Did you know? Did you know why Rainwater Elementary was named after Carrollton's own Annie Heads Rainwater?

August 9, 2016

I thought I would begin our blogging expedition by bragging about one of Carrollton's best residents. Annie Head Rainwater was a real hero. This widow took on Goliath and won!  

 

Here is an Article written on February 27, 2000 in the Dallas Morning News. 

 

'I'll go first'

School desegregation in Carrollton began with a mother's quiet determination
The Dallas Morning News - February 27, 2000
Author: Jean Nash Johnson, Staff Writer of The Dallas Morning News

In 1962, five years after Little Rock Central High School was integrated in Arkansas, Dallas' desegregation plan slowly was being put into place. In Carrollton, a then-rural school district to the northwest, Annie Heads Rainwater's six children had no neighborhood high school.

Under segregation laws and as was customary, black students were not allowed to attend the all-white Carrollton High School just minutes away from the Rainwater family farm. Black students were bused 20 miles to all-black Booker T. Washington High School in Dallas, and later, 30 miles north to Denton's all-black Fred Moore High.

Mrs. Rainwater, at the time a recent widow who paid school taxes and a former student under the same Jim Crow system, sued the district in 1962, demanding desegregation. Her younger daughters, Nancy and Betty, were named plaintiffs. Later that year, Judge Sarah T. Hughes ordered Carrollton to integrate its high school. In September 1963, the matriarch watched as Nancy and other teenagers became the first black students to attend all-white R.L. Turner.

Annie Heads Rainwater died in 1992. In 1994, Annie Heads Rainwater Elementary was dedicated in her honor. Nancy Rainwater Williams, 53, recently sat in the school's library and shared her story, which follows in her own words.

CARROLLTON BLACK LIFE

Black Carrollton was a loving and caring community. Each family looked after each other. If Mama wasn't there, and somebody else's parent was there, then I had to obey them just like I did for Mama.

We were a farming family. My older brothers and sister, I guess they had to take care of us.

I remember when I was a young schoolgirl, [older brother] Charles worked at the dairy early in the morning - I guess you'd call it "before day" in the morning - and then went to school to help support the family. During that time my father was sick, and we needed the extra money coming in.

When I first started at the black elementary school, J.H. Bush, it was a two-room school with two teachers. It was just called the "Colored School" by everybody. And the classes were divided one through four and then five through eight. The classes took turns with the teachers who divided the lessons and subjects.

By the time I left J.H. Bush, it was three rooms with three teachers, and they had added a lunchroom and an auditorium together. The hot food was brought from the Carrollton white school cafeteria, transported down in containers for our lunchroom. They [Carrollton school district] did hire a lady to come and serve the lunches to us.

LIFE IN BLACK AND WHITE

We had a normal school life. Mama was active in PTA. Actually, we had lots of activities for the youths. We had school socials. When we reached the eighth grade, we had a prom, which all the parents came and sat around the wall and talked and enjoyed like the kids did. We dressed in formals.

A few of the kids lived in the school neighborhood, but many of us came from quite a distance to get to the school. The farm was where Keller Springs Road is now, and the school, I've heard some say, was by the tracks at Belt Line. It's no longer there, and I can't recall the exact location.

There was one lady, Mrs. Martha Chatman, who lived next door to the school and she was truly a classroom mom.

I remember the day I got hit by a car. I was in about the third or fourth grade. I was being chased by an eighth-grader at recess, and we had been warned not to go into the street. She chased me into the street and the bus was [parked] in front of the school, and I ran around the bus and this car came real fast.

They took me next door to Miss Martha's house until I was OK. She nursed me and checked me over from head to toe. When I got back to the classroom, the teacher had lined up the whole class for paddling. I thought that I was going to escape, and she called me up and gave me one, too.

It wasn't much of a concern what was happening at the white schools. There was some interactions, but we still had separate communities.

At times, my mother did some domestic work to help make ends meet. Actually, the family my mother worked for, when my mother went to their house, their son would always cry to stay at our house.

Then there was the golf club where the boys - black and white - would caddy together. So some of them already knew each other before we even started going to [integrated] school.

When we'd go to what they called "downtown" where the square was, that was town, everybody just kinda went inside grocery stores and whoever was in line, that's who got waited on. I can remember we'd use the same cleaners, doctors, too. Typical small town.

I remember the Lawry's movie theater was separate. The blacks had a separate door, we sat up in the balcony, and they sat at the bottom in the lower level. Actually, looking back now, I think we had the best seats. I don't like sitting that close, so yeah, I think we had the best seats. And actually some whites, I don't know if they didn't like sitting so close, but if it wasn't full in our section, they came upstairs.

