'd be smart of enough to teach White students.
WILKINS: I assume you were.
UPSHAW: I was better prepared than I thought. Being Black, we worked twice as hard just to be equal. We realized then when we got to the White high school that many more of us had master's degrees than Whites. So we were better qualified than we thought we were after we got into the setting of the integrated school. So I did not feel inferior once I got into the settin' and realized that I was not as inferior as I thought I was. And so I just asserted myself, became a standard being, took on the challenge of teaching in the White school, well White and Black then, Hispanic. But, I stopped feeling inferior because I realized that I was smarter than I had assumed that I was.
WILKINS: If we could turn right now just to talk about the beginnings of the civil rights movement in Nacogdoches. Do you remember, outside of the school, do you remember any particular events that signaled to you that the civil rights movement had come to Nacogdoches?
UPSHAW: I realized . . . we didn't participate in it, but there were marches. Teachers didn't march because you could get fired marchin'. But there were people who came to town. Mickey Maguire for one, from out of town, and they led marches here and caused people to be concerned about the necessity of integrating in schools. But you know, there wasn't a whole lot of friction because of those marches. The Whites in Nacogdoches were very tolerant of the marches. There weren't anybody that got killed, or seriously hurt. There were some words, you know, but surprisingly the marches didn't create too much friction and integration didn't create too much friction. Because the leaders got together and said, "Hey this is the law. Let's make it work." The college took to participatin' and making pains to make the transition smooth. So, integration really took place in Nacogdoches without a whole lot of friction.
WILKINS: What about the African American civil rights organizations. Were there any of those in town? Like the NAACP.
UPSHAW: The NAACP is here. And it was here then.
WILKINS: Do you remember them doing anything in particular?
UPSHAW: Not in particular, but they were endorsing the marches.
WILKINS: Okay and when did these marches take place, start in the town?
UPSHAW: In the early sixities nearest that I can remember. I was in Cushing at the time. And they were marchin' here. Let's see, I started in Cushing 1959, '60, and so I didn't….I wasn't able to see firsthand a lot of the marches because they didn't march in Cushing. But they did march in Nacogdoches and so I could only able to read the papers about the marches in Nacogdoches.
WILKINS: And you said the transition was generally smooth. You don't remember any kind of any formal resistance from anybody that, any resistance to integration that was outspoken?
UPSHAW: It was very mild. Surprisingly, the Whites took this without a lot of fight. It was a thing that was goin' to happen anyway. So, they just didn't bother to try to turn it around. And when I went to the high school, the kids accepted me as though I'd been there all the time.
WILKINS: When did you start seeing the change, like, was there just like a point where you'd, you know, been used to Jim Crow and then all of the sudden was it changed, or was it . . . ? How gradual was the process?
UPSHAW: It was gradual. I worked at the high school teachin', as a teacher. Time to eat lunch, I'm here by myself at the table. White teachers are over there and I really felt bad about that. They really avoided sittin' with me. Then finally one would come over and sit with me and another would come and eventually I was accepted as a fellow teacher. And we all had to make adjustment and the adjustments came rather quickly. You have to be willing yourself to accept a little bit of friction, little isolation, then let things kind of evolve. And finally they did evolve and became as near as possible an equal person. Felt equal, the way they treated you. And that was a good thing. The White teachers realized they were human beings and that I was a human being as well. And so we got along quite well together. Surprisingly to me, I thought there would be a lot of friction between us.
WILKINS: During the . . . when did the Nacogdoches schools begin taking steps toward integration?
UPSHAW: Really, they had freedom of choice. You could go to the White school if you wanted to, or you could remain in the Black school. Every year there would be more and more Black kids going over there to test it out, to test the waters. And, of course, finally there was no longer a freedom of choice to integrate. You go to school at the White high school is where you're going to go.
WILKINS: Would you consider the freedom of choice, as far as getting kids integrated, was it a general success or do you think it was a token measure?
