The Great Migration and Brockton High School

By Mike Flanagan

In 1970, the city of Brockton constructed a new high school due to the growing
population of its students, as well as the overcrowding of the old high school. This
allowed students of different races to be integrated at a large complex with enough
space for them all to learn comfortably or so they thought.

The schools in Brockton were always integrated and so were things such as restrooms and busses. But according to some Brockton residents, there were still issues Robert Howard, 66, an African American originally from Jackson, Mississippi, migrated to Brockton in 1965 at the age of 17. When Howard moved to Brockton from Jackson, Mississippi, the biggest difference he noticed was the non-segregation of whites and blacks.

“Growing up in the south, we sort of knew our place, everything was either white, or black, and unless you crossed that line there were no issues,” said Howard.

Even though Brockton as a whole was not a segregated community, most of the
neighborhoods and areas of the city were racially defined, and many of the students began going to school with such a diverse group of people for the first time when they reached high school. An already largely populated city (approximately 93,810 according to the 2010 United States Census), grew more in the 1950s, and this had a great impact on the city’s school system.

“But up here, people of all races had access to pretty much anything. And sometimes, someone would step out of line and act like they should receive better or quicker treatment or something because they were white. I’ve been told a ton of stories of this happening at Brockton High.”
The influx of African Americans from the South affected athletics at Brockton High, Howard said.

“I was never much of a football guy, but I went to all the Brockton basketball games,” he said.

“I believe that the big addition of so many minorites and people of color to the school may have caused what many call the private school affect.”

“A lot of parents started sending their kids to private schools, and even though Brockton already had a ton of kids to choose from for their athletic teams, we started to see a lot of kids going to private schools to play basketball instead of going to Brockton, and if that didn’t happen then who knows how good they could have been on the court,” Howard said.

Joyce E. Barber, a teacher at Brockton high from 1973 to 1991 said she dealt with a lot of issues with racism at the school as an African American teacher.

Joyce was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts in 1946, but moved to Tennessee where she was raised until she was in middle school. Her family moved back to Weymouth in the late 1950s where she attended and graduated from Weymouth High School. Joyce would later become an educator in home economics, and thrived at one of the largest high schools in the country, with approximately 4,100 students according to the 2010 United States' census.

“Out of 400 faculty at Brockton high, only eight of us were black,” said Barber.

“Many of the teachers simply were not used to dealing with such a large and diverse group of students, and this caused some issues.”

While there were never any large race riots, Barber said she witnessed many minor incidents of racism during her tenure at Brockton High.

“One day myself and another white teacher were on supervision duty in the cafeteria. A fight broke out between two black students and the white teacher tried breaking it up,” said Barber.

“But other teacher was struck in the face. He then grabbed the black student by the shirt and called him a dirty nigger, it was awful."
While Brockton High School has had its bad share of racist moments, Barber always remained strong and never let it put her down.

“At the end of the day, nothing anybody says to me because of the color of my skin hurts me. Its all about the type of blood you have, not the skin color you have.”

Many of the students at Brockton High were going to school with other races for the first time when they came into the ninth grade.

“When students first entered the doors of Brockton High, it was likely that they had never been in such a largely mixed and diverse crowd because all the middle schools in Brockton are separated by areas of the city, and those areas are pretty racially defined,” she said.

“Brockton High is a special place,” said Barber.

“People forget that it was not just Brockton that had issues with racism in their public school system, there were so many schools in Massachusetts and all over the country that dealt with similar issues during the fifties, sixties, and seventies,” she said.

Barber enjoyed her time at Brockton as ateacher, saying that even though it was tough at times, that the Great Migration ended up bettering the school in the long run.

“The new mix of African-American students added a lot of diversity to our school,” said Barber.

“Brockton went from a city mainly dominated by Italians and Irishmen to a city of all different races and colors. It made our sports teams stronger, our class sizes larger, and kids of all different races were receiving the same education. I am proud that I was apart of it all.”

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