At the drugstore there was a soda fountain, and for blacks if we wanted an ice cream cone or something we had to go to the end of the counter and stand and wait. We couldn't sit at the counter. But if we decided to sit at the counter [anyway], we got waited on faster.

No one said anything to us. They just looked, and we just ignored them. My cousins and I used to do that quite a bit. My mother never knew. I imagine if the older blacks knew about it, we would have probably been warned by the older blacks not to do that. But nobody ever told us that we couldn't do it.

I remember one "colored" sign. There was a colored washeteria, but whites would come in there, too. The colored sign didn't stay up very long because everybody was using it.

LITTLE ROCK LEGACY

I think the Little Rock incident was somewhat frightening because you were afraid for children that were involved. After watching it on TV and seeing what was going on and reading it in the newspaper, you were uneasy about things.

But I think it also set a precedent for others who realized that sometimes you just have to take a stand for what you believe in and what's right. You just have to make a difference regardless of what has to happen to you.

I feel that the Little Rock incident gave my mother courage and strength because she was keeping up with the things that they went through. And they were able to survive, and they won out over desegregation. I think that gave her courage to know that if our time should come, the same situation, that would give her the opportunity and courage to make a stand.

A COLD BUS

When you graduated from J.H. Bush Elementary, you went to Booker T. Washington High School in Dallas, which is now in the Arts District downtown. We would ride the Carrollton bus to Marsh Lane and Keller Springs Road, and there we'd be put off the bus with no shelter regardless of what the weather was, to wait for the Dallas bus to take us to Booker T. Washington. The Dallas bus wasn't always on time and it would pick up other students on their route to Booker T.

Those buses had little or no heat sometimes. I remember one incident that my brother Willie was in on. The back of the bus had a hole in it; it was cold on the floor and they made a fire on the back of the bus with paper. He got in trouble for that. Another time the bus picked us up, and it broke down at Noel Road, and so the Carrollton children had no way of getting back home because there was nobody to take us back to Carrollton.

So some of the people that lived in the neighborhood that knew us took us all back and just put us out at Keller Springs Road at one person's house.

I recall in my freshman year in '61, if a Carrollton student participated in a school activity or needed to stay after school, they had to get from Booker T. Washington in downtown Dallas to catch the Continental Trailways bus back to Carrollton. And if you lived out on the Keller Springs Road, that was another three miles that you'd have to walk, or, hopefully, someone would be there to pick you up.

I had the one year at Booker T. In 1962, the DISD no longer accepted out-of-area students because of overcrowding. I remember the older people always referring to a tuition that Carrollton had to pay to DISD for enrolling Carrollton black students.

So the next year, Carrollton had to find another place for the black children to go, another school district. Irving and Denton were the two they considered. It is my understanding that they made the decision, themselves, not really considering the blacks' parents as to which would be the best choice for their children to go. And Denton is where we went, Fred Moore High in Denton. My mother thought both choices were obvious hardships, because both still involved traveling, long bus rides.

We were upset, which I guess made our parents upset. We didn't want to have to go that far. We'd always gone to Booker T. Washington. It had been tradition going back to my mother and her sisters. My sister, Melvine, the oldest, and Charles, R.C. and Willie all had graduated Booker T.

[What hurt was] the fact that they had been property owners and paying taxes, and their parents before them, but yet their children were being bused from county to county, when there was a perfectly good high school right here in Carrollton. It would have saved those late afternoons that we were getting home, we could have already been home hours if we had gone to school here in Carrollton. Those long bus rides were the main issue.

It wasn't that we were just interested in integrating the Carrollton schools. We didn't even have separate but equal. We did want the opportunity to have a good education - but in the city that we lived in rather than have such a long distance to go to.

THE FINAL STRAW

It was my sophomore year, 1962; our bus broke down on the way to Denton. We were out on what is now Interstate 35. There were no houses or anything around. Our bus driver was a white guy from Carrollton that was a student at North Texas State University in Denton. He had an exam to make that morning so he hitchhiked him a way to school, and he told us that when he got there he would call back to Carrollton and have someone to come and pick us up.

And, it seemed like a couple of hours that a Carrollton bus did come and they took us on to Denton to school that day. And when we called home to inform our parents, they were pretty upset about that. It was dangerous for kids to be left out on a busy interstate by themselves for hours, getting in and off the bus.

