Greenville saw boycott in #8216;65

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Many have read about or seen the images on television telling of the civil rights struggle in the South – the Birmingham church bombing, the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Selma-Montgomery March.

However, there are many that may not know a boycott was held right here in Greenville during the turbulent 1960s.

Greenville resident Shirley Barganier, who remembers the event, has kept a newspaper account of the event for more than 50 years.

On the front page of the Montgomery-based newspaper, &#8220The Southern Courier”, dated October 3 and 4, 1965, the headline reads: &#8220Negroes Boycott Training School.”

According to the article, approximately 20 of the students at Greenville Training School (the city's black high school prior to segregation) had walked out on their classes, declaring the situation at the school &#8220just ain't right.”

The students complained the school facilities, teacher training, books and equipment offered to the city's black students were all inadequate.

The boycotting group, led by R.B. Cottonreader, made a list of demands to the county school board. Among their demands were the appointment of two blacks to the school board, a safety officer, bandmaster and a full-time janitor. They also requested open registration within 30 days in the city's white schools.

While the school board said the school had &#8220the best physical facilities” with its 20 teachers fully adequate to teach 497 enrolled students, some of the training school students interviewed had a very different view.

Student Margaret Fountain said, &#8220You just learn two things here, how to pick cotton and clean up after white folks' babies.”

Another student said, &#8220You can't learn anything because the teachers don't care.”

One of the boycotting students added, &#8220White kids have a head start because their parents might go and buy them a chemistry set while our parents wouldn't know what to do with one.”

On September 23, 15 boycotting students crossed a newly erected barricade at the entrance to the campus, singing freedom songs and encouraging a few more students to walk out and join them.

They were met with law enforcement officers carrying billy clubs when they blocked the gateway to where the school buses parked.

Two carloads of police officers came, along with the city's fire engine, but no violence was reported in the &#8220Courier” article.

Cottonreader was quoted as saying, &#8220The Greenville Training School boycott will end when we are educated enough to be clerks in banks and to work in the telephone company.”

It would, of course, be another five years before integration took place in Butler County.

&#8220I was a student at the school in those days. I think, with this being Black History Month, it would be a good time to recall things going on here in town,” Barganier said.

&#8220You have to look back at where you have come from.”