For Civil Rights Pioneer, a Life of Quiet Struggle
There are plenty of days when Josephine Boyd Bradley questions whether what she went through 47 years ago ended up meaning very much at all. That may be the hardest part.
On Sept. 4, 1957, wearing a prim brown dress with a stiff white collar, 17-year-old Josephine Ophelia Boyd took what seemed an endless walk toward the arched entryway of Greensboro Senior High School.
Her mother, Cora Lee Boyd, six months’ pregnant, accompanied her as far as the door, squeezed her hand, and then left her, alone.
Neither of them was fully prepared for the hatred. “Nigger go home!” screamed the students and rabble-rousers lining the sidewalk. “We don’t want you here! Go back to where you came from!” A white woman held a German shepherd on a tight leash.
Such was the welcome to her senior year.
Over the next nine months, the daily jeers were backed up by a fusillade of snowballs and eggs, hurled at a target who stood 4 feet 11 and weighed 102 pounds. In the cafeteria, boys spat in her food and squirted ketchup in her lap. Tacks were placed on her seat, and ink spilled on her books.
In phone calls to her house, Klansmen cursed her for scorning the will of God. The tires on the family car were punctured; two pet dogs were killed in the night. Her mother lost her job as a housekeeper. Her father’s sandwich shop mysteriously burned to the ground. It was the only time she ever saw him cry.
Fifty years ago, on May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs. Board of Education that separate schools were inherently unequal. The decision signaled the death of legalized segregation and forced open the schoolhouse doors.
It was left to students like Josephine to cross the threshold.
“Most of us had no idea what we were getting into,” said Bradley, now 64 and a college professor in Atlanta. “And none of us would ever be the same.”
In her case, the effects -- for good and ill -- have lasted a lifetime.
Entering Greensboro High as the only black person among 1,950 students, Josephine became the first to enroll at an all-white high school in the country’s most defiantly segregated swath of states, from Louisiana to Virginia. Yet, her senior year is little noted in Greensboro, and certainly not elsewhere.
Despite the centrality of education to the civil rights movement, the thousands of young foot soldiers who desegregated their schools have received glancing mention in the history books.
They were children, after all, not the preachers and lawyers and organizers who imbued the movement with such outsized personality. Many were pawns of parents and community leaders who put children at risk for the cause. Much of their suffering was hidden behind school walls. Only in cases of violence or constitutional crisis did they lose their anonymity.
Greensboro was not Little Rock, Ark., where in the same week that Josephine started classes National Guardsmen blocked the enrollment of nine black students at Central High. The Little Rock Nine became national icons when they started school three weeks later under the protection of federal troops.
That same month, in Nashville, dynamite wrecked an elementary school the day after it desegregated. In Birmingham, Ala., a white mob chain-whipped a prominent civil rights leader, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, and stabbed his wife as they tried to enroll their children.
The image-conscious leaders of this textile town, with 120,000 residents at the time, devised a strategy to avoid such trouble.
In secret meetings, school board officials from Greensboro, Charlotte and Winston-Salem plotted to desegregate simultaneously in 1957 to diffuse the focus of resistance. But the cities agreed to desegregate in only the most token way, just enough to construct a defense against any post-Brown litigation.
That first year, a total of 11 black students attended previously white schools in North Carolina. After Josephine’s graduation -- with honors -- in June 1958, the flow of black students to white schools in Greensboro was little more than a trickle. Not until 1964 did another black student enroll at Greensboro High. And the city did not truly desegregate until 1971, when a federal court order led to cross-town busing that forced half of the 32,000 students to change schools.
Bradley wrote a dissertation about her experience to earn her doctorate in liberal arts from Emory University in 1995. In her self-analysis, her year at Greensboro High left her an altered woman: less assertive, more cautious, and slower to anger, even when anger was justified. She picks battles carefully, and only after weighing the personal cost against the principle at stake.
Like others who did what she did, Bradley developed a tendency to see the world through race-colored glasses. But she and her family members said the experience left no racial chip on her shoulder. She raised her children to judge people by their character and not to use race as a crutch.
