A Georgetown woman’s journey through school during segregation and desegregation
Dora held Paulette’s hand as they walked along Timber Street, dodging potholes along the curbless street. Dust and gravel churned up by passing cars settled onto their newly polished oxfords. Dora was in the second grade and counseled Paulette, a first grader, about being on time. She also told her about Ms. Wilson, “one of the strictest teachers in the school.” Paulette unconsciously toyed with the bow her mother had placed on top of her head. She tried to divert her thoughts from school by studying the familiar, old but well-kept homes that dotted her neighborhood.
It was 1952, and Paulette Taylor was on her way to Carver, the designated school for African American students. It was here that Paulette would mature and learn firsthand the effects of racial segregation.
Old Carver School
Carver sat on a bluff on Timber Street (now Martin Luther King Street). It housed 175 students from first to twelfth grade. The school consisted of several small rooms on two floors. The first floor was for the elementary grades, and the second floor housed the older students. Because of limited space, each classroom contained students from two grades. Dora guided Paulette to the first-grade side of their classroom and then claimed a desk on the second-grade side. Paulette was relieved to recognize some of the kids from the neighborhood and from Sunday school; the butterflies in her stomach lessened somewhat.
Paulette was excited to receive her first textbooks even though they were worn and outdated. The lined cards on the inside of the front cover were filled with the names of previous students. Paulette and her classmates giggled as they tried to pronounce the names they found there. In the years ahead, they would recognize some of the names as residents from the neighborhood on the other side of the railroad tracks.
Paulette loved school and the social life she had developed by the time she became a teenager. On the weekends, she and Dora went to see the picture show at the Palace Theater. First, they’d stop at Peaslee’s Cafe for a ten-cent piece of sausage. Then they’d visit the restroom at the service station down the street because blacks weren’t allowed to use the facilities in the theater. After the picture show, they’d go to the courthouse on the Square to ride the elevator. They’d get a sip of cold water from the colored water fountain before making the trip home. “I always wondered if white water tasted different from colored water,” Paulette says.
Each basketball season, the high school students from Carver were bused to Georgetown High to use the gym for practice and for their games. Paulette admired the shiny floors, the rows of bleachers, and the bathrooms that had many private stalls. She felt like a second-class citizen and wondered why there was such a glaring difference between her school and the white kids’ school.
By the time Paulette was a junior, her discontent had grown. Preparations for homecoming heightened it further. “For homecoming, Georgetown High School would send us a big box of worn football shoes and helmets,” she says. The Carver team spent the weekends patching the shoes with tape and polishing them. They also painted the chipped helmets blue.
It had been ten years since the Supreme Court unanimously decided in Brown v. Board of Education that segregating school children by race was unlawful. Yet nothing seemed to have changed for Paulette and her classmates. “We were tired of hand-me-down shoes and helmets and books,” Paulette says. She had decided on a career as a secretary and wanted to learn how to type to ensure her admittance into secretarial school. However, Carver had only one typewriter, and it was in the principal’s office.
“Parents began to come together,” Paulette says. Encouraged by their parents and Harvey Miller, a community activist, Paulette and a group of students attempted to enroll at the high school and the other Georgetown schools. The students received moral support from a group of community members, including some Southwestern University professors and their spouses. Paulette and her classmates would have been the first black students to integrate Georgetown schools. Additionally, Congress had passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, which gave them hope. “When we got to Georgetown High, we were told we couldn’t go there, so I finished my senior year at Carver. Harvey Miller filed a denial of admittance lawsuit,” Paulette says.
Off to College
Paulette went to Prairie View A&M, a predominantly black college. Her home economics teacher at Carver had taken Paulette and her class on a field trip there, so she felt comfortable on campus. Additionally, Paulette’s Aunt Minnie had attended Prairie View and was the first in her family to graduate from college.
Paulette hunted and pecked while the other students zoomed through their typing assignments. She spent hours teaching herself how to type and became the teacher’s assistant. “I was only going to go for two years for secretarial science,” Paulette says. However, every January, her family scraped together enough money for her to finish another year. She graduated with a four-year business education degree.
Her first job out of college was for the newly-launched Head Start program, where she became head teacher and taught children of various racial backgrounds. Paulette learned that she had a passion for helping children and excelled at teaching those with emotional and learning challenges.
After Paulette had taught four years at Head Start, Jack Frost, the district superintendent and Frost Elementary School’s namesake, offered Paulette a position as a special education teacher with the Georgetown Independent School District. The position required additional certification, so Paulette enrolled at the University of Texas and earned her teaching credentials. Paulette eventually obtained a master’s degree in human services from St. Edward’s University in 1987. She retired in 2002 from GISD after thirty-one years of service. She also ran the after-school program at the Willie Hall Center for sixteen years, providing tutoring services to neighborhood children.
Paulette Taylor has received many awards, including the State Achievement Award for teachers and two Elementary Teacher of the Year awards from GISD. If you visit Carver Elementary School, you’ll find a monument in her honor.
Today, Paulette can live anywhere she chooses. But she chooses to live in the same Georgetown neighborhood where she walked to the old Carver School. This community, now integrated, reminds her that the best schools and the best societies are those that include everyone.
For additional information about desegregation in Georgetown, check out the following online resources:
–Oral histories by Paulette Taylor and Harvey Miller
–Local History Page: Georgetown Library