UPSHAW: It was a token measure. It didn't gain much speed. Just a few remained there. It finally plateaued out. There were not many Blacks were goin' over. They kind of felt like, hey I don't belong over here. They weren't treatin' us . . . the few that went realized they weren't really being accepted in small numbers. And so, not until they really integrated fully did things really get to be better. "They're here now," so there is no option, except we are here together as one body of students. In the cafeteria, you realized just how separate they were, at first. You had Black tables here and White tables there at the lunch times. They ate over here, they . . . cause they reflected the livin' patterns in the city. But after classroom time, you'd see them playin' together, goin' to football practice. But eatin' seemed like a special time, just we can be us. We are over here. They can be them over there. That's just kinda the pattern they followed in the cafeteria. It wasn't just the kids. The communities were segregated. We were across the track. We were across the side. Of course, they were across the track too, if you lived were on the other side. Across the tracks on the other side. Anyway, it was all . . . it got there. And today…the kids are marryin' each other, havin' babies together. Of course, this, I don't guess this is too bad in a way. But I can't imagine. I went to Central Height the other day and there was a man fixin' my lawnmower and then in comes his daughter, who is half Black. In a little old town like Central Height. He didn't seem like he minded me lookin' at this half Black girl that he's the father of. And so . . . is this positive change? They good enough to marry each other now?
WILKINS: I think it is. When did Nacogdoches finally fully integrate?
UPSHAW: I think it was 1968 or 9 when they fully integrated. I think E. J. Campbell had its last year, last graduating class, I believe the last class was 1968 or 9.
WILKINS: Do you remember what caused it? Was it . . . ?
UPSHAW: What caused?
WILKINS: What was the final catalyst?
UPSHAW: They gave us . . . I think the people from Washington gave us a deadline to integrate or there would be a penalty. You must integrate with all deliberate speed. Then they gave you a time for you to accomplish this.
WILKINS: So they defined deliberate speed?
UPSHAW: Finally, they said your deliberate speed is too slow. So they just said well integrate. Abolish the Black high school. Then where would they go, they would all go to the high school. The high school, not a White high school. But the White high school became thee high school. So you couldn't go to E. J. Campbell [emphasis is his own].
WILKINS: Did E. J. Campbell stay in the school system as a middle school or something or did they just abandon it completely?
UPSHAW: They abandoned it completely and made an administration building out of that E. J. Campbell building. So now it's the central office of Nacogdoches ISD.
WILKINS: To this day?
UPSHAW: To this day. E. J. Campbell high school is the central office for the Nacogdoches independent school district. It's a very good building. One of those building they built out of first class materials, hopin' that the Black students feel good over there. But you go to the E. J. Campbell central office you see that they have all this . . . in fact, E. J. Campbell building is a better building than the high school. Go over there and look. It was separate and unequal to the high school they have at the high school. That school at the high school is made of cheap material. I hated to see them discard the E. J. Campbell building because it was a well built building.
WILKINS: I grew up in Center and they had a wonderful gym they built down there at the Black school there. I mean, it was first class. I remember as kid we went to the . . . that was our middle school and that gym was spectacular.
UPSHAW: And you know some school districts in East Texas were smart. Alto, for example, built the high school for the Blacks better than what they had at the White school when integrated came, they went to the Black side. So, they was smart to build a good building. I think they realized that eventually that this will be the building that we will all be in. So they built a nice building for the Blacks at Alto and when they had to integrate the Whites said, "Hey, this is our school now. Not a Black school." You didn't have this happenin' at too many districts where the Whites came and integrated with the Black schools. Doesn't that sound rare to you?
WILKINS: Yeah, that sounds very rare.
UPSHAW: But one thing I didn't like about it was when they came over to the Black high school, they made the Black high school do away with its mascot. And they brought their mascot over to the Black school and say, "You no longer Wildcats. You take our mascot."
WILKINS: Well, what happened in Nacogdoches?
UPSHAW: They were Dragons . . . in fact, they took the Black Dragon to the high school.
WILKINS: What was Nacogdoches before that?
UPSHAW: They were Dragons.
WILKINS: Oh, so both schools . . . ?
UPSHAW: Black Dragons.
WILKINS: Both the Black and White school?
UPSHAW: Whites were Dragons. I believe that's true. I think that's right. And so they took . . . we had a dragon on rollers we pulled out on the field. And when integration came, the Whites said, "We like that dragon." So, they used our dragon as the mascot at the high school. Still have . . . they still have that dragon. It was well built. I wish that dragon could talk.
WILKINS: He could say a lot of things
UPSHAW: He could say a lot of things.
