Production Team: A
Interview Date: October 26, 1985
Camera Rolls: 110-111
Sound Rolls: 1105
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Leola Montgomery, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on October 26, 1985, for Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years (1954-1965). Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.
[This is an interview with Mrs. Montgomery]
I WANT TO ASK YOU, FOR OUR FIRST QUESTION, THE SAME QUESTION I WAS ASKING LINDA, WHICH IS UH, TOPEKA SEEMED LIKE, AT THE TIME, A FAIRLY UNUSUAL PLACE FOR THIS KIND OF A LAWSUIT. UM, THE SCHOOLS, AT THE HIGH SCHOOL, AND JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL LEVEL WERE INTEGRATED, THERE WERE INTEGRATED NEIGHBORHOODS, IT WAS A FAIRLY QUIET NEIGHBORHOOD. CAN YOU TELL US SOMETHING IN YOUR OWN WORDS ABOUT WHAT TOPEKA WAS LIKE AT THAT TIME?
Well, Topeka was a quiet place, but it was a segregated place. A very segregated place. And uh, I mean, there was segregation in the uh hotels, and in the eating places.
AGAIN, IF YOU COULD TELL US IN YOUR OWN WORDS, WHAT TOPEKA WAS LIKE AT THIS TIME. IT WAS AN UNUSUAL PLACE FOR THIS KIND OF LAWSUIT. THERE WERE UM INTEGRATED SCHOOLS, CERTAIN INTEGRATED NEIGHBORHOODS, WHAT WAS IT LIKE?
There were integrated neighborhoods, and integrated schools but uh… There were integrated schools, and integrated neighborhoods, but yet it was a very segregated city. The uh, we had the blacks There were integrated schools, integrated neighborhoods, but uh, there still was a lot of segregation in Topeka. The blacks had their own places to go, the whites had their own places to go. So in one respect, we really weren't integrated, as we should have been. But there was integration in the junior high school, and the high school, and had been all during the time. But it was just at the elementary level that uh, they were not integrated. And, of course, we had quality schools, but then, uh, it wasn't a matter of being a quality school, it was a matter of having to go so far, to school, when there was a school in our neighborhood, four blocks away.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE FOR US THE, THE WALK THAT YOUR DAUGHTER HAD TO TAKE, AND YOUR CONCERNS AND YOUR HUSBAND'S CONCERNS ABOUT THAT?
She had to go five blocks, up the railroad yard, in fact, she had to cross one busy Street, and then go through the railroad yard, and then cross the busy Kansas Avenue, that was a main thoroughfare, and stand on the corner and wait for the school bus, which was very traumatic for a small child.
WAS THE RAILROAD YARD DANGEROUS?
Yes, it was, because it switched—it was a switch headquarters, or headquarters where they switched the trains—uh cars back and forth, you know, where they'd have an engine, and they'd cut them loose and switch them, you know, so, anything could happen at any given time, if you weren't very careful.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE FOR US YOUR, YOUR HUSBAND? WHAT WAS HE LIKE, AND UM, WHAT WAS IT THAT YOU AND YOUR HUSBAND WANTED UM, TO ACHIEVE BY BRINGING THE LAWSUIT?
My husband was a very strong, dedicated man. And he was always on the lookout for something he could do to help his people. And uh having uh gone into the ministry, I think that was really the turning point, that made him really want to branch out, into the deep water, to help his people more. And then going into the NAACP, he was a very strong member in the NAACP at the time. And um, the NAACP got behind these parents, and asked them to go to these different schools, to try to enroll their children, which they did. And the outcome was that they couldn't uh enroll them. They went back to the NAACP, and consequently, the case was started against the school board.
[On Camera Roll 110, Mrs. Montgomery, we are 100 feet in… 300 feet in. 100 feet left]
I WANT TO FOLLOW UP ON SOMETHING YOU WERE JUST TELLING ME UM
After having gone over to the school to enroll Linda, and then they came home, and he was very much upset, and he said to me that uh they wouldn't me enroll Linda at Sumner Grade School, and said that it wasn't the policy — it wasn't the principal, but it was the policy of the school board, that blacks go to separate but equal schools. He says, but I can't uh go along with that, he says, it's just pointless to have a school in your neighborhood, and not being able to attend. So we pay taxes, just like everybody else, on these schools. So he says, I'm going to see if we can't get something done about it. And that's when he went back to the NAACP, and reported, and they decided to start the case against the school board.
