The Rev. James Seawood, who grew up in tiny Sheridan, Ark., recalls what it was like when schools were segregated.
The Rev. James Seawood, who grew up in tiny Sheridan, Ark., recalls what it was like when schools were segregated. StoryCorps
In the mid-1950s, the main employer and landlord in Sheridan, Ark., was a lumber mill. Faced with the prospect of integration, it began forcing black families out of town.
But the small African-American schoolhouse remained. That's where the Rev. James Seawood went to school.
"As a child, I would climb up on the lumber stack and look over at the white school," Seawood says. It was a "huge school with a band, football team, everything that you could imagine. And on our side, here we were with our two-room school, outdoor toilets and two teachers."
As the black population gradually left town, Seawood says his mother became the school's principal, janitor and "whatever was needed."
"She had to do everything," he recalls. "As long as there was one black child left in town, they had to keep the school open. ... Mother was there until the last child, the last family was forced out of town."
Then one day, the town tore down the black school. Seawood and his mother went into the school to get records and whatever else they could find, and piled them in the family station wagon.
"Then a big bulldozer came and dug a deep hole, and after digging this deep hole, just pushed our beloved school in the hole and covered it up," Seawood says. "And it was as though it was never there."
Years later, when he was in graduate school, Seawood says he had a "particular perspective" about urban renewal when it was discussed in his classes.
"To me, urban renewal meant that they'll dig a deep hole and push your school, cover it up, and it will be like the school never existed. Or you never existed," Seawood says.
"I'll never forget those days. Even today, the town of Sheridan, Ark., is an all-white town. And if you ever have an opportunity to go through that town, drive very slowly."
Produced for Morning Edition by Katie Simon. The Senior Producer for StoryCorps is Michael Garofalo.