"That was a very turbulent time!"
This is how long time Meridian High teacher Mable Oatis remembers the desegregation of schools. Although the Brown versus the Board of Education ruling was handed down in 1954, it was not until the late 1960s and early 70s before ALL schools were actually desegregated. During that time Oatis was a teacher.
"We were walking on egg shells. You didn't want to cripple anybody but the whites thought that you were sometimes favoring the blacks. The blacks thought that you were sometimes favoring the whites. So, trying to do that balance to let students know that you cared about them and who they were and their development was a hard road at first."
Oatis was one of the organizers for a special program at Meridian High which commemorated the ruling. For her she says it was a day not only look back but also ahead.
"Some of the barriers have been broken down. The relationships are getting better but so many of our black kids are being lost in the system," says Oatis.
Other local educators we talked to somewhat agree. In fact, we caught up with Lauderdale County superintendent David Little at a rally that was held downtown to mark the day. He told us that his district is working to close the gap within accelerated classes.
"The percentage of our white students that get in those classes and our minorities, there are not enough of our minorities getting in them. We're going to really be making an effort next year to have our minorities much, much, much better represented in those AP classes and raise the bar for everybody."
Meanwhile through continued professional development classes for teachers and character education initiatives for students, officials with the Meridian Public School district say developing more understanding for different cultures is a top priority.
"Especially when it comes to classroom teachers," says Superintendent Sylvia Autry. "It's important for them to understand the background that the children come from. That's important so that every child can feel valued in the classroom."
"A black child is not the same as a white child in terms of how he views the world," says Oatis. "So, I think it's going to take some deep communication and with that perhaps we can forge a plan together on how we can work together more closely."