Siblings reflect on being among first blacks to attend BHS

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By Jesef Williams

Peggy Wright-Porter said her experience at Buford High School in 1966 was more enjoyable than what some friends and family feared.

Porter and her brothers, Roderick and Frederick Wright, were among the group of black students who desegregated the school that year. The Wrights, who lived in the Buford community, came over from Hillside Elementary and High School, an all-black school that served students mainly in the Heath Springs and Kershaw areas of the county.

The opportunity to attend Buford High arose as part of Lancaster County’s “freedom of choice” plan, a response to a federal study that reported that black students didn’t achieve as well as whites in separate schools.

Frederick Wright, who began at Buford High in the ninth grade, remembers a big difference in the quality of education compared to Hillside. The teachers were better and the books were of greater

quality, he said. The same could be said about the school buses.

“We got what was left over,” he said of the experience at Hillside. “If the bus broke down, we walked home.”

Roderick Wright called the education at Buford High “the best in the neighborhood.” He said the school had more resources that better informed students about options after graduation.

Unfavorable treatment?

The Wrights were three of about 40 black students who integrated Buford High in 1966.

Wright-Porter said her father worried about the unfavorable treatment he believed they would receive from the white students there.

“Our father was scared,” she said. “He thought we’d have to leave the school running.”

Porter initially feared what might happen, but quickly relaxed when seeing how kindly they were treated.

Although black and white students had attended different schools, many of them grew up in the same neighborhoods and played together. That condition made the transition to Buford High easier, Porter said.

John Wall, who taught at Buford High School during that time, said the school didn’t “miss a minute” when desegregation took place. The transition was smooth and black and white students got along well with one another, he said.

“I didn’t see it (ill treatment) any worse between the races as it was among the races,” Wall said.

Although the process went smoothly, Wall said some faculty and others in the community didn’t want to desegregate, and delayed it for as long as possible.

Wall said everyone knew what the schools were expected to do, given that the Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka decision came more than a decade prior, in 1954.

The ruling maintained that separate schools were not equal. Schools were then urged to integrate.

Wall believes people here simply didn’t want to change.

“We tried to put it off as long as we could,” he said. “It was a change, and people were resistant to change.”

‘We didn’t know what to expect’

Roderick Wright, who was a seventh-grader that year, recalls racist jokes some white students directed their way. Roderick said he got called to the office a few times after a white girl accused him of winking at her.

“We didn’t know what to expect – we didn’t know how they were going to treat us,” Frederick Wright said.

“Through it all, it seems I would have grown up to be prejudice,” Roderick Wright said. “We never really looked at black and white and prejudice.”

Besides the occasional racial quip, the Wrights said their one year at Buford was enjoyable.

Wright-Porter, who was just one of two black seniors at Buford High in 1966, graduated  that year. Frederick Wright transferred to Barr Street High School so he could take auto mechanics and Roderick Wright left school and earned his GED years later.

Their year at Buford High was the second overall for desegregation in Lancaster County. In 1965, nearly 50 students attended other previously all-white schools in the county.

During the first few years of desegregation here, integration was voluntary, which permitted blacks to attend formerly all-white schools if they wanted to.

But by the 1970-71 school year, the federal government mandated complete integration of all schools, and all students were assigned to schools based on where they lived.

Contact Jesef Williams at 283-1152 or jwilliams@thelancasternews.com