As I witnessed this summer’s commemorative 50th anniversary celebrations of major U.S. civil rights events, I was reminded of my personal experiences from those times—and thought in particular of my high school English teacher, Mrs. Ruby Archie.
My city, Danville (VA), was one of the last in the country to fully desegregate its elementary and secondary schools. Before its desegregation, Danville had one high school for White students and another one for Black students. My first day at the consolidated high school is one that I will never forget. My Black classmates and I were met at the entrance of the school by police officers, belts off and buckles down and at the ready, holding dogs tethered to a leash. As our first day progressed and tension remained high, all Black students were sent to the gym and the doors closed behind us. Mrs. Archie forced her way into the gym and made it clear that none of us would remain in that gym without her, our teacher, present. She cared and was willing to risk her employment to protect us.