Tales of Xenia: XHS back when the earth was cooling!

18 Apr

Xenia High School in my day ( 1963-66) was a massive building. Two additions had been built on each side of the original high school. The architecture was vintage 60’s, lots of windows, very symmetrical, not much detail, basically a long two story rectangle with protrusions of additions on each side and in the back.  We thought it was wonderful, especially with the Field House next door, which was undoubtedly one of the nicer facilities for playing basketball, and other amusements. What the high school lacked in character the Field House made up for. I was not a particular fan of Mr. Benner, who was principal at least part of the time I was there, although I think he might have retired and been replaced with Mr. Marshall before I graduated. I did not have much to do with the principals thankfully so I do not remember them as well as I do my teachers.

The high school was too modern to use the Field House for gym or for plays, we had a gym on the left side of the building and an auditorium more in the center of the building. I actually made my acting debut on that stage when I played Pandora, the lead of course, in a play when I was in the 6th grade. The School Board and administrators were evidently afraid that integration, mixing the white school kids and black school kids together was going to cause some kind of riots or violence. As a result they decided to try to ease us into the relationship by having us perform together at various public events, concerts, plays, etc. I presume they felt the fact that the parents would no doubt come and also mingle would take the strangeness out of mixing with people of a different race. I was never aware of any protests to integration being mounted in Xenia by either the black folks or the white folks, I think the BOE was projecting some of their own biases on the populace unfairly.For whatever reason we  (all the Xenia kids in elementary school)had group concerts and performances for a few years before the schools were actually integrated. Although I was integrated in 1962 (Central Jr. Hi) the school system itself was not fully integrated until the late 60’s. Again, I am not sure what took so long, my father was very politically active and if there had been some organized opposition to integration I know he would have known about it and talked about it, and he did not.

It is quite probable that the School Board, which did not have any black members in those days, and has rarely had any black members up to current times, was glad to actually be integrating. Trying to keep all of the white schools and East and Lincoln going, staffed and resourced was not an easy task. East and Lincoln, of course, suffered frequently from budget concerns, if there was a chance to save money the BOE made sure it was the black schools that did without.  But, by the time I got to XHS that was all in my past, I never had another black teacher or principal after integration, all of my teachers at XHS were white. As a matter of fact I think  Mr. Lewis who taught shop and driving was our only black teacher on staff. Given that he was either in the shop wing–no woman’s land for sure, or out driving I did not ever seen him. There were certain places at XHS that one simply did not frequent, including the girl’s bathroom on bend of the long hallway leading to one of the annexes. That was the turf of the “bad girls” or I should say more accurately the ” bad white girls.” Our thugs were not integrated, the bad girls stayed in racial groups as did the bad boys. It is a wonder we did not have more fights on campus.

Being the little goody two shoes that I was I was often in the halls during class time. I was always a teacher’s helper in each grade. I was Mr. Kaylor’s helper in my sophomore year and Mr. Conrad’s lab assistant my junior year and Mrs. Lighthiser’s aide my senior year. Being an aide or helper gave you great freedom, you were in possession of what was basically the holy grail of documentation, a laminated hall pass which was virtually at your disposal.  I typed up tests ( hilariously Mr. Kaylor had me type of tests for the class I was taking for him, I guess he thought it was an appropriate perk for his aide), ran errands, served as a snitch if the teachers had to leave the room, which they frequently did to cop a smoke or go hang out in the teacher’s lounge or to do something else which I cannot imagine. Being a born tattle tale I loved telling on my classmates if they talked or left their seats in the teacher’s absenxe. It is a wonder I did not get beaten up in high school. Thinking back on it, it was rare to have a teacher in class the entire time, unless, of course, there was a test, in which case they not only stayed in the classroom, they walked up and down the aisles to make sure you weren’t cheating!

