subject: Celia Henderson
interviewer: Arthur White
W: ....Celia Henderson. Uh, give me a few ideas of your background
and how you came to this position.
H: I came in 1950;10$| jyh, teaching physical education. I remember
saying to the principal, "What do you really want me to accomplish
this year?" and he said, "Take the cheerleaders off my back."
And so I started working with cheerleaders and majorettes, and
taught physical education for sixteen years, and then when Kay
Selly retired, she, they actually talked me into this job, which
I was not sure I was going to like. This is Director of Student
Activities, and really, it's the fun things and the enjoyment
part of school that is needed for a well round developed student.
It is, involves student government, all the service, interest, and
honor clubs, the cheerleaders, the majorettes, any activity, i es-s
anything that's done outside of the classroom, and then, of course,
I have the one class, ~ir ? which is a class, they get one
credit in leadership. They are taught parliamentary procedure,
how a committee operates, how a committee works, what-the chairman's
duties are, what the duties of the other people in the group are.
W: You were here 1YS the Lincoln boycott, the Lincoln problems.
Celia, what if I ask you, the black students say that their feelings
were that they were mistreated, that their school shouldn't have
been closed, that they should have desegregated both schools, and
that way, they would have thought equal treatment would have been
possible, and that they thought a lot of resentment was built up
even before the students arrived here in Gainesville High School,
HFE 7A 2
because of the method used by the school board, and the pressure
that they thought was being put on the school board by white
parents who didn't want their children to go to Lincoln High School,
and to be involved in that kind of school. What are your, what are
your impressions? is this, is this true, is this what you felt
at that time, during those boycotts?
H: Well, I really think they were mistreated in the fact that they
did not want to come here to school anymore than our students wanted
to go to Lincoln, and yet they were made to, and our students
were not made to go to Lincoln, and that decision, what they
forget was not made by Gainesville High School, and some of the
feelings of resentment that they held, they took out on Gainesville
High School when we were innocent of any help in arriving at this
decision. This decision was made, we were told what it was, and
our job was to take the decision and do the best we could with it.
The first thing that we did, and the president of our student body
was ten feet tall that year, the boy was John King, he is at the
University of Florida. He was the only white person outside of
photog....newspaper and T.V. people that attended the meeting at
Lincoln High School when they were discussing this, and he went
over because he knew these students were coming to us, and he wanted
to know what was being said to them, and what he could do to help.
And we immediately asked all the leaders to hold joint positions
with our leaders here at school for the remainder of the year. I
think if the people who had been elected into leadership positions
had remained the leader, we would have been more successful in
integration than we were. But what had happened was, the president
HFE 7A 3
of their student body was no longer in their eyes, the leader of
their student body. This leadership changed when the integration
came. The leaders became self-appointed leaders that people
followed, and they left the elected leaders of that school in the
background. So where as we thought we were taking in the leaders,
the president of senior class, the president of eleventh grade
class, and making them co-presidents with our existing presidents
at Gainesville High School, we really didn't have the people
in leadership positions in those jobs.
W: Was itAMosely, the one who led the marches, was the real leader?
H: No, by, by the time they got here, this had shifted a third time.
The president of the student body was no longer the leader, Mosely
was not the leader, and there was a, I wish I could call the name,
and I can't, was really looked to to lead after they got over
here, so it changed three times.
W: What was his position, this was he Black Power?
H: I really don't know, I, I would, I'm not hesitant, I'm not answering
because I don't want to, I'm answering because of ignorance, I
really don't know why, except that they liked what he was saying
and what he was doing, and the action that he was taking. So actually,
we were trying to work in student government with puppets, with,
with people that were being led by other people, and so we-
weren't always able to deal with the problem then, he had to go
back and tell him what we had been talking about, and get a reaction
and come back before we could sit down and talk about the problem.
By the next year, this situation had been eliminated.
W: What happened? ....racial incidents and was there trouble?