“There is no hatred there, I can honestly say that,” said Mark F. Gray, a nephew whom Bradley raised as a son. “She understands there are certain things that have kept black folks from reaching their goals, but the burden of overcoming them is up to you.”
What disillusions Bradley today is the state of education for those who followed her, including her children and her students. She cannot help but feel that her sacrifice was largely inconsequential.
Of course, she knows there has been progress. The number of black Americans with at least a high school degree is 10 times what it was in 1957. The proportion of blacks 25 and older with four years of college rose from 2% in 1952 to 17% in 2002 (compared with 29% for whites), Census Bureau figures show.
But almost everywhere, including Greensboro, schools have started to resegregate.
Blacks and whites only occasionally share the same classrooms and challenges, and social segregation remains deeply entrenched. At the former Greensboro High, now known as Grimsley, blacks eat in the cafeteria; whites congregate outside.
To Bradley’s thinking, America’s dual education system endures, only without the passion for learning and devotion to dignity provided by black teachers and parents during the days of Jim Crow. The schools today, though not legally segregated, are hopelessly ghettoized, she said.
“I don’t see that the masses of black kids have benefited at all,” Bradley said, “and that to me is really very discouraging. Because what I did was not done for the elites. And many black kids are still in the same place they were when this whole thing started. So, on many days, I just ask myself why. But even after 50 years, we have to acknowledge that the intent of Brown has not been met.”
Growing Up in Sugar Town
In 1954, 93% of black Greensboro residents lived in the city’s southeast corner, which was home to its only black high school, James B. Dudley. The Boyd family, however, lived in Sugar Town, a black enclave northwest of downtown where Josephine’s maternal great-great-grandfather, reputedly so light-skinned he could pass for white, procured a tract of farmland in 1864.
Josephine’s school days began with a 45-minute bus trip that took her past Greensboro High on the way to Dudley, more than twice as far from her home.
Her mother cooked and cleaned for white families; her father, Robert, farmed and worked food service jobs, one of them making Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Josephine was the first of seven children.
Robert Boyd, who died in 1978, could barely read or write. But Cora Boyd had completed two years of college and she taught her children that education was the key to a better life.
Cora Boyd had not been a civil rights activist in the conventional sense. But she was a member of the NAACP, participated in integrated programs at the YWCA, and helped lead the PTA at her children’s schools. She was a strong-willed, quick-witted matriarch who did not take racial slights in stride. When a lunch counter clerk once informed her that “We don’t serve niggers,” she replied that it was OK, because she didn’t eat them.
Like other black parents, the Boyds did their best to shield their children from humiliation. Before any trip, they made sure everyone used the restroom so they would not have to seek out a “colored” one on the road. Because blacks often were not allowed to try on shoes at department stores, they traced their children’s feet on brown paper and took the sketches to be sized, leaving the children at home.
But no black girl could misunderstand her place in the South of the 1940s and 1950s. For Josephine, the point was driven home the night she watched through a bedroom window as a white police officer beat her father bloody in his own yard after a driving offense.
“I began to understand the differences between black people and white people,” Bradley recalled. “I recognized, whether I understood or not, that my parents, my grandfather, my other relatives, even myself, were vulnerable to the whims of whites, especially white males.”
Josephine’s friends and family members remember her as introverted and bookish, yet also inquisitive, headstrong and intensely determined. Petite, with a raspy squeak of a voice, she had inherited her mother’s “smart mouth.”
But by the time she got to Greensboro High she had learned to suppress an occasionally wicked temper. And she had developed confidence and poise through school radio broadcasts and oratorical contests, including several model U.N. competitions where she took satisfaction from outperforming white students.
Josephine and her black junior high classmates did not initially take the Brown decision seriously. “I thought it was a big joke,” she said. “We talked about it in our social studies class and I just never thought anything would come of it.”
For several years, not much did.
The home of five colleges, two of them black, Greensboro had a reputation for racial civility. It had elected its first black city council member in 1951, 14 years before the Voting Rights Act gave minorities a full political voice. The first black school board member was appointed in 1953.
