Mansfield integration overview


Nine years passed before the Mansfield school district complied with a federal court order to integrate its high school and admit African-American students. The district acted in January 1965 after the threatened loss of federal funding, thanks to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A headline in the Mansfield News-Mirror declared on Jan. 28, 1965, “School Board to Comply with Civil Rights Order.”[1] Accompanying the article was a front-page editorial that called on the community, which less than a decade earlier stood in the way of compliance, to now support the decision:

“Thinking first of the welfare of our local schools, the Mansfield School Board has no other choice but to agree to comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Failure to do so would mean loss of federally-allocated funds for many vital programs necessary to the welfare and growth of our school system … It is our sincere hope that all our people will now close ranks and move together as true Americans to heal the wounds of the past and provide for our children the very best educational opportunity possible …”[2]

In May 1965, about 40 African-American students completed pre-enrollment paperwork for the coming school year.[3] Later estimates put the number of African-American students who pre-enrolled at 60 to 70.[4] Leaders of the African-American community, the students’ parents, and school officials were on hand for the pre-enrollment event, which was “the result of planning between Negro leaders and school officials” to allow school officials time to get transcripts of African-American students and plan schedules.[5]  Students enrolled in not only high school grades but also junior high levels, after an initial plan to integrate just the high school failed to win approval from the Health, Education and Welfare Department in Washington.[6] The federal government approved the board’s revamped plan to integrate beyond the high school on Aug. 3, 1965. This plan, which included integration at the junior high level, also proposed dividing students into two zones to attend Erma Nash and Willie Brown elementary schools.[7]

The mayor of Mansfield told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram before school began that year that he expected no trouble: “I know the people here, and I know no one is going to try to interfere with the admission of these students.”[8] The Dallas Morning News’ report on the first day of school and integration of Mansfield declared with its headline that, indeed, the event happened “quietly.”[9] “There were no Texas Rangers. There was no milling crowd, not even a heckler … All was peaceful.”[10]

The count for the first day of school was recorded — 30 African-American students enrolled in high school, 25 in junior high, and 10 in Erma Nash, which was previously all-white.

Nine African-American students tried out for the football team, and two signed up for band. Superintendent Willie Pigg said, “Times have changed our people and our attitudes. Nine years ago, integration was new to everybody. They weren’t ready for it…”[11] The Dallas Morning News reported that black and white students were joking with each other in the hallway.

Another front-page editorial in the News-Mirror called into question some other news outlets’ coverage of Mansfield’s integration and clearly tried to distance the events of 1965 from those of 1956:

“It was an historic day for a lot of people here but it was the kind of history in the making that alarmed no one — at least in the Mansfield School District … Perhaps it was only imagination but it seemed that the ‘news’ report spent more time developing a story that had been told nearly a decade ago, than the real news of Negro students attending classes here with the same privileges as White students.”[12]

Students’ perspective

One of those 30 African-American students who first attended Mansfield High School in 1965 was Brenda Norwood. Norwood remembers arriving on the first day of school at Mansfield High School. “It wasn’t a really pleasant situation because no one really wanted the integration here in Mansfield …” she recalled, noting the initial failed 1956 integration attempt.[13]

While the first day of school did not mirror the turbulent events of 1956, it was anything but uneventful for Norwood, her sister and others who knew about the previous attempt to integrate Mansfield schools nine years earlier.

“We all loaded up at the church (on the bus) and rode down to the school. There were a lot of people surrounding the school that did not want us there at all. Were we fearful? Yes we were. We didn’t know what was going to happen. But we knew the law had to prevail, and that’s what we did. My mom — everybody — was worried because they didn’t know what was going to happen because they knew what happened in the earlier years here in Mansfield when integration started…”[14]

“We got into the school, and, of course, the teachers were not very pleased, and they had a few words to say, like, ‘You’re lucky if you get out of here.’ We had to endure that as well, let alone with the students because they did not want us in the school.”[15]

However, she said, as time went on, the white students got to know the African-American students.

