Jackie Delafose, assistant principal at Conifer High School, was among African-American students who were bused to white schools in the early 1970s.
Delafose began attending Central Elementary School in Lake Charles, La., after her parents received a letter informing them of the transfer from her neighborhood school.
While sitting in a classroom at her new school, Delafose raised her hand each day to acknowledge that she was one of the black students, as required by the administration. At recess, white students didn’t want to associate with Delafose because of her color — once they realized that the fair-skinned girl was black.
“There were issues of not getting along,” she quietly remarked.
The early experiments with integration brought about some changes that were good, but they came on the backs of many, Delafose said.
“We were using the schools as a test for integration, the largest public framework we could use,” she said.
However, Delafose said she was fortunate in having experiences as a minority student in the turbulent days of the civil rights era.
“Out of that experience, I found that I wanted to make a difference in children’s lives,” Delafose said.
In her life and career, Delafose also has embraced the philosophy of nonviolence to which Martin Luther King Jr. adhered while leading the civil rights movement more than half a century ago.
“There are peaceful ways to resolve conflicts. As an educator, that’s a passion for me, a calling.” Delafose said. “That theme has to resonate so that people are not taking a hostile approach to conflict.”
Currently there are generalized issues, rather than overtly racial ones with which to cope, Delafose said.
“Our students are growing up in a different time,” she said. “We live in a complex, fast-moving world … How do you ensure that they have a place to express how they feel?”
Taking the time to reflect and have conversations in schools and churches is critical, Delafose said.
“The most important thing is conversation,” Delafose said. “We’re not having conversations where we’re talking and listening to each other.”
“At the high school, we’re always trying to find better ways to communicate,” Delafose said. “You try to cultivate a culture of inclusivity, a welcoming and open environment.”
At the community level, Delafose said, she would like to see town hall meetings at which issues are discussed, as well as family conversations at home.
“It’s part of building a strong community,” she said.
During the 28 years Delafose has been in education, much of her work has been focused on students who have special needs, and on helping at-risk youngsters.
As an educator, Delafose said, she tries to be a role model for youths, and to send them the message that people of color are qualified and can work anywhere.
“It’s important that people of color continue to do positive things,” she said.
Marching for justice
While Delafose was a young child in Louisiana, Evergreen residents Ann and Mike Moore became involved in the civil rights movement.
The Moores joined thousands of people who followed Martin Luther King Jr. in the third march to Montgomery in 1965 to support the cause of voting rights for disenfranchised African-Americans.
“It was for us one of the most exhilarating — and terrifying — experiences we ever had,” said Mike.
As the Moores joined 25,000 people walking along the road to the state capital, some of the white spectators threw rocks at them, Mike said. However, black spectators cheered them onward.
“I recall noticing all these National Guard troops with Confederate flags on their uniforms,” said Mike.
In the wake of violence that erupted during the first two marches from Selma to Montgomery, those who participated in the third march were escorted by U.S. Army soldiers and members of the Alabama National Guard.
Mike said he also saw a group of police officers from Denver who were protecting the marchers.
While marching, the Moores said they sang traditional spirituals with new lyrics related to the civil rights movement.
“The singing sustained us,” said Mike.
The Moores’ 8-month-old daughter, Mandela, whom Ann carried with her on the march, also liked the music, she said. A photo of Ann and her baby that appeared in a newspaper ran with the caption, “The Littlest Marcher.”
Mike said he and Ann decided to participate in the march after learning of King’s efforts and the violence that occurred during the first march in Selma.
“We watched police attack the marchers” in a televised broadcast of the event, Mike said. “We were so troubled, as were so many Americans.”
People in the first march, which became known as “Bloody Sunday,” were brutally beaten with clubs and sprayed with tear gas.
After participating in the landmark march that drew national attention to the cause, the Moores returned to their home in Arlington, Va. And Mike continued his work at the Office of Economic Development in Washington, D.C.
Since moving to Mike’s home state of Colorado, the couple have created a civil rights program they call “Songs of Selma,” which they have presented in area schools.
“The interest in the schools is waning,” Ann said. “Kids in classes can’t relate to what happened.”
However, the Moores are positive about the changes brought about as a result of the civil rights movement.
“I think that we have a black president is unbelievable,” said Mike.
“We still have a long way to go,” he added.
Contact Sandy Barnes at firstname.lastname@example.org.