Fran Kinchen recalls her high school alma mater, Wilson High School, was a safe place. One of the two all-black schools in Tift County prior to desegregation, the schools were loved by their students.
"We learned, we had fun," she said. "There weren't any bad times that I can remember." She added that students frequently won awards and scholarships for academic achievements, and recognition in district and state competitions. The school's football team, the Tigers, was led to victory by Arthur Mott, and there was also an active PTA, and band and booster clubs.
When the option to move to the white schools became available, Kinchen said a few students in 1968 decided to move to Tift County High School…then a few more in 1969. And in 1970, "that was our last class," she said.
Kinchen chose to stay at Wilson.
"It was scary. It was the fear of not knowing how we would be received," she said. "We had been segregated all of our lives and it was all we had ever known."
Students weren't the only ones who were afraid. Kinchen said parents were also fearful.
But beyond the fear was a love for their school. Kinchen said this dedication to their school was the biggest motivation to stay. There was little the white school could offer them that they didn't already have.
"I remember the books," she said. "They had new books. We used to get all their old books with the pages torn out."
Overall, Kinchen recalled, there were very few problems when the schools combined. But she also remembers during that time, "I don't recall having a white friend." The town and all of the activities were divided by the railroad tracks, and she lived on the south side of those tracks.