On the day of the Brown ruling, Greensboro’s school superintendent, Benjamin L. Smith, said it would be unthinkable not to comply. But the state government had other designs. In early 1955, the General Assembly asserted in a resolution that the mixing of the races in public schools “cannot be accomplished and should not be attempted.”
The next year, North Carolinians overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment giving local districts the authority to close public schools if they could not stomach desegregation and enabling white students to receive state tuition aid for private academies.
Against that backdrop, civil rights organizations began looking for cases to test the meaning of Brown. In many cities, that job fell to the NAACP. In Greensboro, the role was filled by the American Friends Service Committee, the Quaker social justice organization.
In spring 1957, AFSC worker Charles E. Davis began searching for black students in Greensboro who lived near a white school and who had the intellect and temperament to be pioneers. A talk with Dudley principal John Tarpley yielded Josephine’s name. “The information that came to us was that she was studious, had top grades in her class, and that there was a consistent display of character,” said Davis, now 88 and still in Greensboro.
Tarpley called Josephine to his office to discuss the possibility. She was skeptical but agreed to talk it over with her family. She had always been curious about what was so sacred about Greensboro High. And a part of her felt she had something to prove.
To hear 83-year-old Cora Boyd tell it, the family discussion centered on the logistics of Josephine’s commute to school. But the broader context was not ignored. It had always stuck in her craw that white people stacked the educational deck against blacks, and then acted as if they were superior. The Brown decision had established their rights. Someone needed to exert them.
“We talked about that it would open the doors,” Boyd said. “And it would prove that we were not as dumb as they thought we were.”
Davis warned the family it would not be easy. But neither he nor they really knew what to expect. No one had done this before.
Boyd recalled that she left the decision to her daughter. “I just told her if she thought she could make it, go ahead and try, I would support her,” she said. “And I tried to explain to her that if she started it, it was something she couldn’t just drop out of.”
To Bradley, it is just like her mother to play down her own role. In Bradley’s view, her parents were the instigators, and she only went along. “Truthfully, I didn’t believe it was going to happen until it happened,” she said. “Because I think if I had really sat down and thought it out, I would not have done it. Then I had gotten into it, and I couldn’t get out.”
On June 5, 1957, Boyd applied to the Greensboro school board to reassign her daughter to Greensboro High. The application included three typed paragraphs arguing that, in light of the Brown decision, race could not be a rationale for making a child travel an unnecessary distance to school.
The meeting of the Greensboro school board a month later drew such a crowd that some had to listen from outside through open windows. Many cheered as a local segregationist warned that the board would be “vilified, condemned and cursed” if it voted for even token desegregation.
The board approved the transfers of six black students, two in elementary school, three in junior high, and Josephine. The boards in Charlotte and Winston-Salem voted the same night.
Boyd heard the report the next morning on television and roused her daughter from a deep sleep. Josephine prayed she was dreaming.
The harassing phone calls began almost immediately, and continued through the summer.
John Kasper, a circuit-riding white supremacist, came through town to encourage a campaign of terror against school board members and black students. Ten days later, someone burned a cross on the school superintendent’s front lawn. White parents sought an injunction; a state court denied it.
Josephine’s relatives worried for her safety. “She is going to get killed, that was my first thought,” said Spencer Dungee, a cousin. He organized carloads of friends to patrol the school the first few mornings, just in case. But Josephine and her parents apparently did not fully appreciate the danger. “I thought the school would be able to take care of one child,” Boyd said. “But we found out differently, in a hurry.”
Facing Torment With Faith
As Josephine faced her daily ordeal, she found comfort in whispered recitations of the 23rd Psalm and spirituals like “We’ve Come This Far by Faith.”
“Don’t be discouraged when trouble’s in your life,” she would sing to herself. “He’ll bear your burdens and move all misery and strife.” She found that her faith centered her, and helped her keep her composure.
Any outburst, even tears, her parents had told her, would hand her tormentors a psychological advantage. Only once did she allow herself to be provoked. On that day, a white boy pushed her into a locker and passed along a crude message from his father, saying he had had sex with her mother the previous night. Josephine pushed back; a teacher broke up the scuffle.
The teacher did not want to hear about who had started it, Bradley said. “If you pass another lick,” she warned Josephine, “you will be sent home.”
