50 Years Ago - May 1954

At the water well
A Photo of Me at the Water Well
The car in the background of these two photos is our 1953 Plymouth Cranbrook. It was bought after the 1954s came out.
I had just turned thirteen - a new teenager. There didn't seem to be much emphasis on the teen year's back then, but of course, we were somewhat isolated from the world at large. We lived in Cleveland, Arkansas, a small town at the north end of Conway County. After the 1950 census, new signs were posted on each side of town - “Cleveland                    Pop. 59.”
North end of house
The house was just over six years old in May 1954.

My mother and stepfather were 34 years old. My sister was 12. We had three little half-sisters aged 6, 4, and 10 months. Momma was expecting another baby. My Maxell grandparents were 62 and 55. My Skipper grandparents had died before I was born. My Halbrook step grandparents were in their late 60s.

Mom and Dad
Mom and Dad are placing a water pump on the old 'dug' well. It was to be used for wash water. She was 7 months pregnant, but it doesn't show.
My sister, Jeanne, posing for me as I shoot my first roll of film.
Brenda and Marinelle
Little Brenda and Marinelle.
Brenda and Marinelle
Baby Sherrye.

Downtown Cleveland
Downtown Cleveland in 1956

Most of my step dad’s family also lived in Cleveland or nearby. They worked together growing corm and hay for their livestock. I had been helping in the hay fields for four years. I started by driving tractors back from the field. I’d sit on the tractor while my step dad started it and set the throttle. He would hold the clutch down with his hand and shift into gear and explain that when I got to a certain place, I should stand up on the clutch and brake and wait for him. Later I drove the hay truck through the field while he and the other men loaded the bales.

Radio was a big source of entertainment for me. I remember listening to the clear channel stations at night, such as WOAI in San Antonio. WWL New Orleans "Loyola University of the South" had a dance music show from a 'ballroom' on the top floor of the main hotels. I can't remember which. I can’t remember the call sign of the station in Chicago. Those station were started back when all were given call signs beginning with ‘W.’ Now all stations west of the Mississippi receive call signs beginning with ‘K.’
We got a television set about that time and it just about stopped all interest in radio.

I think 1954 was when my mother bought a World Book Encyclopedia. I really enjoyed looking and reading through it. I usually started with Volume A and read articles with interesting pictures. She bought the annual supplement for six years and they’re interesting to refer back to.

Favorite magazines were 'Progressive Farmer,' 'Life,' 'Look,' and 'Boy's Life.' I even sold the weekly ‘Grit’ newspaper.
Grimm's Fairy Tales and Anderson's Fairy Tales were my favorite books. I also liked Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Fenn.
Wonderview High School
Wonderview High School in 1957
A young relative is standing there.

I was completing the seventh grade at in the Wonderview Consolidated School District’s central school. My first six years of school were at the Cleveland Elementary School. The Wonderview School district was formed during the school consolidation movement in the 30s. The first two school houses burned and the first graduating class spent their senior year at the Cleveland school, but held the graduation ceremony at the new school building. The gym and probably all the buildings were built by the WPA or by rock masons who had learned the technique with the WPA. The rock school house was torn down and replaced by a metallic building, but the other rock buildings are still in use. I think the old wood frame lunch room is gone.
The seventh grade shared rooms with the higher grades. Students moved from room to room as the schedule progressed. At Cleveland Elementary I spent three years in one room and the previous three years in the other room. (A third room had been in use for the seventh grade, but it had been integrated with the central school and was vacant for most of the time that I was there.)

My mother had given me her old camera and I started taking photographs. My first photos are located here.

The French had been defeated in Viet Nam thus were the seeds of the Viet Nam war planted. I thought it was a shame that the valiant Vietnamese, who had defeated their Japanese attackers and thus helped to end World War II, were then given back to the French. I don’t remember when the North and South were partitioned, but I remember that the United States refused to accept the results of the national reunification election sponsored by the UN, so the North and South remained separate until the U.S. abandoned the South.

1954 was also the year the Supreme Court ruled that ‘separate, but equal’ schools did not provide the right for all to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as guaranteed in the constitution. There was a community of black people just a couple of miles south of Cleveland and we rode the school bus through their community each day on our way to Wonderview. The black children rode their school bus past Wonderview and about 20 miles further to their school. I thought that was dumb, but no one else seemed to. The smelliest boy in class would say, “How would you like one of them smelly ‘n----’ to come in and sit down by you!” Most of us had poor sanitation facilities anyway, so I suspect most of the boys were smelly and that didn’t seem to be much of an argument against integration. They would also say, “How would you like you sister to marry one!” I figured it was my sister’s business who she married although I would have advised against interracial marriage. Anyway, my sister didn’t "marry one," but her daughter did. He’s a real nice guy and they have a house full of the cutest, smartest kids you’ve every seen!

The result of integration in the south is that white people left the big city schools and sent their children to private, religious, or suburban schools leaving the city schools integrated and mostly black. In the south, white Democratic politicians left the Democratic Party to join the Republican Party leaving the Democratic Party integrated and mostly black. I guess I'm a little bitter about how it all turned out. However, the city I now live in has both integrated schools and integrated neighborhoods and I'm proud that our people seem to get along so well.


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Posted: 5/12/04
Revised and
Re-posted on this site