A shy sixth-grader named Vivian Rhodes was one of about 10 students to voluntarily integrate Santa Rosa County Schools in the mid-1960s.
At the urging of her mother, the young girl left the familiar classrooms of T.R. Jackson School and moved to an all-white school.
It wasn’t easy.
“Those times were really hurtful to me,” Rhodes said as she began to cry. After a moment and a few deep breaths, she added, “But I wanted a good education and I got that.”
Her principal and many teachers did what they could, but it didn’t stop eyes from following her every step or students avoiding sitting near her in class.
“You were so isolated,” Rhodes recalled. “I missed being in that circle where I could understand who I was and where I was.”
Sometimes the other students would put signs on her back. Another time a girl tried to jump in front her in line for the bus.
To fit in, Rhodes, who excelled at math and science, sometimes let the white students copy her work. She stopped that at the request of teacher.
The situation remained difficult until her sophomore year, when an entire class of students from T.R. Jackson was brought to Milton High School.
By the next year, student athletes from T.R. Jackson had smoothed the path for everyone.
But 44 years after graduating from Milton and two months after retiring as an aide working with ESE students at Bagdad Elementary School, what happened is still hard to understand.
She’s returning to school now to finish the bachelor’s degree she never obtained as a young woman because she was so uncertain about what she wanted.
“I just introverted into myself. Now I feel I’m just really coming out of it, so I guess that’s why I’m going to back to school,” Rhodes said. “I’m beginning to see what good it did.”