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Johnetta Watson Barber

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The following is an excerpt from Mrs. Barberâ??s autobiography, A Step Further, which is reprinted with permission of the author.

Both the child and the parents took a childâ??s first day in school when I was a child, as one having reached a day of great significance. For several years a child of a family had been watching brothers and sisters leaving home with a satchel of books and the necessary instruments, pencil, paper, scissors, glue, etc., and a lunch box headed to school. As a child, I longingly waited for the day when I would be doing the same. I was blessed with a brother in school just a few years ahead of me. Almost everyday of his being in school, the evening hours before bedtime would be spend with our being together as he studied his lessons with me as his pupil. My brother told me what heâ??d learned that day; and he would also go through the lesson for the next day, while I listened as attentively as possible. Such tutoring that I received as a child made my first day in school a great one.

At regular promotion day I was promoted with my class into the eighth grade. Something else also happened, my father had decided to accept the principal position of the school in Luther, Oklahoma and my family was leaving Ardmore. All of us were somewhat saddened for three of my sisters had completed their high school years at Douglass and two of them had gone to college. The family had formed such friendships in Ardmore in the community and in the church where my brother and I had been baptized. Leaving Ardmore was sad for us and to them.

However, upon our moving into another community and finding it to be a much smaller community than Ardmore, there were several things in Lutherâ??s favor. The school was larger, although all grades were housed in one school building. The community of Luther serviced the entire area in the high school education of its young people. Both schools in its system had several school buses that transported young people to and from school. One thing that was very different in Luther was that now we lived just across the street and around the corner from the withes of the community. Luther was a community in which there was â??integrationâ? during â??segregationâ?. Black and white did not go to school together, but many other things were done together. The football and basketball teams, boys and girls often scrimmaged together and those of one school went to the games of the other and cheered each other to victory!

One of the things which I remember this community for is the fact that in the years we lived in Luther, there was only â??a black doctorâ?; and both white and black were doctored and visited by Dr. James A. Cox. When he and his family moved to Oklahoma City, another black doctor took over his practice. I do not remember there being any other barbershop other than a black-owned and operated one; neither was there any other shoe repair place. One of the two drug stores was black-owned, which was situated just across Main Street from the white owned drugstore. Everybody knew everybody; and everybody was most often called by the given name within the peer group. My father was known as â??fessor Watsonâ?. Long years after our move to Shawnee, I visited Luther and was still remembered as â??fessor Watsonâ??sâ? youngest daughter. My life and experiences in the community of Luther enriched my capability of knowing life from both sides â??of the fenceâ?.

Upon completing high school, my father was fortunate enough to have obtained scholarships for free tuition and free room and board at two black colleges. Of the two, Wiley College in Texas and Fisk University in Tennessee, I chose to attend Wiley, a predominantly subsidized Methodist college, where I spent only my freshman year. The President of Wiley, Dr. Dogan, held weekly Wednesday evening â??Prayer Meeting & Testimonialsâ? (so we called it) with just the freshman class. We all gathered in the chapel or auditorium to have the president of the college to talk with us like a father would. We were encouraged to say whatever was on our hearts! Did we like college? Were we having any difficulties in classes, or on the campus? Were we getting enough food? Was the dormitory conducive to peace and study? These meetings were look forward to, and were always well attended.

The remainder of my years in college was spent in Langston University, the only Black Higher Education Institution in the state of Oklahoma. My major field in college was mathematics, perhaps because of my fatherâ??s influence, and while enrolled in Langston my advisor was the head of the math department and Dean of the University. At that time, consulting and counseling services for students were not available at Langston; however, Dean B. F. Lee was the consultant, counselor and everything else needed for the students majoring in mathematics! Under his guidance, as I went through my 2nd, 3rd, and 4th years of college education at Langston, he so advised all math majors to pick up everything else available and possible! As I remember his asking me, â??What if there is not a math position open for you when you graduate?â? well, I wound up having sufficient hours and credits to obtain not only a secondary certificate for teaching mat, history and English; but also an elementary education certificate, too.

