Sometimes, a Great Teacher

I have heard, today, that my sixth grade teacher died. She was 95 years old. Her name was Justine Davis (sp?). She taught at Crosby-Garfield School in the years before and after desegregation. She also attended the school as a child.

Ask those of us who had her as a teacher, and you will find that we felt blessed to be in her classroom during that first year of busing. She was a small black woman from the the poor, black neighborhood that surrounded the school. We were a roomful of kids from all over town, about 70 percent upper-middle-class and white, about 30 percent poor and black, and probably 100 percent unsettled, at best, by the upheaval in the school system at that time.

She was an excellent academic teacher, but she delivered no content without filtering it through her caring heart. She spent weeks teaching me long division, one-on-one, at a time when class-sizes were likely bigger and teacher assistants were unheard of. Other students have similar stories about her. No one seemed to be neglected, though, of course, it’s hard to know for sure.

Perhaps more important than the individual attention, though, was how she built community among us. She made us feel like we belonged together, despite our varied backgrounds. At a time when everything was about race, she made us feel like race was not nearly as important regard with which we held each other and her. We learned great respect in her class — and long division.

She had many stories to share about her life, and she knew so much about Raleigh. She was also one of the most gracious people I have ever met. I hope my life honors the memory of this woman who ushered us into and safely guided us through the legendary conflict surrounding forced busing.

One of us is a 95-year-old woman who taught the other in sixth grade in 1971. It was the first year of desegregation by forced busing in the Raleigh Public Schools.

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