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Fifteen Red Roses shares stories Pike’s school integration

Author Ann Yearwood of Concord is promoting her newest book, Fifteen Red Roses: The Challenge of Public School Race Relations in Rural Georgia, which is based on her experience as a teacher at Pike County High School from 1962 to 1977 – the 15 years referenced by the title. Proceeds from sales of the book will go toward the Geneva Woods / Ann Yearwood Scholarship to be presented to PCHS seniors. Geneva Woods was a black teacher who taught students at PCHS during the first years of integration. She helped black members of the Class of 1969 receive their diplomas last year, nearly 50 years after the students were not allowed to graduate for boycotting when their principal’s contract was not renewed at Pike County Consolidated High School in Concord. ’I wanted to write this book because I felt a lot of people needed credit for keeping the public schools open during these years,’ said Yearwood. ‘I wrote the book to show that many people obeyed the rules but they did it at great personal sacrifice. The superintendent, teachers and students were all trying to keep the schools open. It was primarily the students who maintained order, who did what we told them to do and who were interested in being kind and good to each other. The vast majority of the students I saw were helpful and tried to keep order and prevent disorder in the classes. Those students will know who they are in the book and most of the teachers from that time will know who they are and will remember what they did when they read the book.’ Yearwood kept journals and researched old newspaper articles as well as sending out questionnaires to students, parents and teachers from that time. She changed all the names and locations to protect the identities of all involved and says the book could be about any of hundreds of small rural school systems as they underwent racial integration. Although the U.S. Supreme Court declared state laws establishing separate schools for blacks and whites to be unconstitutional through the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, many school districts in Georgia did not integrate black and white students until the early 1970s. Pike County schools integrated in 1969 due to a court ruling. The Concord Consolidated High School – which was for black students prior to integration – had a black principal whose contract did not get renewed. Students and teachers were upset and boycotted with many students just not attending school and others marching to the superintendent’s office in Zebulon. ’At the time, Pike County had really become a staging area for the Civil Rights Movement with news stations covering the marches and boycotts,’ said Yearwood. ‘In 1968, the court ruled that Pike’s schools must integrate in 1969 because of boycotts and school disruptions and everything else that was going on in the county.’ Prior to the court ordered integration, all white students went to school in Zebulon and black students attended school in both Concord and Zebulon. School boycotts began in Zebulon and Concord and spread from black schools to marches on the white schools. In 1968, the court ordered integration of all schools by the fall of 1969. After that, students in grades designated as high school went to Pike County High in Zebulon. Students in grades designated as junior high went to Pike County Junior High in Concord. Elementary students went to the new school in Zebulon. Primary students went to the former black elementary school in Zebulon. Most students got on the bus as usual, but were transported to a new school. Some students had to transfer bus to bus.  ’The book is organized by each year and I think it is timely because of the social changes during that time,’ she said. ‘This story may be similar to what other schools have faced with the exception of the court order that kept the school system from having time to adequately plan for the integration.’ Yearwood taught school for 28 years in Pike and Upson counties, briefly at two private schools, one semester at Gordon State and she also taught seven years of church-based ESL classes in Griffin after she retired. She has been a writer since she was young and was first published as a college student. ’I’ve written all my life,’ she said. ‘I never stood before a group of students without notes. I’ve rewritten text books to meet my needs. I’ve been writing since my college years and I was first published when my professor encouraged me to submit an essay that went into the college news magazine in 1952 at North Georgia College, now University of North Georgia.’ Yearwood also wrote Redbird Farm: Growing up in rural Georgia. ’My first venture into writing a book was called Redbird Farm and that’s my home place and we live on Redbird Farm,’ she said. ‘My husband and I raised four children there and two of our children are still in the county. We also have grandchildren who live here in Pike as well.’ Books may be purchased at A Novel Experience, Amazon, Barnes and Noble or from the author or as an E book. Ann Yearwood has a Facebook page, an author page on Facebook, and soon to be finished, a website.

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