HFE 7A 4
H: Yes, we had, I would call it more misunderstandings than racial
incidents. They were misunderstanding of the races, and I think
the hardest thing was they were not trusting of what we said or
what we did. And I got accused by the white students of favoring
the blacks, and I got accused by the black students of favoring
the whites, and there was almost no way that you were a neutral
W: One of the interesting things that the students mentioned was the
siding of representation in the senate, three blacks and three
whites. But the student body i~4tgf seventy per cent white,
thirty per cent black, I believe that's correct, and the whites
could have voted in a block of white senators and had completely
controlled student government. W/ll, you first went through a
joint period, where you held offices coinciding with each other,
and then you went through a period of this representation. Could:
you tell me how that came about, or what the outcome was?
H: Uh, it was probably the smartest move we ever made here at Gainesville
High School, and I will attribute it to my, our principal at the
time. We knew that whatever was said because they were, the blacks
were in the minority, they felt that they would be, were being
pushed around. We felt there should be some place that they would
feel secure, that there was a one to one discussion of ideas and
faults. Uh, a one to one voting in of rules and regulations, that
this wasn't something that was pushed down their throat, but some-
thing that helped make. And a lot,'there was, had to be a lot
of give and take. If/we kept referring to the white students, that
they had given up nothing, the black students had given up their
H: school, their home, their traditions, to move into our school in
which we must make it their school as well as our school, it had
to be a united school, and so welconcieved the idea, and it was)
I think 1aOi probably that caused as much problem with some of the
white students saying exactly what I said, that that was not
even the ratio in school. It was a seventy-thirty, and we were
making it a fifty-fifty. But it was the only place that it was
feasible to do this kind of thing. Now, we did have a student
advisory group. Uh, but most of the people that ended up in
senate with a three and a three e e from each grade level)
also were on the student advisory committee. So actually what
happened is our student advisory committee has not been as, there
has not been as much need for it because we have this every day
in senate, and if a problem comes up, as came up last year, uh,
we had more, only one problem during the entire year, and that was
in which four black students were involved in not letting a white
teacher detain them in a room where she was trying to hold them
in the room until a dean came2 /nd in their attempt to leave the
room, they brushed against her and knocked her down, it was very
interesting that those four black students, before they were ever
even apprehended by the principal reported to senate to discuss
their problem with senate, and what had happened. We knew then
that they had great respect for what would happen to them in
senate. My first question when they came in was "Have you seen
Mr. Board?" and they said no. When I checked with Mr. Board,
he didn't even know who the four boys were. But they had immediately
come to a place where they felt we would listen to their side of
HFE 7A 6
H: the story. And I think that was a great credit to the group.
W: How did this develop, this changeover? Why did this occur, that
senate had so much, they had so much respect for this group, and
it occurred through the mechanics, perhaps, of the choice mechanism,
and the one thing the black students mentioned was that the election
of a black president was important and you were mentioning an
incident in relation to that, you know....how did this whole change
H: Well, I think first of all, we had to get the black students that
had the respect of all students in school. You can't, with a
seventy-thirty ratio of black and white, a black president could
never go in, just being voted for by black students. And this
happened to be a, a, the type of person that was elected first
was Joe Kemps last year. He was an athlete, he was a Christian,
he was a person who treated everyone alike, black and white. He
was easy to get to know, and so he won the respect of the students.
I think a lot of the intelligent white students realized that the
best way to have something told to a non-believer was by, to be
told by someone of their own race. And this was true, this worked
this way. I think that Melvin is, uh, in many respects, uh, number
one, I.Q.-wise, much higher than Joe's. He has problems with
communicating a little bit more than Joe does, but he is an extremely
serious man, and this, this has bothered me that he might not be
able to carry the person that isn't so serious along with him,
where as Joe did not have this difficulty at all. But I know it
has helped, and maybe I don't know exactly the answer of why,
except that they, the black students can see that if you have it,
H: y6u will succeed as an individual. You have, we have got to get
away from looking at this as a color, but this is a person. And
if this person does what he should do, and is great, he will get
what is his reward.