WILKINS: Just some aftermath of integration stuff. Did, generally, the African American teachers retain the positions they had before, did they get moved around a bit?
UPSHAW: Most of the Black teachers in Nacogdoches retained their jobs. Except for the principals, they got replaced.
WILKINS: Did they get other jobs in the school?
UPSHAW: Some of them did. C. L. Simon went to the high school. He became co-principal. So they didn't get rid of him. Instead of discardin' C. L. Simon, was the principal at the Black high school, E. J. Campbell, they took C. L. Simon in and the White high school principal, Johnson, see, they were co-principal. That was a compromise. See, a smart thing to do. And the Black students appreciated that. You didn't get rid of our principal. You made him co-equal to the White principal. And it was good for the students too. So when they went into the main office, they saw an office over here for the White principal and an office over here for the Black principal. They had the same equipment inside. Do the same thing. The Black principal could do the same thing as the White. If the White principal was gone, C. L. Simon ran the school and vice versa. And that was good, 'cause we appreciated that. I worked at the high school under those principals as a science teacher and I enjoyed the setting. Now they didn't keep . . . I don't think they kept any of the other White, I mean Black principals. They lost their jobs. And of course in Cushing they got rid of all the Black teachers except for maybe one. We weren't good enough to teach in an integrated setting. So, they fired most of the Black teachers all over East Texas
WILKINS: That's one of things I've read about that in the South in general . . . the equality commission, it was supposed to be overlooking integration, has just thousands of reports of African-American teachers being fired during integration.
UPSHAW: It said they were qualified to teach. Then it all boiled down to being qualified to teach in the Black school because they fired teachers that weren't good enough to go over. And at Cushing, C. L. Simon left Cushing school and came down here to be a principal. Did you ever know C. L. Simon? No, he died. He told me, he said, "Upshaw you better move from Cushing and come to Nacogdoches, 'cause next year they will fully integrate Cushing schools and do away with the Black high school at Cushing. So if you want a job you come to Nacogdoches and I'll hire you to teach science where I'm principal at E. J. Campbell." And that's what he did. And so the next year after I came here they fire all the teachers except one, including the principal. And so the Black teachers had to find jobs somewhere else. Some never found another job. That was the most unfair thing.
WILKINS: But here in Nacogdoches that didn't . . . other than the principals.
UPSHAW: The teachers for the most part in Nacogdoches retained jobs, the teachers.
WILKINS: Were they generally ones they wanted to do? The positions, like if you were a fourth grade teacher did you teach fourth grade when you came over?
UPSHAW: Generally, you continued to teach in those grades that you had. See, I continued to teach where I was teachin'. In fact, I taught math. Amazingly, I taught math at the Black high school, E. J. Campbell, without a major or minor in it. I'm a very good teacher, I teach . . . you see back in the old days, Blacks didn't have to have a degree to teach a subject. So I taught math at Cushing without a major or minor. But I learned to teach Algebra, by the way, Algebra one wasn't too easy for me, since I had a major in biology. So, I had to learn to teach math. Then I came here they let me continue to teach math, Algebra, in the Black, E. J. Campbell school. And then when they integrated they let me teach math at the White high school without a major or minor in it. They tested my students, it was general math at that time, but they tested my students. They pre-tested them and post-tested them. And they had this other guy teachin' a program instruction unit for math. And they tested our students before and after teachin'. And my students tested higher at the end of the program than his did. And he had a major in math and a programmed instruction unit and all I had was a piece of chalk, textbook, and some kids standin' at the board doin' math the old way, helpin' each other. They said, "Mr. Upshaw you did better than the guy who majored in math. How did you do that?" I said, "The kids helped each other." The smart students helped the not so smart students and they went to the board with a piece of chalk. And so I let those smart students become assistant teachers. As my teachers used to do when I came up grades one through eight. The smart students helped the teacher teach those slow ones. So, I wasn't teachin' math by myself, the kids were teachin' each other.
WILKINS: Just a real quick question, the White students when they got the African-American teachers was there ever any tension or did they?
UPSHAW: Some at first.
WILKINS: Do you remember any kind of out bursts or anything?
