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Two women share story of school desegregation in St Landry Parish

Posted at 7:44 AM, Jan 20, 2020

Public schools students today may take for granted being able to go to school with other children from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Only 50 years ago, that didn't happen in many Louisiana schools. In St. Landry Parish, schools didn't desegregate until the 1969-70 school year.

Two women who were among the last St. Landry Parish students to graduate from a segregated blacks-only school say the fight for equality helped to change not only their mindsets, but the mindset of the entire African American community.

When Pat Mason-Guillory and Augusta Carmon-Rideau were in school, they never thought about being segregated. It was just the way things were.

"We knew we went to the black school and others went to the white school," Mason-Guillory said. "We had to go to a certain side of the store. We had to do that because we didn't know any other way."

"The doctor's office was segregated," Carmon-Rideau added. "The courthouse, you had one side and the other side."

In the 1960s, change started to happen.

"In the '60s when the change started to come around, we had to understand what was going on," Carmon-Rideau said.

Carmon-Rideau credits her teachers for helping with the adjustment.

"The were constantly telling us there was a change, and you have to learn to change because the world was changing."

Mason-Guillory experienced that change first hand after the teacher gave her class an assignment: Go into a restaurant she and her classmates weren't allowed to enter.

"My civics teacher gave us an assignment to go to the restaurant and go through the front," Mason-Guillory said. "We didn't go through the front. We eased in through the back of the restaurant. We sat at the counter, and when the owner came out and saw us, he said, "What the hell! And some other things. We just took out running."

That moment, Mason-Guillory says, was a teaching moment. On the following Monday, she and her classmates returned to that restaurant. This time, they went with their teacher.

"We left school with him and went to the restaurant in Melville, through the front door this time," Mason-Guillory said.

Carmon-Rideau graduated from Phyllis Wheatley High School in 1965 and pursued a degree in education. Mason-Guillory followed in 1969. For Mason-Guillory, her graduation was bittersweet. She was part of the last graduating class from a segregated high school.

"I don't regret one moment of being educated in an all-black setting," Mason-Guillory said. "We respected our teachers and they taught every subject. Our teachers taught us."

It's been more than 50 years since their high school days. While they've watched decades of change happen around them, both women say there is still a long way to go.

"We need to be the change," Mason-Guillory said. "The change needs to come in us. We need to teach them history and they need to build on that history of segregation."

"Because we don't need to go through the trials and tribulations that we have before," Carmon-Rideau added.

See the full interview with Mason-Guillory and Carmon-Rideau below.