SUBHEAD: Dallas ISD educator who was on the frontlines of desegregation retires after 51 years of service
Special to The Dallas Examiner
Mary Crossland was among the first group of Black educators on the frontlines of desegregation, who joined the faculty of predominantly White schools in the early 1970s.
Her co-workers celebrated her 51 years of service to Dallas ISD students and her commitment to L.O. Donald Elementary – the campus where she taught for 49 years – during a retirement ceremony in June.
“It is the honor of my career to have been here with you,” said Donald Elm. Principal Kathryn Carter. “I can never thank you enough for all that you have done for children. And all I can say is that we will keep on. We will keep pushing the doors open for you and for children, like you did. And thank you for sharing your stories with us.”
She recently took time to reflect on her early career and her efforts to teach desegregate schools during a turbulent time, and about why she chose to spend the last 49 years at her home campus.
Crossland graduated as valedictorian from her high school in New Boston, Texas.
“In high school, we had teachers who were true visionaries,” she recalled. “Our principal was the TAG teacher, and when I was in ninth grade, I was placed in a room with ninth, 10th and 11th grade students. They began preparing us for what they knew was coming. We didn’t know, but they knew. Therefore, we were exposed to a lot of things that prepared us for the future. When I was only in 10th grade, I was taking advanced mathematics, like trigonometry, and that was unheard of back then. We had a principal and we had teachers who grouped us and taught us everything that they knew we would need when we got to wherever we were going to go.”
Crossland felt her education had prepared her to teach in any situation, but she had no idea what obstacles laid ahead.
“Most of us went on to Prairie View A&M. I had a four-year scholarship there. And when we were in that school, we studied hard and the professors did not play around because they knew what was coming,” she said.
She earned her bachelor’s degree at PVAMU and later returned to earn a master’s in education. After graduating, she moved to Dallas in 1969 to work as a teacher for Dallas ISD, her first and only employer.
“After I got out of school and went to J.N. Ervin, I didn’t really know what was going to be expected, but I knew that I had the ability to do it. I wasn’t afraid of my ability and I really wasn’t afraid of facing children. The only thing that bothered me was that I didn’t know what was to come from the neighborhood. I did find out, and a lot of it was not pleasant, but one thing that stood between us and the neighborhood was the principal.
As Dallas schools were forced to integrate, things often became worse before getting better.
“Right after schools were integrated, I worked for a year and a half at J.N. Ervin Elementary,” Crossland recalled. “Dallas ISD sent eight teachers from predominantly-Black schools to predominantly-White schools during the 1971-1972 school year, and I was one of two from J.N. Ervin who was chosen to go to Donald Elm. We were the first Black teachers to work in that school.”
The young teacher stood steadfast.
“There were unpleasant things that did happen, and most of that came primarily from the community and the parents, and sometimes even the faculty, because to some people we weren’t wanted. But that didn’t deter me at all. I am a person who didn’t give up, and I was put there for a reason,” she revealed.
“I truly believe that I was sent there for a purpose, and I was not going to be driven out. I knew that I had the ability and that my school Prairie View A&M University had prepared me, and I knew that I could do this, and I did do it. I was determined that I was going to stay, and I did.”
Crossland said she was not alone in the struggle.
“The other African American teachers who were transferred to L.O. Donald and I had similar experiences and we stuck together,” she said. “If anyone had any kind of problems, we shared it with one another. And I have to honestly say that we had principals who were in our corner. And when ugly things happened, the principals were there to orchestrate and keep things on an even keel.”
Crossland stayed at L.O. Donald for 49 years. She said when she first started teaching there, she had no idea she would stay so long.
Looking back on her career, she said she enjoyed teaching and knowing that she was in “the very best profession.”
“We are the ones who start with kids who have very little knowledge, and we put all that we have into teaching the children to become astronauts and engineers. And we’re at the very base of what happens in the future. We really mold minds and initiate a path to success. We really do,” she shared.
“You have to love working with children. It takes a special kind of person to say: ‘Yes, I will stay with you until 5 p.m. if necessary for you to learn how to do what it is that you don’t know how to do well.’ It takes a special person to do those kinds of things. You have to love children and you have to love wanting to help them.”
She said the students at the school were always wonderful. She called them well behaved, eager to learn, attentive and polite.
“It’s hard to say goodbye to those that I know are our hope for the future,” she concluded. “By preparing them for what lies ahead, we must instill in them the importance of holding on to their dignity, because the greatest love is inside of them. A glorious day is coming. I’m just thankful that I am witnessing its beginning. Our children will usher it in. To all my brothers and sisters, know this: All that I am and ever hope to be, I owe it all to Him.”