I remember taking Anatomy and Physiology, a fairly difficult course, when I was a senior. A lot of us took it not only because it was part of the college prep curriculum, but because we had some, shall we say curiosity about the male anatomy. How times have changed. Anyway,our teacher, Mr. M. fancied himself a kind of semi-doctor and prided himself on making the course rigorous ( besides the stinky fetal pigs and dead cats reeking of formaldehyde it was not actually that difficult). At the beginning of the year he was doubtful about my high scores on his tests and began to spend a lot of time walking close to my desk during tests, sure I was copying off of one of my classmates, Colin. Mr. M. was a garden variety racist for the time. I do not think he had any particular animus against blacks, but like many, if not most Xenia white folks of the time he simply had some misconceptions about black people, including that we were not smart. Imagine his chagrin when, during one of his passes he realized Colin was copying off of my paper.  In justice to Mr. M. he did call Colin on it after class, and although he never apologized to me he did stop hovering over me while we were taking tests. This was the kind of thing that being black in the 60s in Xenia  would have been considered routine. Acts of microagression  and racially tinged insults were part of the landscape. Black students were told many times a day in overt and covert ways that we were less than and expected to acknowledge our status and be content in it. Of course, we were not and did not accept the assessment of many of our white teachers, principals, administrators and peers.  I have written before about being treated as odd because I was black and considered smart, that began early in my integrated school career. Some of the teachers like Mrs. Boli, Mrs. Lighthiser, even eventually Ms. Dickerson, accepted my performance on their tests as proof that the amount of melanin in my skin did not negatively impact my intellect and treated me accordingly. Some other teachers were not as able to detach their preconceived notions.  None of them ever graded me unfairly, but a few of them let me know they were not happy to have to record my high grade.

But, my years at old XHS were almost always good ones. I thought my classmates were, almost without exception, cool, and of course we had the usual small town high school hierarchy. Because the freshmen were not actually at the high school, but were housed in the junior highs, the sophomores were the low folks on the totem pole.  Juniors had a relatively high amount of power, not only because they were now the heir apparents for next year, but because they planned and controlled the Junior/Senior Prom, one of the highlights of the year for many of us. There was a winter semi-formal, the Snowball, but it was held in the decorated gym and it was, after all semi-formal, not the real deal.For the prom girls had to wear a long dress, a formal, it would have been considered outre if you wore a short dress like they do now, sequins or not! The boys  had to wear tuxedos or evening jackets. I remember my senior prom vividly, my dress was pink with a modest amount of cleavage showing, the bodice and the waistline ( i had a waist in those days) were pleated. It was sleeveless, of course, and my father, a tailor, had made me a white satin evening coat, the same length as the dress to wear over it. I remember the sequin encrusted button for the coat cost $5, an huge extravagance in 1966.

The prom meant you had to take half the day off to get your hair done and get dressed properly.  if your name did not appear on the attendance list as an early departure it meant one of one bad and one worse thing, you were too poor or your folks were too cheap to get your hair done professionally or you were not going to the prom.    We were callow youths it never occurred to us that some people did not go to the prom because they could not afford to buy the necessary tickets, clothing, transportation, etc. We just presumed they did not want to go because they were anti-social. This was in an era when you borrowed a car, not rented a limo, but you obtained the best one you could. There was some ride sharing since the after prom was organized by the school and you would all be riding to it on a bus and  riding back to the parking lot where you left your car on the bus.So the kind of car you arrived in was not as important as it is now.

But, if we had been paying attention we would have noticed that some kids never came to prom in any kind of car, or to the Friday night post-game dances or the club meetings or the Snow Ball or the Homecoming Game. Although there were about 460 kids in my class there did not really seem to be that many because you never saw a lot of them except passing in the hallways, and if you took a certain course of study, like college prep you did not even necessarily frequent the same hallways. The great equalizers were gym, which everybody took and classes like government, which were required to graduate. However, because the schedules were made up based on electives more than required classes, you tended to be with the same kids even in gym and government class.

Looking back on high school fondly I still have to think about those who did not have such a good time for whatever reason. I hope I never contributed to their angst, I really do, if I did I beg their forgiveness, I did not know any better




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Posted by on April 18, 2012 in Uncategorized


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