“They got to see us for who we really were, and they began to accept us for who we really were. The relationship began to get better and better between the black and the white students because they got to see us. My mom always said, ‘You treat people with decency and respect.’ And that’s exactly what I did because she would not have it any other way … The teachers even became a little bit better. I did what I had to do, and I developed a lot of relationships and friendships.”[16]

While attending Mansfield High School, she was involved in basketball, choir, and track. “Graduation day finally came, and we did what we had to do. We marched, and not an incident whatsoever. It was very nice, very nice.”

“To this day I still see some that I went to school with and … we have a good time together. They know me for who I am, and I know them for who they are. You don’t look at the color of skin, you look at people for who they are, what they say to you. Color doesn’t have anything to do with it.”[17]

Before Integration

The nine years between the failed integration attempt and the enrollment of the district’s first African-American students were not uneventful in Mansfield. In 1963, a community known as “Harmony,” a predominantly African-American area west of Mansfield, attempted to incorporate but was blocked by the city of Mansfield. More than two dozen residents signed a petition to call an election to incorporate Harmony.[18]

City Attorney Elvin Tackett said the city was fighting the election to incorporate Harmony because the town would fall between Mansfield and the $1,000,000 Mansfield lake to be built on Walnut Creek. Tackett explained that the route that was necessary to move water from the proposed lake to Mansfield would pass through Harmony. He argued that they needed this road because it guaranteed Mansfield direct access to the proposed site of Lake Mansfield.[19]

Public Memory

Nearly six decades after the 1956 desegregation attempt first made headlines, there is at least one physical memorial to accompany the memories of those who were present for the event. Inside the T.M. Moody building at the Bethlehem Baptist Church, a large mural depicting, in part, the events of 1956, greets visitors.

Memories of 1956’s failed desegregation attempt live on among those who witnessed the events and lived them. African-American residents interviewed in 1995 for an oral history project in Mansfield discussed their memories of desegregation, including what precipitated the push to integrate Mansfield schools and the mob’s effort to try to stop integration.

“I can remember when [Mansfield High School] was going to be integrated…,” McClendon Moody said for the Mansfield African-American Oral History Project. “And it took about five or six hundred white guys to keep three thirteen or fourteen year old kids from entering into the school … It seemed like odds would be awful.”[20]

[1] “School Board to Comply with Civil Rights Order,” Mansfield News-Mirror, Jan. 28, 1965.

[2] “A Time For Understanding,” Mansfield News-Mirror, Jan. 28, 1965.

[3] “Negro Students Enroll For Fall Term Here,” Mansfield News-Mirror, May 27, 1965.

[4] “Mansfield Expects No Repeat of 1956 School Mixing Incident,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Aug. 21, 1965.

[5] “Negro Students Enroll For Fall Term Here,” Mansfield News-Mirror, May 27, 1965.

[6] “Negro Students Enroll For Fall Term Here,” Mansfield News-Mirror, May 27, 1965.

[7] “Mansfield Board Gives Plan for Integration of Schools,” Mansfield News-Mirror, Aug. 19, 1965.

[8] “Mansfield Expects No Repeat of 1956 School Mixing Incident,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Aug. 21, 1965.

[9] Eddie Hughes, “Mansfield Schools Integrate Quietly,” Dallas Morning News, Aug. 31, 1965.

[10] Eddie Hughes, “Mansfield Schools Integrate Quietly,” Dallas Morning News, Aug. 31, 1965.

[11] Eddie Hughes, “Mansfield Schools Integrate Quietly,” Dallas Morning News, Aug. 31, 1965.

[12] “Not Without Incident,” Mansfield News-Mirror, Sept. 2, 1965.

[13] Brenda Norwood, interview by Megan Middleton, April 11, 2015.

[14] Brenda Norwood, interview by Megan Middleton, April 11, 2015.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] “Negro Community West of Mansfield Moves to Call Election to Incorporate,” Mansfield News-Mirror, October 29, 1963; “Mansfield Moves to Block Harmony,” Fort Worth Star Telegram, Nov. 1, 1963.

[19] “Mansfield Moves to Block Harmony,” Fort Worth Star Telegram, Nov. 1, 1963.

[20] McClendon Moody, interview by Stan Solamillo, December 1995.

Mansfield integration overview