To be honest, [that day] I wanted to go home. We didn't want to go to Denton in the first place. Just to be honest about it.

My mother and the other black families began to have meetings and discussing what they would do about the situations of their children. Two white women in the Farmers Branch area heard about the situation, and they had some prior knowledge of similar incidents in the country, and they had meetings with us and gave us advice.

They also got us in contact with an attorney, and we met at one of the ladies' homes several times. There were no African-Americans living in that part of Farmers Branch, so the meetings were usually held at night. And usually the blinds were drawn and the ladies chose to remain anonymous because of their families.

After meeting several times in Farmers Branch, we also got in contact with the NAACP, a man by the name of, I think, his last name was Durham, and he helped us form our own NAACP chapter. And the ladies also had put us in contact with Fred Finch, the Dallas lawyer from Harvard who was involved in a lot of the school desegregation cases. He turned out to be the lead attorney, representing us in our lawsuit.

Mr. Finch explained to the parents what they might be up against. He brought up the situation that happened in Arkansas and the dangers that they could be facing. They needed at least one family, one somebody that would sign saying they would be willing to go ahead.

Back in those days, if you had one family or one person that would stand up, that everybody had some confidence in, then it would be easier to get others to follow suit. So my mother decided that she would sign. She was like a quiet leader.

After the agreement to file the lawsuit, we had to try to register at R.L. Turner [the new Carrollton high school] and be turned down in order to sue. So a group of older adults took a group of us high school students to the high school. Some went to the junior high, and some may have gone to the elementary school.

They were very polite [at the schools], but they declined to let us register. Actually, they were following the law. I remember their line was something like, "I'm sorry, but I'm not able to allow you to register."

When they went to court, Carrollton wanted to start out desegregating one year, one grade at a time, the same as the Dallas schools were doing. But actually we were the first high school in the metroplex to integrate. Because Dallas schools were going step by step. I think at the time of the lawsuit they were about at second or third grade.

But Judge Sarah T. Hughes, the same judge who swore in President Lyndon B. Johnson the next year after the Kennedy assassination, she threw that plan out. The lawyer for the Carrollton schools wanted us to wait years and years, still having to be bused.

We never wanted to let our guard down. I think I remember hearing about Judge Hughes' ruling on the evening news on TV. My older brother Willie was in the Army, and I remember my mother and I writing him a letter to inform him of the news.

THE FEAR FACTOR

The thing that stands out the most was how courageous my mother was. There was no hesitancy on her part even with the risks involved. I think I was too young to realize or be aware of any retaliations.

My brother Charles specifically remembers my mother's credit at the grocery store being cut off. We used to be able to go to the store and buy things and put it on my mother's account. We could tell the grocer that we were Annie Rainwater's children. I was told that stopped.

But my mother was not afraid. She never said she was afraid and she never acted afraid. As scary as the times were, I didn't feel scared. I have never felt scared in Carrollton. I knew that things could happen, but I just really didn't think that much about them happening. Older people would say, "Annie shouldn't do that."

There should have been some fear during that time. My mother got threatening phone calls through the nights. It was just my mother and my younger sister and I living at home at that time. I would get involved in the NAACP meeting, and we would go to the lawyer's office.

The summer before we were to integrate the high school, I got a chance to go to a national NAACP convention in Denver, Colo.

I got to hear firsthand from other people from all over the country, some of the differences they were making and stands they were taking.

When we were marching through the auditorium, everybody was singing "We Shall Overcome," you just got a sense, a spirit of being proud of black people and proud of my family back home and the stand that we were taking, realizing that we were being a part of history and that we were making a difference also.

When we came back and it was time to go back to school, I really felt prepared for whatever was going to come up. Whatever happened, I was just prepared to deal with it.

"FOR GENERATIONS TO COME'

There were anxious moments there because, if you really think about it, after going to the NAACP convention, that's what really made [the Carrollton school integration] seem more important to me than just the fact that we wouldn't have to go to school in Denton. You realized that you were doing something not just for us but for generations to come.

They wouldn't have to make those long bus rides that we had to make. My sister wouldn't have to make those rides. So, that made it important to me. The fact that we were going to be making some changes, righting some wrongs that had been wrong a long time.

THE BIG FIRST DAY

[Sister] Betty was young for all of this, she was still at J.H. Bush, but she knew what was going to happen that morning. We talked about it a little, but mostly we tried to make it seem like any other first day of school.

