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A school of love and hope

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By Brad Bowman

Florance Davis wants people to remember that her school was one of hope and love.

The Merriweather and King Street School Fund preserves the hope and honors the history of the school in the form of an annual scholarship.

Together they send a message of compassion and an optimistic future.

Davis went to the all-black Merriweather and King Street School from the first through eighth grades. She graduated in 1964. Her older sister had gone to Eminence High School, the integrated white school, before her. She was nervous.

“I remember they came and told us we had a choice of Lincoln Heights (in Shelby County) or Eminence,” Davis said. “I wanted to go to a school in my hometown. My parents didn’t have any way to get me to Lincoln. So many had gone before me and it was reassuring. King Street (the school) was my security blanket and I knew I wouldn’t have it anymore.”

Memories

Davis remembers at King Street School all the girls wore dresses or skirts and the boys dress shirts. The girls weren’t allowed to wear pants. The teachers stayed on their pupils not just for disciplinary reasons, but because they wanted their students to succeed.

“The bell would ring in the morning and everyone went to their classroom,” Davis said. “The first grade to the fourth or fifth you were in a big room and the classrooms were sectioned off by curtains. You knew to be quiet. Eminence was such a small town. I had the fear if I did something wrong it would be beat me back home and I would get a whipping.”

Davis said the upper classrooms had their own doors and were across from each other down a hallway.

The children would play in the schoolyard until the morning bell rang, when students would quietly go into their classrooms. The day would start with the Pledge of Allegiance. Someone said a prayer and the teacher would start the lessons for the day.

“Nannie Mae Armstrong taught me and all of our class to say the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. She made us go over it until we knew it by heart,” said Davis. “Bill Smith was our principal. He also taught us arithmetic.  He made sure we learned everything in the eighth grade before we went to the white school. Most of the teachers went out of their way to keep on us because they wanted more for us.”

Davis said the teachers took their time with the students unlike today when teachers have more students but less time.

“We loved our teachers. It was our home away from home,” Davis said. “They didn’t just pass you on to the next grade though. You had to learn. They were well respected and in turn they respected us.”

The students would eat lunch at their desks or outside at the playground, as they didn’t have a cafeteria. The school had a stage and at least once a month hosted talent night.

“You could dress up if you wanted in whatever,” Davis said. “One of the acts I remember is my cousin and I sang the song ’Money.’ We sang and danced. Another cousin of mine did a church song and she was the winner. It didn’t bother anyone if they didn’t win because you got to get up on stage and you did your thing.”

Davis remembers music teacher Mattie Davis helping the students learn and perform Christmas songs. The special event was the maypole in the spring.

“The maypole was one of our big days. We would take turns with the Lincoln School and King Street,” Davis said. “They would come to our school and one year we would go to theirs.”

The upper class ladies would wrap brightly colored ribbons around the maypole Davis said. The students ended the school year this way and the school would close until the fall.

High School Integration

When Davis started at Eminence High School, she was scared. Teachers at King Street instilled hope in her and of her fellow students, Davis said. Hope kept her looking and waiting for the next big thing to happen.

“The white kids were nice to us. The prejudice was maybe in the parents but not the kids,” Davis said. “The kids I went to school with like Skip Berry were very nice to me. There were a couple of teachers there like Mr. Barrick. He was the basketball coach and a history teacher. He would come to me and tell me if I needed anything I could go to him.”

Davis tried out her first year for cheerleading and didn’t make it. Another teacher told her not to give up.

“Mrs. Martha Tarry she convinced me to try out again. She made you feel really relaxed around her,” Davis said. “I tried out again the following year and I became Eminence’s first black varsity cheerleader.”

Davis would’ve never dreamed she would make it that far.

“I never would’ve thought I would become a cheerleader at Eminence High School,” Davis said. “We didn’t have ballgames where you could cheer for a team (at the King Street School). It came from the hope I got at King Street. It was the hope that I could become whatever I wanted. That hope makes you look for things in life and do all you can do.”

Fundraiser

Margaret Beaumont, project chairwoman for the Merriweather King Street School Fund, a nonprofit 501c3 organization, wants to continue that hope.

“We will be having the Maypole Banquet April 13th to help raise money for the scholarship,” Beaumont said. “It is for anyone from a depressed rural area of Kentucky with a GED or high school diploma that wants to continue their education through a technical school or an accredited university.”

Beaumont said there will be dinner and live entertainment at the event.

“I remember watching the girls do the maypole celebration and this year’s event, The Maypole Banquet, is named that for that reason,” Beaumont said. “This year I wanted to do something different than what people had done in the past. The banquet will honor the history of Merriweather/King Street and I want to make it as nice and comfortable for the older alumni of the school where everyone can enjoy the fellowship.”

Reflection

Young teenagers don’t have compassion and neighborhood fellowship, according to Davis and that is what they are missing.

“We are missing the compassion of the whole neighborhood,” Davis said. “The whole neighborhood raised us. If I went from home to West Owen Street and I did something that wasn’t pleasing it beat me back home. My parents didn’t say, ‘My daughter didn’t do it,’ they had a switch waiting for me when I got home. We have so many people turning their heads from what a child does today.  People cared about the children all over Eminence even if they weren’t blood-related family and watched over them.”

Learning at an early age that people cared made Davis more mindful as a student and individual.

“My grandkids are growing up without compassion; it’s important for kids to know someone cares about them and their future,” Davis said. “King Street was a school of love and hope. This town and school was about giving everyone a smile. Nowadays all you see is frowns. If you don’t put that hope in kids they don’t have anything.”

For more information about the banquet or making a donation contact Margaret Beaumont at (502) 845-7574.

For more information including the history, pictures and charity information visit the organization at: www.merriandkingstreetschoolfund.webs.com.