W: DO you agree with the tone of that class I spoke to that essentially,
many of the whites, especially seem to think things are getting
better and better, and more and more integration happening,
intermingling between the races, and interracial dating ia even
H: I, I think it'll be a long time before social integration will
ever take place. Any, exactly the same amount of time that I think
for uh, different, people from different straits of life ffom
socially integrating. I think home situations have a lot to do
with it, the kind of home you live, and you're not going to be as
quick to visit back and forth if your backgrounds are totally
different. Uh, I know that there is family pre judices on both
sides. That they feel like they, it's fine for them to go to
school together, and it's fine for them to study together, but I
don't want my child, or my son, or my daughter dating a white
student or dating a black student, let them stay with the people
of their own kind. And this is not unusual, you, you see very few
intermarriages between Chinese and Americans, and Japanese and
Americans. You see more than probably you see of black race, but
there are a lot of people that want to stay, there are a lot of
people that if you're a Catholic, they want you to marry a Catholic,
and if you're a Jew, they want to marry in the Jewish religion.
W: Did you.hear what that girl said, there was more problem in the
HFE 7A 8
W: white families, prejudice than the black family's prejudice?
H: I think that it's more because there are more white students here.
And I think probably more would come to light.
W: But percentage-wise, it's the same?
H: Percentage-wise, I would say it's roughly the same.
W: How about the fact of living in separate neighborhoods, the segregated
H: I think that this is a very strong thing, if, if I lived right
next door and I had children and they are thrown together in a
play situation with the children next door, I think it would be
much more common.
W: Surprisingly, most of 4Me young ladies said in here that they really
didn't think, well, they had neutral, or blah feelings about the
so-called inter-human values of the integration experience. In
other words, the Supreme Court was saying in '54, that .l.i 't.h.
America has become an integrated society. The black-white ratio
has still, has to diminish, and prejudices against the blacks
are restricted out till we have to diminish, these are supposed to
be the outcomes in a racially integrated situation. Well, these
young ladies gave the impression that they'd just As soon have,
stayed in a black school, just as soon stayed in Lincoln High
School, even with it's inferior accommodations. That coming up here
did open some opportunities, but didn't make up for all the trouble
and frustration, and they just, just come here 'cause they sort of
have to come here, and didn't really feel it was worth going through
all that, really worth it. What is your feeling, do you feel that
integration is worth it, and that's what we're striving for?
H: Well, first of all, I'm very surprised, because I'm looking at
three of the girls you just talked with, and, and two of those
have made quite a name for themselves with their voices since
they have gotten here. Those, Bea and Liz are, uh, sing duets
and trios, and have entertained quite a number of groups here.
They would have never had this opportunity, so I'm sort of a
little amazed that they would say that, but I have seen white
students from illiterate families recieve an education A/nd both
the family and the children be sorry that they have gotten the
education, because what it has done is separated them from family
and from friends. And I think maybe this might, yes, might be
sort of the same type of thing that they are, they are opened up
to avenues that their parents don't know.
W: Friends, they said, were over there....
W: ....community friends. There were VY_)_ benefits at Lincoln
that were lost at Gainesville High School, that really didn't make
all the new opportunities worth that much, considering all the
frustration, insults, maybe it was done differently, they did mention
they might have thought it was worth it then, but they had suffered.
H: Well, I, I'm remembering the secretary of the student body, the
first year after we integrated, which was '72, and the first problem
that we had, I watched, and I had worked very closely with this
girl, and I watched, and she turned around and looked at me before
she joined a walk-off from this campus. And after, when they came
back, she came right into my office, and she said, "Miss Hendrickson,
I know that you can't understand what I did today," because I'd
HFE 7A 10
H: been saying one thing, and then I did something else. But she
says, "You don't have to go home and live here I have to go home
and live." And those are the people that are going to put pressure
on me. But she says, "I want you to know, it hurt me, because
I was doing something you didn't think I should do." So it, really2
you feel sorry for them, because they have learned a reaction that
they can't always follow because of peer pressure.
W: What are the types of incidents that you have here, racial incidents,
which you had here during the early years, I guess the first
year of desegregation, and probably diminishing the second year,
and finally the thirdyear, I suppose, nothing at all. What are
they, boycotts, walk-offs, rae .... i 7
vIcw&IC +1v a lot 04 e
H: Uh, most of them were. .H:I think we had, oh gosh, I can't even
remember, and I hate to misquote, but I think at the most, three
W:A during the first year?
