Former Birmingham student remembers days of desegregation

Public schools in Alabama today welcome students of any background, any race. The was not always the case. But on this day fifty years ago three Birmingham schools were integrated.

Ramsay, along with West End High and Graymont Elementary were the first ones to see African Americans walk through the door. Many of those first students still live and work in the community.

Richard Walker was the first black student to enroll at Ramsay High School. He is now a doctor in Birmingham. Evelyn Jackson came as a junior to Ramsay two years later. She says it never dawned on her as a teenager that she was making history.

"I think as a young person you don't realize and certainly I didn't realize how much of it would become historical. It was just something that we wanted to do. I had marched and participated in all the mass meetings," said Jackson.

At fifteen years of age, Jackson understood the importance of not taking opportunities for granted.{} She had marched and protested to have schools integrated. So when the opportunity came to desegregate Birmingham schools, she wanted to take it. "For me there were three other friends and I and we decided well lets change school sand go to Ramsay high school," she said.

She enrolled in Ramsay during her junior year in 1965. She never encountered violence. But it was clear on many occasions that her presence was not welcome. "You may sit down in an area and everyone around you would move. There were also times if you had labs, say a science lab then you were probably the only one to do the experiment. You didn't have a buddy to help you," said Jackson.

Fast forward to today. Ramsay High School is approximately ninety percent African American. Principal Evelyn Nettles says doctor Richard Walker, Ramsay's very first black student, recently spoke to the freshman class. "I think that set a precedence for them that there is so much prestige, and that someone has already paid the cost. Being escorted by the marshals to come into the schools. How he had to sit and eat lunch by himself," said Nettles.

Jackson says she hopes today's students learn from the past. "They really need to be more appreciative of it and take advantage of the educational opportunities that are being presented."