UPSHAW: Not really. Amazingly, the White students accepted the Black teachers. And they never called you nigger, or anything like that. In fact, I think I was a sort of celebrity in the classroom. The kids would come in after school and say, "Mr. Upshaw I had a White friend in your class. He said 'you had a big old voice and you don't talk like you from East Texas. And you have the biggest handshake in Texas.' So, I want to shake your hand. Can I shake your hand?" So, my big old handshake. They'd come by after school just to meet me and see if I really had a big hand, if I really talked like James Earl Jones, and stuff like that [laughter]. I'd go down real low and go "my name is Marion Upshaw. How are you?" [imitating James Earl Jones]. I met James Earl Jones. I went to one of his book signings, down in Lufkin. And I. . . do you know what he told me.
WILKINS: What's that?
UPSHAW: "Mr. Upshaw I sound like you" [imitating James Earl Jones; laughter]. James Earl Jones to tell me he sounded like me.
WILKINS: After integration the . . . you mentioned lots of the African American students couldn't afford to go to college or they weren't prepared to go to college and that type of thing. Did you see a noticeable change in that after the integration?
UPSHAW: Few of us, I think . . . We had fewer students attending college after integration. I think that's true. Because. . . the White teachers didn't. . . well, one thing that happened, there was no visitation. The White teachers didn't visit the homes. But we were required to visit the homes of all of our students we had. Each teacher had an own set of kids you were required to visit that house that home before the first reporting period. But now, when integration came the White teachers didn't do this. So, we lost a lot of kids. Lot of them dropped out and the Black kids had special problems that only a Black teacher would try to improve on. And so I think we had fewer kids goin' to college after integration than we had before. And I think that really, the reason I think is that the White teachers just don't deal with the Black kids' problems. They don't deal with the Black kids' mother or father. They don't visit the homes. So, a lot of the Black kids don't really get to be taught the way they needed to be taught since integration and that's the real problem. I don't know if that'll ever get any better either. So, in many cases, I think, our Black kids are worse off because of integration. Because of the dropout rate and because the White teachers don't feel comfortable goin' into the Black homes, and findin' out what the problems are in the Black homes, and then comin' back and tryin' to remedy the problems in the classroom. Understanding the child's home setting. You can't teach a kid without knowing something about his parents. Go into the home, look at the situation, talk to the parents, sit down at the table, eat a bite of food, then you'll know who you're dealing with in the classroom. This is an opinion I've had. Many of our Black kids are being lost after integration, more than what we would have lost had we not integrated. Because many of us Black teachers pushed our kids, we prodded them, we told them what the situation was out there. If you don't get this information you are goin' to end up bein' a maid all your life, or a janitor, or a jail bird. Of course, you think the White teachers gunna worry about that too much. You don't knuckle under and get it or you'll just end up bein' on the street doin' crack cocaine. So, that part needs to be dealt with, that problem. We need to teach our teachers, tell our teachers that it's cheaper to integrate, I mean, to educate than it is to incarcerate. So, put forth an extra effort to teach the kid, to improve the kid, the Black kid, and to keep him from becoming a crack cocaine salesman on the street. That's the easy way out for the Black kid, he thinks. Or, I'm going to become a football star. Only about two percent of our Black kids end up as a pro-baller anyway. But, many of them try to become professional football players, basketball players, whatever. And so when he doesn't make that, he's on the street. He doesn't become a professional football player, then go to college, if he's not good enough to go to college then that's the end of his career. His picked career. So you see him on the street havin' to do drugs. Of course, over half of the kids in jail now are Black. About twenty-five percent are Hispanic and the rest are White. So, why is this happenin'? We have to look back at our education system. We're failin' our kids, because we're not meeting their needs. So, they don't go to college, they end up on the street. And if they end up on the street here comes the policeman to take him to jail because he's out there doing drugs. Selling. Quick money. We need to teach our kids that short term pain translates into long term gain. They need to be able to delay gratification, sexual gratification. All those things those things that you think you have to do now, you think you have to have sex now. You want to be as well off as your parents. You see them with a home, cars. You want that now, but you can't have that now. Like Oprah Winfrey said, "you can have it all, you just can't have it all right now." So, we need to teach our kids to be patient and things will get better, but if you wait long enough. But you got to be willing to wait long enough. Now how long is long enough? Long enough is long enough. They have . . .
WILKINS: Just as a concluding thought, when you look back on the period of you know the '60s and '70s here in Nacogdoches what are your just general thoughts about it. What do you think when you look back?
