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One of the first Black teachers at a mostly white school recounts her challenges

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's Friday, which is when we hear from StoryCorps. More than 50 years ago, Eunice Wiley became one of the first Black teachers at a mostly white elementary school in a small Florida town. At StoryCorps, she recalled that time.

EUNICE WILEY: My principal at that time - when he found out I was already hired, he was not happy. When I went to introduce myself, he had said to me, I didn't hire you. You don't have a job. And every morning he would come to my room, 8 o'clock. I would be receiving my children. Lunch time, he would be in my room. It could have stopped me. It could have made me bitter. But to me, that's just a challenge.

My first class consisted of 19 boys and one girl. I remember my only little girl came up, and she lifted my dress. She wanted to see my slip because Black people were supposed to be dirty, and she was checking it out. And I went to the older Black teachers in the small town, and they gave me some advice as what to do. Treat them as if they're your own children. Little children do not know the difference. And honestly, they didn't.

You have to first see the child as who that child could be. You have to dream for that child. So I stood at the door and greeted every one so that I knew if - when you were sad. I knew when you needed shoes. I looked at your dress, and I hugged you. I would say to my first-grade kids, let me help you read, and at the end of the day, I stood. I miss you. I'm going to need you tomorrow. Will you come? Please be here. There's no color when you're learning to read. My kids now - that 19 boys and one girl - those men come see me now. They come check on me now.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Eunice Wiley for StoryCorps, who retired as a school principal in 2005. Her interview was recorded in partnership with WGCU in Punta Gorda, Fla., and will be archived at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Max Jungreis

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