“Why wouldn’t he be sent home?” Josephine asked.
“Because you’re the perpetrator,” the teacher answered.
Josephine knew from the beginning not to expect much protection from adults. When Robert Lody Glenn, the assistant principal, greeted her at the door her first day, he made it clear the administration viewed her as a headache, she said. “We really don’t want you here,” she recalled him saying, “but since you’re here we have to let you in.” Glenn, now 82, denied making such a comment: “I’m not that kind of person.”
There were times she wanted to quit, like the days she had to go home to change her food-splattered clothes. Down the road in Charlotte, Dorothy Counts, the first black student at Harding High, had been pulled out by her parents the first week, after white students pelted her with rocks and shattered the rear window of her family’s car.
But Josephine persisted, feeling the weight of obligation. She learned that Greensboro High, with its expansive campus and big gymnasium, was nothing like Dudley. The books she received were new, while the worn texts at Dudley typically bore six or seven signatures. The science lab, she noticed, was fully equipped with microscopes. Dudley’s had three.
Josephine was an outcast in two worlds. She began the year eating lunch alone in the library, and put aside any interest in school clubs and activities. Meanwhile, many of her black friends kept their distance. The boys she had dated her junior year no longer seemed interested. Her cousin, Spencer, escorted her to the Dudley prom.
“It was hard to understand then,” Bradley said. “But I understand now that jobs of parents could have been in jeopardy had their children been noted to be friends of mine.”
Josephine took moral support from the church members and former teachers who supplied her with clothing and paid to have her hair done. Above all, she was moved by the courage of a small clique of white girls who invited her early in the fall to join them for lunch in the cafeteria. Several of the girls changed their schedules so they could have the same lunch period.
Tellingly, none had been raised in Greensboro’s separatist culture. Julia Adams was born in New York and moved to Greensboro at age 5. Ginger Parker had been raised in Illinois and spent much of her childhood in Latin America. Monika Engelken was an exchange student from Germany. Beth Needles had grown up in Chicago.
And then there was Kitty Groves, an Ohio native with whom Josephine shared a particular bond. Kitty was pregnant, and together they learned that at Greensboro High the only condition more stigmatizing than pregnancy was blackness.
“I just remember people talking so ugly to her,” said Groves, now Katherine Williams, a retired computer trainer living in Jamestown, N.C. “I thought, ‘How cruel, how cruel could anybody be to another person?’ I could see the hurt all over her. She’d just kind of walk around with her shoulders down.”
Needles, now Elizabeth Sundberg, a 62-year-old retiree living near Washington, D.C., recalled the day a girl approached the lunch table to offer Josephine a container of ice cream. When she warily pulled back the lid, she found the cup was filled with trash.
Josephine’s white friends were shunned by schoolmates, and there were consequences for their families. Adams, now 63 and a professional violist in Portland, Maine, said her mother was denied membership in the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Parker, now Virginia Collier, 62, a professor of bilingual education at George Mason University, said the minister at her Methodist church pointedly preached against her fraternization with blacks.
None of the friends saw Josephine after school. They went home to their neighborhoods and she to hers. They don’t remember much discussion about how she was coping. “I think she had a very, very bad year,” Adams said. “But she wasn’t very vocal about it. I think she kept a lot of it inside.”
Bradley said she had no choice. To expose her feelings, she contended in her dissertation, would have meant “certain social and psychological death.” She saved her crying for night.
“I learned to internalize the anger, pain, alienation and rejection,” Bradley wrote. “I perceived it as a sign of weakness to let others know the real pain I was feeling.”
Part of her survival strategy was to blind herself to the faces and identities of her two dozen or so most reliable tormentors. To this day, she has no idea who they were. “I guess I marginalized them very much like they had marginalized me,” she said. “For me, it was a necessity. Because if I had taken the time to personalize everything, I never would have been able to make it.”
In the end, Bradley said, none of her anger was directed at her parents. Rather, she convinced herself that her role had been preordained, and reserved her resentment for the system that had made it necessary. Her mother said only that she “felt kind of bad for having to put her through it.”
Both were surprised that whites had responded so contemptuously.