H: That was during the first year. Uh, a lot of pressure was brought
on certain teachers, that they felt were not treating the black
students right, and a lot of times, when I say felt, this was the
truth. I know particularly on teacher that they sort of crucified
mentally, was one who had really done more than almost any of us
here to try to include black students. But in trying to do this,
some that she felt were not capable, she did not include. She didn't
just open it en masse to any black student who wants to do this.
And she' tried to still hold the standards of her subject matter.
W: That a special course that she had?
H: Uh huh. And really, she was the one that was hurt, where as somebody
HFE 7A 11
H: else who had said, "Nope, I'm all set, I'm not going to have
anything to do with anybody." They suffered less than somebody
who really was trying. Uh, the interest, interesting thing happened/
the very first, the president of the senior class, of course, had
come right into senate from Lincoln, because we incorporated, as
I said, their presidents jointly, and the first incident, Coach
Nowerblack(?) told me after it was all over with, said, "Celia,
I want to tell you something, because you probably won't ever know
it," said, "the president of Lincoln from the twelfth grade class
stood outside your door, and when they started coming up toward
your office, he said, "Nope, you're not going in there."" That boy
never did tell me what he did, so on graduation night, I went up
to him and I said, "I want you to know something that happened
that I know about." And he just beamed, he said, "Well, Miss
Henderson, you know that I just knew they weren't thinking, and
if they started up to your office, I wasn't going to let them
come in." So, it, it's sort of like, if I get to know you and
I feel you're fair, then I'm with you too.
W: Tell me, you said there were about three incidences, what were the
nature of these incidences, were they riots, walk-outs...?
H: They were mostly walk-outs and very fewnpeople literally were
hurt. A couple of people may have been hit because they, somebody
was trying to hold them when they were trying to get away, or..,.
I, I know of only one time when the principal came back and said
"I'm going to lock the door to your office,'and don't let anybody
in." And I had expected it to be worse than it was, and it really
turned out not to be anything very much.
HFE 7A 12
W: Ajhe news media help you or hurt you and how did the police treat
this sort of thing?
H: I think the police really, I can understand why there's a-"lot of
resentment toward police, because I think they felt that if there
was any problem, it was being made-by the blacks, and I think this
was wrong. I think that because blacks react different, reacted
differently than white students did, they were quicker to say they're
causing the problem. Number one, they, by race, have probably
been a little more boisterous, or a little louder in talking, and
so it seemed that they were causing all of the confusion. But
sometimes this, well, I'll give you a good example. One morning,
we got here and somebody came running in the office and said,
"MNss Hendrickson, there's a rebel flag flying between A and B wing."
Okay, now that wasn't put up by a black student. Okay, that caused
an incident to happen, in which, it infuriated the black students.
Okay, you can say, alright, the black students did it. But they
really didn't, it was incited by somebody that wanted to either cause
trouble or wanted to get their point across that put the flag up
knowing it was going to cause trouble. I've always said that when
you wave the red flag in front of a. bull, and the bull charges,
who's to blame, the bull or you?
W: They'd blame the bull.
H: Yeah, they blame the bull. lij
W: Did the blacks do things like the girls mentioned, ypt signs you
found in restrooms and writing on the wall, "Nigger go home" you
know, get out of our school. Did the blacks do things like that
say, "Honky, do this," or....
H: NZ, I think what the blacks, the problems the blacks may have
caused was intimidation. Uh, I have....
W: They used a fear?
H: They used the fear, uh huh, uh huh, and if you don't do this,
I'll rip you up with a knife. Well, this is language that I don't
know about, and so I may think, "WellA they react differently from
the way I do," but a lot of this was scare. Of course, there
were the few that would do it. But there....
w: TheN umf(^ Kh1fila-5 ?
H: ,i.,,veah, well, I don't know if there was on'campus. Uh, but I
mean, that it was the fear of they are going to do something.
W: You mean they tried to push people around. I noticed that the
dynamics of desegregation are blacks, very strong physical male
blacks, would sometimes just paint a locker or take a desk from
a white just to show them that's the way they get back, and they
say, "I'm taking that, get out of my way." attitude, and then
the white reacts, and then you're off, you know, that's the way
the blacks do it, the whites are good at flags....
