The Mathematics of Integration

by Gregory Battle

The year was 1963; all I remember was that we were told around the end of that September that W. L. Greene Elementary School was being closed down----that we black children were being shipped to the all-white Nashville Middle School. I was 13 years old and headed into my 8th grade year; the occasion was a solemn one for the warm and congenial black teachers who had nurtured us---as they had been our moms and dads away from home; I felt very eerie in the stark quiet as we loaded ourselves and book bags onto the yellow-and-black striped buses-----speechless to be losing our black teaching tradition---yet bewildered in not knowing the kind of reception all of us black children would be receiving at an all white middle school---which may as well been an alien planet to us.

The Nashville police were in full gear while strategically located at different angles of the parking lots as our buses arrived. Since lists of our names had been sent ahead already, we were herded like cattle into the classes that we were to be enrolled in. To my surprise all the white 8th graders were sitting side-by-side on one half of the classroom. The other half with the mostly deteriorating desks were left for us frightened and startled black students. I remember the air being thick with anxiety and worry; my recollection is of an anxious psyche that a riotous atmosphere would erupt, kindled by hatred and hostility to protect the old segregation system that was being shut down by federally-forced busing.

The white teacher managed a half-choked “Welcome” as she proceeded to call roll then get into the lesson plan for the day. Undoubtedly, we curious students were more interested in checking out each other’s differences and mannerism than in what the teacher was saying. The volumes of eye-to-eye communications quietly exchanged that day (some hostile) could easily fill any library. I couldn’t wait to get home to tell my Mama and Daddy how the white students treated us----particularly in an apartheid South where it was not uncommon for high-schools whites boys pedaling the accelerator, afterwards tossing cherry bombs at us black kids standing at the bus stops in the late fall and winter, then yelling, “Look at those nigger-bunnies jump!”

The biggest federally-endorsed social experiment in America was working well that September 1963 day until the afternoon when underclassmen came face-to-face with upperclassmen. The white ones in particular were demanding their fair respect from the black students when fights seem to erupt everywhere like a spark in dry, kindling forest brush. There were fervid cries for help and boisterous remarks such as “Who’s your nigger now!” as many white noses were bloodied, clothes were ripped and torn, and many books yanked, then thrown asunder. The entire school parking lot with the police billy-clubs swinging and the white and black teachers pulling students apart resembled a Western cowboy movie saloon brawl. I shook my head in disbelief and wondered with dismay if any harmony would ever emerge from the racial chaos.

My guess as a skinny, impressionable child was that the anger and frustrations had to be vented first, before both black and white races could accept each other’s differences then find common grounds to push a mission of higher learning. Many years later in reflecting upon all my inter-racial conflicts and triumphs, I believe firmly that treating successfully the psychosis of a maturing American nation is stilled rooted in its coming to terms with its own brand of Hitler-like concentration camps called slave plantations. The growth and healing of America must be rooted in both races finding heart to discuss this evocative era of our history, and in both our races finding ways to merge into a color-blind society where enhancing skills and building stronger fortresses of freedom matter more.

Thus, I have made it a personal ethic to never take an opportunity to learn, or to be educated for granted. For I know that the privilege to be enrolled in any academic institution, whether it be Morehouse College, or the University of Georgia was earned in the sacrifice and suffering of poor blacks who held on to hope desperately with every fiber of their often sick, cramped and twisted bodies hanging from hostile hemp at an Imperial Wizard rally. So the mathematics of integration has been a cumulative historical journey of brave souls and audacious black leaders who believed that America shine best when the talents of both races are merged into lifting liberty to all aggrieved masses-far and near. I am the product of American academic institutions intellectually, but I am a citizen marinated in its cultural icons and historical symbols which have entrenched and enriched my soul forever.

Yes, I am still rattled by how pigmentation differences can permeate choices to pursue a comfortable livelihood, or to experience the American dream. But I wonder, on that ultimate bus rise to a school called Glory whether or not the aisle will divide us into colored vineyards workers where the crops of Paradise will be harvested with one race enslaved for the salvation and dignity of the other. If we are indeed divine-inspired, then years like 1963 will yield to the year of Agape and we human and colorless souls will integrate into a blessed family forever accepting of each other as brothers of benevolent purpose. Now that is the mathematics of integration that makes all the sense in the universe to me differentiated into distinctions only by The Parameter of constant love.

The Mathematics of Integration by Gregory Battle

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