Previous Challenge Entry
Topic: Breaking the Rules (08/16/04)
TITLE: A CORSAGE FOR THE PRINCIPAL
By Sylvia Spielman
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It was the spring of 1972. High school graduation plans were well under way in Deep South Alabama. The graduating class of Jameson High School was almost out the door and Principal Fulsom couldn’t wait. This had been the most difficult bunch of kids in his entire academic career. To add to his headaches a small group of young liberal-minded teachers had infiltrated his faculty and supported any new-fangled idea that erupted.
“Man!” he thought, “will this never end?”
School integration in the late 1960s brought a lot of changes AND a lot of tension. Keeping some kid from getting stabbed was a daily challenge. Several fights a day broke out in the early months and were usually related to a racial slur. Almost every gray hair on Principal Fulsom’s head had propagated since 1969. He hoped the officials in Washington would realize how bad things were and come to their senses. Blacks had no business being in school with white kids.
“No, Miss Gordon, I will not allow this bunch of . . . of . . . insubordinate kids to dictate one more change in the graduation ceremony! I can’t believe they talked me into letting them wear white robes instead of black! They absolutely will concede and wear the traditional red rose or I will . . . I will . . .” Mr. Fulsom was red in the face and pacing in front of his desk.
“But, Mr. Fulsom . . .”
“No, I absolutely will not allow it!” The office workers looked at each other with dread as the altercation stopped abruptly behind the principal’s door.
A young petite woman, Miss Gordon didn’t back down easily. Storming out of the office she resolved to return until this man listened to reason. She had watched this group of young people embrace recent social changes unlike any class ahead of them. They had joined together to create a cohesive group who wanted to express this to the community in their final ceremony.
White robes were chosen to represent the absence of color, a perfect backdrop for the corsage of wildflowers. The colors of the arrangement represented all races and included the colors red, yellow, black and white. If Mr. Fulsom had a problem with that, just wait until he heard the theme song the kids had chosen.
Miss Gordon chuckled to herself.
Over the next few days wind of Mr. Fulsom’s decision filtered through the ranks. There was a meeting of the class-sponsoring faculty with the student body representatives. Teachers promised to continue their efforts to change the principal’s mind. However, true to form the students went to work without adult assistance. On a rainy Thursday night in April, phones all over town rang until way past nine o’clock. No student of the 1972 graduating class of Jameson High School was excluded. Even the most unpopular kids were checked off the list. It was settled. Tomorrow was D-day!!
Friday morning the bell rang right on schedule. The twelfth-grade homeroom teachers stood behind their desks perplexed. They walked to the door looking down an empty hall. “Where are the students? What is going on?” they muttered amongst themselves. Then, ever so lightly, they heard voices coming from outside -- voices singing in unison.
The office staff approached the front doors of the high school. The teachers joined them as they walked out onto the sidewalk. There sitting cross-legged were all 138 seniors settled in the grass. Their voices floated eloquently across the schoolyard. A few of the teachers smiled. Refrains of a beautiful melody filled the air.
Six weeks later those same 138 students stood on a football field in Deep South Alabama. There were 123 Caucasian students, 13 African American students, and 2 exchange students from Japan. They stood arm-in-arm swaying back and forth in white robes donning bright flowers of red, yellow, black and white. Across the field and throughout the bleachers a beautiful melody filled the air.
Mr. Fulsom stood stone-faced with his arms crossed as several teachers and most of the parents joined the students in singing, “I'd like to see the world for once, all standing hand in hand; and hear them echo through the hills ‘Ah, peace throughout the land’.”
*Because this is based on actual events, the names have been changed to protect the guilty.