UPSHAW: I look back and see it was a very important period of transition. And we end up in the same classroom, under the same teachers, but we ended up with less of an education in many ways than we did before integration. And that's ironic. We thought, many of us thought, that when we integrated that we all come out with the end of the turn with the same education. Integration was not a magic trick, because we had unequal parents. They must all have the same parents, you know, for equality to maintain itself. We were all born equal, they say, but my philosophy is they didn't stay equal. Black kid was born because of two individuals comin' together, but when it became a reality he found out that one of those individuals was no longer present. And that's the father. And it's very difficult and almost impossible for a woman to teach a man, a boy, how to become a man. So, we no longer look at integration as the magic wand because we lost the direct contact as Black teachers with our kids, who need so much more than their getting in that integrated setting. The White teachers are not goin' say, not goin' to go into the home, and put their hands on this parent, pat him on the back, and say let's get this kid educated. So, the Black teacher and, the parent rreally, is out there struggling with that teenage son by herself and so finally she loses control of him. And he says, "Momma you cannot spank me anymore, so I do what I wanna do. I'll come in when I get ready." But as Black teachers in those days, we became that parent that was missing'. As a male teacher, I took Black kids in, talk to them, sometimes gave them money, and I was a father figure for a lot of kids. But now that's not happening now. So, integration itself was not a magic wand. It was not a cure all. In fact, in many ways it left a lot of things still sick in the community. And so, until we can get all these kids under the same parent then integration will have fully taken place. Like I say, we were born equal, but we didn't stay that way. The Black kid ended up with one parent, the White kid, for the most part, had two. But they're gradually becoming like us. That's what several White gentle people have told me, say "We're becoming more like the Black race. We're havin' more and more illegitimacy. More and more teenage pregnancies." And so, we're becoming level, but in a negative way. So, we're becoming more like each other now. You see. So, a lot of the White kids are havin' babies out of wedlock. And most Blacks, seventy percent of all the Black babies now are born to a single parent. Now, how do you remedy except in the classroom, as the family as an institution has broken down? And so who will fix it? Who will fix that? I say, it will get worse before it will get better. Instead of having' seventy percent of our Black babies born to a single parent family, we will end up with eighty percent. And so, it is now getting to be that the Black parent, the single parent family, is becoming the normal type family in the Black community and almost the normal family in much of the White community. Of course, the only group of people, I think, in Nacogdoches that really has a family as a solid foundation, an institution, is the Hispanic people or the Asian. And so the Hispanic people are now the majority minority. About forty-two percent of the kids in Nacogdoches are Hispanic, thirty-eight percent Black. Add that up. Thirty-eight and forty-two. Is that eighty?
UPSHAW: Twenty per cent of the . . . can you believe that.
WILKINS: It's quite a demographic shift.
UPSHAW: What I would like to know is what do the White families think, and what do the White students think, about being a minority where they were once a majority? So you have the Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians are now the majority minority in Nacogdoches. And in the state of Texas the majority of the kids are of color. Does this bode well for the future? Or could it be worse? If you have all these kids . . . Of course, now the Hispanic people are havin' babies in wedlock. Are they goin' to be the role model family? For both Blacks and Whites? The Whites are becoming like the Blacks. Illegitimacies. We'll have to look to the White . . . the Hispanic family as our role model family.
WILKINS: It's been great talkin' to you. I appreciate it.
UPSHAW: I hope I was able to say some things.
WILKINS: Oh, no, yeah. You were great.
UPSHAW: My wife said, "You know, don't get down there and talk too much." Actually, I had this talk show that I had on the radio. KSFA 860 this is News Talk 860 KSFA Nacogdoches, Lufkin. Nacogdoches and all of East Texas. For six years I did the talk on KSFA AM radio and I talked three hours on a Saturday. And for six years my wife says, "I'm always worried that you're going to run out of something to say." And I said, "Honey, you oughta know that if I've talked six years, three hours on a Saturday, and I still can't get through talkin', you know I'm not gunna run out of something to say." And so the talkin' is easy if you got even half a thought in your brain [laughter]. Somethin'll come out. It may be good or bad, but it is talk. On a talk show, you don't have to be saying something good all the time, just be sayin' something. What do you know?
WILKINS: I'm goin' to go ahead and stop this, okay?