H: Yeah, right, right, another thing is to come up and say "Give
me the money you have in your purse." And I've had blacks, and
black students walk in here and say, "I need some money." And
I'd say, "Gosh, I do too. If you find out where you can get some
you let me know, because I need some." "Miss Hendrickson, I've
got to have some from lunch." I'd say, "Then you better go some
place else, 'cause I don't have any." But, but you see, you've
got to react,Ayou do not frighten me. If I am frightened, then I'd
just be able to take your purse and go. And so I think, well,
HFE 7A 14
H: you have to go back to what's....
W: 40 you're cool,(Chuckles)
H: Well, you know, you know, I grew up with them. I grew up on a
farm, and when I say in Mississippi the first year we integrated
that was a dirty word, I didn't even want anybody to know I came
from Mississippi because they, because of the things that had
happened in Mississippi, anybody that came from MIssissippi was
this way. But I grew up on a farm in which my parents told me
if there's any trouble, if there's any trouble, you go down to
Ann's house. Now, there were fifteen white families on the place.
And I was never allowed to step inside of a white families home.
But our cook, and the person that worked around our house, they
kept me, they baby sat with me, they were my friends. And I knew
if I was in trouble, I went to them. But this is the hardest
thing in the world to explain to a black student. I have my, my
love is there, and it was there way before we ever integrated.
But they have been told so many stories that aren't true, that even
if you told this, they might bethinking, "Well, I wonder why she's
telling me this garbage ou know but I actually tried to,
with my family, before I ever was married, I wanted to teach in
a black school. And the reason I did is because I had been in
service for four years, and I had seen black women who were superior.
I'd never seen this in my life. And I saw they all had opportunities
at schooling that we hadn't given them in the south. When I came
back from the service, I said, "Mother, I'd like to go teach in a
black school here." And she said, "You would be run out of town
if you did that." So I was really years ahead of knowing that there
HFE 7A 15
H: was value there, and trying to find that value.
W: So you understand the basis, and there's no fear at all?
H: No, no. Well, really, I feel close to them, and just like I feel
like the fellow that said I wasn't going to let them come to
your office. I, I have great feeling toward this person, because
I would react, I would try to protect him too.
W: What, \A) the reciprocal?
W: In other words, good vibes, kind of intuitive?
W: Sureness that comes with having dealt with blacks as people, and
becoming aware of their potentials.
H: Right. I think there are bad whites, just like I think there are
bad blacks, and I think they're bad CliC6le6 just like there
are bad anybody, r? V(an eVG jC -o ,- -
Break in tape
W: You're from Mississippi, and you're of.the planter class, and you
had black and white sharecroppers, is this correct?
H: That's correct, and I, my family thought they were complete
segregationists, but I don't really think they knew what they
were teaching me, because they taught me a greater respect for the
black families on the place than for the white families, because
there was more trust, they had more trust in the black families,
and they transmitted this trust to me. For example, they would
say, "If anything goes wrong, go right down to Ann's house and
wait at Ann's house until we come home." And then I was told
I could never put my foot inside of the white family's places,
HFE 7A 16
H: white sharecropper's on the place. And so without knowing it,
they were saying to me, "You can go to the black house, but you
cannot go to the white house." And my mother was a retired
schoolteacher, she retired at seventy, and I can remember hearing
her say, "The first time a black child walks into my classroom,
I'llwalk out." And mother is, we live in a small town of about
1,000 population, and mother is now doing substitute teaching.
She's eighty-six, she's a remarkable woman, but anyway, she's
substitute teaching, and the school now, in Utica is eighty per
cent black and twenty per cent white. And at her age, and now,
and of course she has learned a lot too, she has complete control
of the students in the class, and really, I think it's been an
experience, and-that's the way I feel about it. What would have
happened to me if I had never gotten to know the black people
in Gainesville? And without integration, I never would, I would
not have known the Joe Kemps, and the Vernon McKnights, and the
Melvin Flanoys. I would not have been thrown with them. And I
think they have a lot to offer.
W: C>OUlV,_ good.
(End of interview)