“I thought there was going to be this dramatic change in white folks because they were going to see that we were just like them, that we could think and we could reason,” Bradley said. “And that didn’t happen. That was my biggest disappointment, that this magical place I envisioned never came to be.”
Bradley doesn’t remember a thing about June 4, 1958, the day she became the first black student to graduate from a previously all-white public school in North Carolina. A telephone caller had warned there would be a coffin waiting for her at Brown’s Funeral Home if she attended the ceremony. She went anyway.
She doesn’t recall the dissonant chorus of catcalls and cheers that others say met the calling of her name, nor the commencement speaker’s theme: “Be yourself.”
A month later, the NAACP invited Josephine to its convention in Cleveland. It should have been a moment of validation. Instead, she left town embittered. The Little Rock Nine were awarded the association’s highest honor, the Springarn Medal. But there was no public recognition for her.
To make matters worse, Bradley said, she was instructed by NAACP officials not to crowd the spotlight reserved for the Nine. And at a social gathering, she said, Minnijean Brown, one of the Nine, asked her: “Why are you here? You have not done anything important.” (Now Minnijean Brown Trickey, she said in an interview that she did not remember the conversation, but was adamant she “would never have said anything like that.”)
For Bradley, the memory is still searing. After a year of degradation by white folks, she felt disrespected by her own people. “I was an afterthought,” she said. “It made me feel invisible. It wasn’t about recognition. It was about equity.”
Josephine let the rest of the civil rights movement pass her by. She eagerly left Greensboro for Clark University, a predominantly white school in Worcester, Mass. While there, she missed the February 1960 sit-ins at a Woolworth’s lunch counter that made Greensboro a crucible of the movement (two of the original four protesters had been classmates at Dudley).
After two years, she transferred to North Carolina College (now North Carolina Central University), a traditionally black school in Durham, but she did not join the marches and demonstrations. “I don’t think I wanted to be a part of that again,” she said. “It was still too fresh.”
She graduated summa cum laude with a degree in political science and married Hayworth Bradley, a fellow student. They pursued graduate degrees together at Michigan State University in East Lansing, and then moved to Baton Rouge, La., where they both worked at Southern University. They started a family. First came Paulette, then Teresa, and soon they found themselves raising Hayworth’s nephew, Mark.
In 1977, after separating, Bradley moved her daughters to eastern Tennessee, where she taught sociology at Tusculum College in Greeneville. She bought a house in a white neighborhood close to campus. Several blocks away sat an elementary school that, even in 1980, had never had a black student. When it came time to enroll Teresa, officials at the school tried to dissuade her, Bradley said. “Your child will not like being here by herself,” she recalled being told. “We’ve never done this before. We can’t promise you that she’ll be safe.”
Unlike her mother 23 years earlier, Bradley decided not to place her daughter at risk, opting for a racially mixed school that was farther away. Teresa was too young to protect herself, and the family’s breakup had already caused enough trauma.
“My mother would have made them take her,” Bradley said. “But having lived the experience, perhaps I just didn’t see the value. I did not want to see my child psychologically damaged. I didn’t have anything to prove.”
Teresa M. Bradley, a 29-year-old graduate business student, recalled her mother asking if she was disappointed in her. “She never thought her children would have to face the same thing she had faced. She never thought that history would actually repeat itself and she wouldn’t be able to handle it.”
For Bradley, walking away had become a learned behavior during her year at Greensboro High. “You do that for nine months of your life and it becomes a part of you,” she said. “I lost the ability to let people know how angry I was.”
As she shepherded her daughters through their school years, she found much cause for despair. Though segregation laws no longer ensured educational inequity, she became convinced that standardized testing and honors programs were producing their own disparities.
There was the white teacher who, she said, told Teresa she didn’t think black students should be in her advanced English class. There were the field trips and foreign language programs and college preparatory courses that seemed to cater to whites. There was the racist graffiti at Teresa’s high school, and the white staff and parents who accused blacks of making too much of it.
She came to feel that though her generation had opened the schools, the black children inside were still second-class citizens. She thought she understood the lack of ambition she sometimes saw in her black college students.
