Following the Civil War, many African Americans settled in Plano, and over time, African American men and women became more successful in farming. Many African Americans started their own businesses. owned cars and soon developed a sense of community. Business life, social life, and education for children were segregated from white neighbors during the time, but for the most part, the two groups co-existed peacefully. Although there were times that the two groups who overlap with each other, but most of the time they lived in a harmonious atmosphere together.
"The statues of the state and mores of the country were that you didn't integrate, but we were already integrated personally and emotionally before Rosa Parks," said John Lewis who played football in Plano prior to the city's school integration. John Lewis always remembered growing up that the black community was no stranger to the white community and the white community was no stranger to the black community. He recalled that there were a bond and relationship of trust that always existed.
During segregation (racial segregation), the all-Black schools (referred to as school "Colored Schools") didn't operate for the same amount of time during the school day or length for the school year.
In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education changed the face of education in America by establishing laws that separate public schools for African American and white students were unconstitutional. The ruling was considered a monumental victory for the Civil Rights Movement and set the stage for integration in schools across the United States. Ten Years later, that integration made it to Plano, Texas.
Following the Brown v. Board of Education decision in1954, the Plano school board discussed integrating Plano High School with Plano Colored High School. A citizen committee was formed to discuss the issue but the consensus was to keep the high schools separate, according to records from 1955 and 1957. Another Colored School in Plano was the Shepton Colored School.
In 1955, the school board created a committee of “Colored citizens” to start the integration process. Based on Sherrie S. McLeroy's book, “A Century of Excellence: An Historical Perspective,” Black Plano residents were happy with their schools – the Fredrick Douglass School in the all-black Douglass community – and did not want to integrate the schools. At the same time, Plano’s two all-white schools were already overcrowded, so the school board decided to pause the discussion until 1960.
In 1961, the school board reopened the conversation about integration with then-superintendent H. Wayne Hendrick, Frederick Douglass School principal John Hightower, board member Ben Thomas and Plano High School principal T. H. “Bill” Williams.
Alton Allman was raised in Plano and became the city's mayor from 1962 to 1964, prior to the high school's integration. The high school scene during the 1950s and '60s in Plano resembles some of the same things today. Musicians, academics, football players, cheerleaders, and many different and common-minded students roamed the halls, but until 1964, all of the students at Plano Senior High School were white.
By 1964, the school board voted to allow the black students of Frederick Douglass School to integrate with Plano schools, and the process began. In 1964, the issue was discussed again when the school board voted to allow black students of Fredrick Douglass School to decide if they would like to integrate with Plano High School. Students did vote to integrate which made the Fredrick Douglass School a facility for primary -level students only.
Dr. Myrtle Hightower, wife John Hightower, was also a counselor at Douglass during the time of integration. “I think they were in awe and they were excited. They didn’t know what was going to happen. They were a little fearful. It was unknown to them,” Hightower said of that first day of integration. But they had examples in Hightower, Hendricks and Thomas that proved collaboration was possible. “I tell you, those men – John Hightower, my husband; Ben Thomas and Dr. Hendricks – on Saturdays they walked around to the white families and knocked on their doors and talk about integration. They did door-to-door walks and talked to the families, those three people together,” Hightower said.
Cynthia Matthews, who’s lived in Plano all her life, said she was in sixth grade during integration. As an elementary student, she first attended classes at the Cox Building, which is currently the Courtyard Theater in Downtown Plano.
As a young child, she said the transition was “frightening,” but she’s always had a heart for people and a heart for education. The state found the Douglass School curriculum unequal to the white students in Plano, so when students left Douglass, Matthews said, “We were going to get better educated.” “I’ve never seen color. I guess you call it colorblind because I look at people for who they are, and I can love you the way that you are,” she said. The only thing she remembers hating during that time climbing the third floor to the choir room at Cox.
In “Football and Integration in Plano, Texas,” by Janis Frye Allman, a 1961 PHS graduate, she wrote, “Although the neighborhoods were segregated, we respected our elders, black and white.” The “segregated but civil” community idea helped lead to the smooth integration that Plano was often praised for.
By 1968, the Frederick Douglass School was closed, and the schools were fully integrated across Plano ISD. Plano in the 60s – black and white – shared a passion for education, community, and faith, Hightower said, in both the Douglass community and the wider white Plano community. And this was the common ground on which they met.
“The Plano city, the whole city, is for the students. Today, they don’t just look at the color at all,” she said. “They just go on and do. We try to have a positive outlook. This city was a positive, not a negative, about people. To me, it’s positive and very little negativity, starting with the schools and the city in general.”
Several history books say sports helped bring people together two years into PISD's school integration.
Exhibit Activity & Discussion:
What challenges do you think students faced during segregation across the United States?
What challenges do you think students and families faced during the early integration of schools in other Plano?
What challenges do you think educators faced during the early adoption of integration?
What can students learn from each other when they are from different backgrounds?
What are some activities that students couldn't participate in during early integration?
How has football and other team-based activities helped bring communities together?
Before the Brown v. Board of Education decision in1954, what subjects were taught in White-Only schools but not in Colored schools?
Across the country once integration was adopted in schools, why do you think there were more students of color and Black students that required to repeat a grade-level than other students?
What were the differences between the school schedules for Black-Only schools compared to White-Only schools before the Brown v. Board of Education decision in1954 was adopted?
What was the high school experience for Black students as they prepared for graduation and the next steps after graduation?
Credit & Sources:
1965 Plano High School yearbook
Courtesy of Collin County Archives
New York Public Library
Plano Public Library