The first position that was made available to me was that of a grade school teacher in the segregated grade school of Earlsboro, where I taught for two years. after two years at a three-room segregated grade school, where I taught three grades in my room, I was asked to accept the position of a 7th and 8th grade teacher who had resigned at Booker T. Washington School in Seminole, Oklahoma. Now I was in a somewhat larger school and with twice as many teachers, teaching grades 1 through 12 in one building. Seminole was also a small community, especially with regard to its black population. In my second year at Booker T. Washington, the English and music teacher resigned. I became the English teacher in charge of the high school plays.

Moving into the teaching of English, which I soon discovered, was as enjoyable then as teaching in the grades, I decided it was time for me to return to school myself. I spent one summer term at the University of Cincinnati and the following summers at the University of Minnesota, studying English literature, Chaucer & Shakespeare especially, drama and theatre.

Just as Iâ??d begun to feel teaching English to high school students, in Booker T. Washington School in Seminole was really beginning to be valuable to the students and me, I was asked to teach at Dunbar School. The principal who followed my father after his retirement, asked me to accept the position of high school math teacher at the segregated Dunbar School in Shawnee, which was my hometown. The year that I came to Dunbar to be a math teacher was also the year that Oklahoma University opened its doors to black students in higher education. Nearly every teacher in the Dunbar School enrolled at Oklahoma University that summer in some field. I chose to enroll in the school of Library Science mainly because Dunbar had no librarian and really no library. The first four of my 7 or 8 years at Dunbar were full of adjusting to a new field of teaching and endeavoring to have at least a reasonable workable library in which al the students could search for and find worthwhile and up-to-date facts. All in all my years at Dunbar were delightful and were filled with such things which made teaching not â??a jobâ? but â??a pleasureâ?.

When integration came to our schools, the high school students were taken into the white schools, but none of their teachers! There were no problems as far as academic experiences or extra-curricular activities were concerned. For our students had achieved prowess under their black teachers at our black â??Inter-Scholastic State Meetingsâ? held yearly at Langston University, and they had performed well in the band and chorus also.

Before what they called total integration came to our school system, I resigned my position as the 7th grade teacher at Dunbar and went to the state of Ohio. For about eighteen months I had a position in the downtown city library of Cincinnati as an assistant in the Science & Technology Division. As the local newspapers continued to carry items expressing the need for English and mathematics teachers in the Cleveland school system, I made my decision to return to the classroom, if possible. Within an hour of my interview, I had been employed as a mathematics teacher in Addison Junior High School. At that time Addison was the largest junior high school in the state of Ohio. It had a student population of about 2,700 and a teaching and other staff members totaling nearly 200 adults in the building.

For thirteen years I served as a mathematics teacher at Addison; upon the resigning of our mathematics department chairman, Mr. Latorica, he and our principal, Mr. Bopp, recommended to the school board and the secondary mathematics supervisor, that I be given the position as chairman. This took place the first semester of my second year. With thirteen mathematics teachers in our department, this was such a challenge! Mr. Bopp and Mr. Latorica said that my recommendation had come because of what I had to offer and not that of tenure, the usual method of recommendations. This too was a challenge, it served as a constant reminder of what Iâ??d endeavored, and that for which Iâ??d been employed, to teach young people the best that I possibly could!

The year that my sister and her husband, an employee in the postal system retired and moved away from Cleveland, I also resigned my position at Addison and returned to Shawnee, Oklahoma. Since returning to my hometown I have not sought re-employment in our school system. Iâ??ve been asked to serve as a substitute teacher and have also been visited by a committee of classroom teachers asking if Iâ??d consider running as a member of the school board. To each of these, my response was negative, mainly because of what I think and feel should go on does not seem to be in accordance with that of the teachers and students. That which I experienced in the field of teaching is considered â??old-fashionedâ? and out-of-date. My expression made to many of my friends has been as to how happy I am that I taught when I did! My feelings and talents (whatever they may be) are now used in the church of my choice teaching adult women in Sunday school and in missions.