It was exciting that morning, getting ready for school. Instead of taking a 25- or 30-mile drive, we only had like about a mile and half to go to school. We rode with the colored, as they called them, it was colored back then, I guess, black bus driver. And as our bus went down in front of R.L. Turner, someone made a joke of, "Hey, stop and let us off at the front because we're tired of using the back door."

But the bus driver had been instructed to take us around to the back, which was where the cafeteria was, and this was where all the registration was taking place.

When the bus drove up and the bus driver just opened the door and sat there, somebody asked, "Who's going to be first to get off?" So, I said, "I'll go first."

We didn't see any cameras or any photographers and somebody made a statement, "I thought we were going to be on TV. Where are the TV guys? Nobody was here." So we didn't see them until after we'd already gotten off the bus. And then once we went inside.

We were already preregistered because once we had won the lawsuit, Carrollton sent their counselors to Fred Moore High School in May just before school ended to preregister all of us, to find out what all we'd needed to graduate, what classes we'd already taken.

The teachers, the students, everyone were overly helpful and friendly. I think we were making jokes on our way home that afternoon that our jaws were sore from smiling so much all day because everybody you looked at was smiling at you.

There really weren't any incidents. I think there had been feelings outside the community that violence would break out, but as I look back, it was quite uneventful, considering the event and the times. Everybody was nice. It was a little tense cause nobody knew what to expect. They didn't know what to expect. We didn't know what to expect.

I personally didn't hear any racial slurs. I was told that other people did hear a few. But not directed at them - directly. Like my cousin told the story that our bus came in late, and she heard going down the hall, coming from one of the classrooms, they just said the bus number was coming in late. And then she heard the comment, "That was a nigger bus."

CHANGE FOR HISPANICS

Some of the Hispanics had always gone to school there, so they felt like they were part of them. But when we started going to school there, they started keeping separate records of how many whites and how many nonwhites there were. So all of a sudden, the Spanish children were "nonwhites." too.

I remember one incident where the counselor, she was just kind of the sort that said what came across her mind, and she just said, we were taking some type of achievement test, she said, "Whites, put down No. 1 on your sheet. If you're black, put 2, and all you "other,' just put down 3." So they got kinda offended.

I think they saw how it felt to be different for a moment. They and Orientals kinda considered themselves as being one of them because they always went to school together with whites.

I had quite a few white friends. Once we started there, the students, everybody mostly got along well. We started going to the socials together at the recreation center. There was a party at one girl's house and she invited all of us, and we all went. We did a lot of things together. We used to hang out at the Dairy Queen together. When I got my license, Betty and I used to go for ice cream, and we'd hang out with our white classmates, as shocking as that seems now.

KENNEDY ASSASSINATION

Later in November, when President Kennedy was shot, I had planned not to go to school because I wanted to be able to see them. Jackie [Kennedy] was one of my favorite people. But since we had just started school there and everything was so new, I decided not to go downtown.

I was in my chorus class when the news came. Everybody in the room just broke out in tears. It was just almost like that all day, some people going home. That was really a sad day for all of us. It made us seem closer.

The second semester, everybody was relaxed. Just like any other high school. You saw somebody you knew, whether they were black or white, you spoke to them or you hung out with them for a little while. It was just normal the second semester.

The white students said they were being prepared in their churches and in their Girl Scout groups and all the different little activities they were in. They were being prepared for us. They were told that they would try to get along and be friendly because Carrollton didn't want the same problem they were having in other cities. They were told they were supposed to be this way [friendly] towards us.

A TIME TO CELEBRATE

I had no difficulties adjusting to the classes and getting the credits to graduate. I had the image that the white high school would be so hard. We'd been told that, or it had been insinuated that we would not be prepared because our schools were inferior.

At Turner, I had a history teacher who asked me to read once. I had the feeling that she just wanted to see if I could read or how well I could read. She never called on me again unless I raised my hand.

That first graduation [May '64], three blacks graduated, and we all celebrated. All the black parents and the community came out for that first one.

I imagine the older people never thought this would be possible. They had to see it to believe it. It was an accomplishment for them.

Nancy Rainwater Williams graduated from R.L. Turner in May 1965. She went to college, later married and moved to Mesquite. She and her husband, Willie, have a daughter, Rhonda, 21. Several of Annie Heads Rainwater's grandchildren did graduate from R.L. Turner and Newman Smith high schools. Some of her great-grandchildren attend Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD elementary schools.

 

 I know I sorta got away without blogging my own research and words. My main agenda is to make sure we keep the significant story of Annie Heads Rainwater alive and spreading. 

 

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