“You can’t convince me that 95% of black kids are dumb and can’t be in college prep classes,” she said. “So for those kids who are left behind it must be extremely frustrating to not be given the same opportunities. And so students give up.”
The family moved to Atlanta in 1989 so Bradley could pursue her doctorate at Emory. She had planned to write a dissertation about charismatic black leadership. But after a class exercise prompted her to write an autobiographical essay, her professor encouraged her to expand it into a thesis.
Bradley had locked away her most disturbing memories. Opening the vault was painful. As she relived the terror of her first day and her guilt over her family’s mistreatment, she sat at her desk and cried. The tears she had suppressed at Greensboro High came pouring out.
In researching her own story, Bradley was startled to see how events had been portrayed at the time. Both the Greensboro Daily News and the Greensboro Record had reported that she entered Greensboro High “without incident.” Where had those reporters been, she wondered.
Even more grating, she found, was a 1973 history of North Carolina that credited an unnamed “Negro girl in Greensboro” with becoming the first black graduate of a previously white school in the state. As at the NAACP convention, she felt, her contribution had been reduced to a footnote.
“To be unnamed, or misnamed -- ‘nigger,’ ‘the Negro girl’ -- is to deny me authenticity, dignity and worth as a human being,” she wrote. “By giving voice to the narrative, I am bringing the self out of hiding.” She titled the dissertation “Wearing My Name.”
Time to Teach
As now, universities were eager to hire qualified African American professors, and Agnes Scott College in suburban Atlanta was more needy than most. It had employed only three black faculty in its history, and had none that were tenured.
In 1992, the private women’s college hired Bradley to teach sociology and African American studies even though she had yet to finish her dissertation and receive her doctorate. Bradley hoped to break another barrier by gaining tenure. But in her fourth year, during a midterm review, the college advised her to pursue other opportunities.
Although Agnes Scott is not a research university, there were concerns about her scholarship, which some felt was limited to her autobiography. Students had complained she was too rigid in the classroom, and colleagues sometimes found her too defensive to take constructive criticism.
Bradley didn’t buy it: “It was a cover-up for not wanting to hire me because I was black.”
She can recite the slights she blames on race: the questions about her dissertation and teaching style, the refusal to make her coordinator of the Africana studies program she helped establish. When she had spoken about her desegregation experience at a Martin Luther King Day convocation on campus in 1996, she sensed she had rubbed folks the wrong way.
She started to feel as if she was back at Greensboro High, where she wasn’t really wanted. When the college didn’t renew her contract, she filed a grievance charging that her dismissal had more to do with race than credentials.
Sarah Blanshei, who retired as dean at Agnes Scott in 1997, disagreed. “It really was about the teaching and scholarship,” said Blanshei, who is white. “The pressure indeed was to have tenured black faculty. We worked so hard to get them that it was heartbreaking to lose anybody.”
Some other faculty said the influence of race on the decision could not be discounted, and that Bradley was not given enough time to prove herself.
“Everybody, in their head, wanted to have black faculty and black students, but there was not an awareness of what that meant,” said Sally A. MacEwen, a white professor of classics who worked with Bradley. “She didn’t have a history, she didn’t have an approach like what everybody at this institution was used to. In the sense that many of those differences were the direct result of her race, yes, I think that was a factor.”
The trustees rejected Bradley’s grievance, but she felt she had made her point. As in 1957, this wasn’t just about her. “The board of that college needed to know they could not treat people in this fashion on a continuing basis,” she said. She takes some credit for Agnes Scott now having four black tenured faculty.
After a life spent challenging racial barriers, Bradley chose to settle at a place that had none: Clark Atlanta University, one in a cluster of historically black colleges on Atlanta’s west side. She is chairwoman of African American studies and Africana women’s studies.
It is less a surrender than a realization. The simple truth, she said, is that black students are more open to learning when race is removed from the calculus. It wasn’t supposed to be like that 50 years after Brown, but there it is. Clark is more like Dudley, where black students were pushed and coaxed into doing their best, albeit in segregated classrooms. Her own children, she now thinks, might have benefited from segregated schooling.