WAS HE UPSET THAT NIGHT?
Yes, he was very much upset. Mmhmmm, yes, he was very much upset.
WHAT WAS THE BLACK SCHOOL LIKE?
The black school was a very good school. We don't have any uh qualms about our schools. They were very good schools, we had quality teachers, the children did get quality educations if they did have the second-hand books, so to speak, because some of the books that they got were handed down from the white schools. But they had quality education. The teachers were very much concerned about the students, their education, and seeing that they got a quality education. So we had very, very good black schools. And when the children came out, they were well learned. They were ready to be integrated into the junior high school with the white children.
WHAT WAS THE RANGE OF REACTION IN THE BLACK COMMUNITY TO, TO WHAT YOU AND YOUR HUSBAND WERE DOING WITH THE NAACP?
We had no uh, feedback.
[k, that was a rollout in the interview with Mrs. Montgomery. This will be Camera Roll 111, Still Sound 1104. [overlap]Continuation of interview with Mrs. Montgomery]
CAN YOU TELL US AGAIN ABOUT THE RANGE OF REACTION IN THE BLACK COMMUNITY TO WHAT YOU AND YOUR HUSBAND WERE DOING WITH THE NAACP IN THE SUIT?
We really didn't have any adverse reaction. Everybody seemed to be for it, except one woman. There was one woman uh that said, well, why do you want to do that? Aren't you pleased with what we already have? Why do you want your children to be going to school with the white children, you know. And we tried to explain that it wasn't that. But it was that uh, just uh the thought of her having to go so far, when there was a school in our neighborhood, you know. And she should be able to go to it, as we were taxpayers, as well as anyone else, you know. It wasn't that we just wanted to be uh with someone else, you know.
THE LOWER COURTS DECIDED THAT THE SCHOOLS, THE BLACK SCHOOL, AND THE WHITE SCHOOLS, WERE BOTH EQUAL. WHAT WAS YOUR OPINION ABOUT THAT? WOULD YOU HAVE AGREED WITH THAT AT THE TIME?
Well, so far as education was concerned, I would say that we were getting a quality education. It might not have been on the same level, as the other, the white children were—not quite as good an education as they were getting. But uh, they just, in that respect, I don't think they were equal. So that was one reason that we wanted to pursue it to a higher court.
FINALLY, CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS, UH, AND YOUR HUSBAND'S FEELINGS, WHEN UH YOU HEARD THAT THE SUPREME COURT HAD UH, UPHELD YOUR CASE?
Oh my, I tell you, when I heard it on the radio that day, I was home alone, and I was just almost shouting myself. I was just overjoyed, you know. And I got on the phone and called my mother, and I told her about it, and I think we both were in tears, when we were talking about it. And I could not wait until my family got home that evening. First the children came, and I told them, and they were just real happy. We all were happy. And then when my husband came in, and I told him, oh, we just had a hallelujah time. And he said a special prayer, as I said, he was a minister, and uh it was just, just, we had, something that we just couldn't uh…
I'M SORRY I'M GOING TO HAVE TO REMIND YOU TO TALK TO THE LITTLE BUTTON AND TRY TO AVOID LOOKING OUT THE WINDOW IF YOU COULD.
Alright. We were so, uh, caught up with emotions. There were tears of joy, we just had a very good time that night. And we called everybody we could, to relate—relay the news to them. When I was home that day, alone, and when I heard the news that the decision had been handed down in our favor, and I was just overjoyed. I was just so happy, I, the first thing I did was to call my mother. And she and I were both were, I think were in tears, when we were talking about it. And I could hardly wait until my family came home that evening. First the children got home, and I told them. And they were very, very pleased, as I was. And then when my husband came, oh, we were all very much elated. And he said a special prayer, he was so happy about it. Thanks be to God that this had been—had happened, that something was going to be done for his people, at last.
…OK, THANK YOU.
[Ok, that was 25 seconds of room tone, and this is the end of the interview with Mrs. Montgomery.]