LA PLEBE DE JOHN SPRING
This is the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education case that determined that racially segregated schools were unconstitutional. Which brings to mind how in the 1950s, the kids of barrios Hollywood, El Rio, Anita, Blue Moon/Adelanto, and Pascua in Tucson got caught up in the racial and political dynamics of the times and became integrators of an all-black school.
These barrios were totally Mexican barrios, with a smattering of white and black families and several Chinese families. Pascua is the Yaqui village. Yaquis are a Mexican tribe, and to the school district they were “Mexicans.” In those days, Chinese-owned stores were in every barrio. The Chinese families lived behind their stores, and their kids went to school with us. They and the other non-Mexicans were considered part of the barrio family.
From 1918 to 1951, Dunbar (named for black poet Paul L. Dunbar) was Tucson’s “black school.” If you were black, Dunbar was the only school you could attend. Even before Brown v. Board of Education, however, Tucson’s Superintendent of Schools Robert Morrow set out to integrate the schools. So, in 1951, the K-9 Dunbar School was converted to John Spring Junior High and “integrated” with kids from barrios Hollywood, El Rio, Anita, Blue Moon/Adelanto, and Pascua. Overnight, then, all-black Dunbar went to all-black-Mexican American-Yaqui-Chinese John Spring.
Now, I’m pretty sure that those who promoted school integration didn’t have in mind a bunch of Mexicans, Yaquis, and Chinese—none of whom society considered “white” and who themselves attended so-called “Mexican” segregated schools—as the integrators of segregated black schools. But there we were, the integrators.
Of course, people from the individual barrios knew people from their particular barrio, but it was at John Spring that the inter-barrio friendships were formed. And, we formed friendships with the black kids who lived in the John Spring area, one of Tucson’s black neighborhoods. John Spring was a feeder school to Tucson High School, where the friendships continued and deepened.
After high school, people got married, went into the military, began building careers and families, etc. Still and all, many of us kept loosely in touch. We’d see each other at the store, in church, at social functions, etc. Some of us worked on community projects or political issues together. Our contact may not have been as frequent as before, but the bonds amongst us were strong. There was a special, unspoken, status to being from the west side, a “John Springer.” And we looked out for each other.
John Springers organized fundraisers for John Spring alumni who had serious medical problems and were faced with heavy medical bills. Fundraisers were also held to help with funeral expenses for the families of other John Springers who passed away.
In 2004, the John Spring Social Club put together a reunion dinner-dance, which was attended by about 300 people. After the John Spring reunion dinner–dance, a small group started meeting for lunch just to socialize and catch up with each other. This group evolved into the group I refer to as “La Plebe (the folk) de John Spring.”
About 20-30 John Spring alumni get together for lunch on a monthly basis, and each month the group seems to get bigger. An annual Christmas dinner-dance is held, and the profits go to fund an annual picnic for La Plebe and their families—this past year a donation from the Christmas dinner-dance was made to El Casino Ballroom Building Fund (the topic of my last blog).
I feel deep pride being amongst La Plebe de John Spring . We represent the entire spectrum of productive citizens: military veterans, construction workers, journalists (two of whom won Pulitzer Prizes), teachers and education administrators, police officers, truck drivers, a nationally known playwright, business owners, university professors, public service employees, unionists, a state senator (the first Yaqui to be elected to the AZ legislature), miners, attorneys, members of the clergy, municipal sanitation workers, utility company workers, a municipal judge, the first elected Yaqui tribal chairman (and a subsequent tribal chairman), a newspaper columnist, landscapers, several PGA golf professionals (including one who qualified for the PGA Tour), clerical workers, a professional baseball player, youth counselors/social workers, and everything in between.
The preceding is only to illustrate the range and caliber of people that make up La Plebe de John Spring. We don’t draw artificial distinctions about who had what job, what titles people held, or who was well known and who wasn’t, etc. When we’re together what matters is that we are all John Springers, old friends who shared an exciting chunk of life and are sharing yet another meaningful slice of life.
Indeed, for having been unwittingly thrown into the racial-politics cauldron of their time, “La Plebe de John Spring” not only survived, we have thrived and have forged friendships that have transcended decades. We’re proof positive that school reunions don’t have to be a weekend affair that occurs every 20 years or so—they can be an on-going adventure. c/s
Note: Ironically, in 1978, John Spring, the first integrated (and voluntarily at that) school in Tucson, was closed as a result of a desegregation lawsuit filed by black and Mexican American parents. The judge ruled that because John Spring was Dunbar, the segregated black school, it contained “vestiges of statutory segregation” and ordered it closed. Members of the black community formed a non-profit organization and purchased Dunbar and are restoring it so it will serve as a Black History Museum.
Photo credits:Thurgood Marshall photo in public domain. Dunbar school photo courtesy of Arizona Historical Society Main Photograph Collection (No. 69672) used with permission. Headline photo fair use. Cover of the 1956 John Spring Junior High Yearbook courtesy of George Leon. El Casino photo courtesy of Arizona Historical Society and used with permission. Luis Gonzales photo in public domain. John Spring Junior High Reunion Program cover courtesy of Silviana Wood.
Copyright 2014 by Sal Baldenegro. To contact Sal Baldenegro write: firstname.lastname@example.org