Only a few years from retirement, she has decided to make her stand by helping black students find their way. “I feel,” she said, “that this is where I’m supposed to be right now.”
High School Reunion
Four years ago, Bradley went to a Greensboro Senior High reunion for the first time. Her mother accompanied her to make sure she wouldn’t back out. She assumed it would be awkward, but felt she had earned the right.
When they approached the registration desk in a hotel lobby, the white man at the table seemed momentarily baffled.
“You must be in the wrong place,” he said.
“Is this the class reunion for 1958?” Bradley asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“Oh, then I’m in the right place.”
As they walked into the ballroom, the only blacks there, the crowd seemed to hush. “Do I turn around and leave this place?” she asked herself.
But before long, a few people approached to say they remembered her and invited her to join their table. The conversation was stilted. No one asked her to recount her experience. One man offered that he regretted not taking the opportunity to know her. Bradley stayed for dinner, joined in the reunion picture, and made an early exit.
“For them I was still in the wrong place,” she said.
Some of her white classmates now express remorse.
Cary I. Mathews, 63, a retired textile mill manager in Dillon, S.C., said he thought often about how he watched other boys fling eggs at Josephine. “I have thought about it quite a few times and I’m really irritated at myself in hindsight,” he said."No one, including myself, came to her assistance.”
Others play down the notion that Bradley was seriously mistreated.
“I heard comments made within her presence, but it wasn’t anything that vicious,” said Thomas E. Hodgin III, a Greensboro flooring contractor. “It was funny, that was about it -- ‘You’re at the wrong school,’ or ‘Did you catch the wrong bus today?’ Stuff like that.”
As in many cities, segregation has crept back into the schools in Guilford County, which includes Greensboro, since the federal courts released them from mandatory busing.
The district redrew its lines to revert to neighborhood schools, and magnet programs have failed to lure many students out of their segregated neighborhoods. Minority enrollment is growing steadily, and white families continue to flock to private schools.
The proportion of black students who attend predominantly minority schools there has tripled since 1995, to 35%, making Guilford among the most segregated urban districts in the state, said Charles T. Clotfelter, a Duke University professor and the author of “After Brown: The Rise and Retreat of School Desegregation.” Dudley High, for example, is 99% minority, an increase from 90% in 1987.
Greensboro High, today known as Grimsley, is an anomaly. It is 62% white, 30% black and 8% other minorities. Within the school, however, separation persists. Advanced Placement and other honors classes are, on average, 80% white and 11% black.
In March, Bradley returned to Grimsley to be photographed for this article. She had been back only once in 47 years. This time, with journalists in tow, she was received as an honored guest.
When administrators learned who she was, they asked if she would visit an African American history class. She was astounded there was such a thing.
The 11 students, all of them black, listened intently to her story and peppered her with questions. How did your black friends react? Did it change your view of white people? “I know you probably just wanted to go off on everybody,” one student said. “I bet you wanted to bring a carton of eggs yourself.”
That evening, a teacher called Bradley to invite her to address a school assembly. She felt she couldn’t say no. Two days later, several hundred students shuffled into the school’s spacious old auditorium, sitting on chairs covered in faded scarlet, whites next to whites, blacks next to blacks.
“Not even in my wildest dreams did I ever envision that I would be standing on the stage in this place,” she began, barely tall enough to peer over the lectern. “Indeed, life is full of surprises.”
She told about the eggs, the ketchup, the phone calls. And then she challenged the school -- her school -- and the black students in particular to make her sacrifice meaningful by refusing to settle for a second-class education.
“Whether you are black or white,” she said, “honor yourself, and believe in yourself, and when people tell you you can’t do the impossible, do it anyway.”
After an ovation, students crowded around her.
“I just want to give you a hug,” said Devlin Horton, 17, a black senior.
A few weeks later, Bradley received a thank-you card signed by the students in the African American history class.
“You are an inspiring, intelligent and amazing person,” wrote one.
“I appreciate everything you did for us,” wrote another.
As Bradley read the card, she began to cry, the tears of yesterday flowing as one with the tears of today.
Times researchers Janet Lundblad in Los Angeles and Rennie Sloan in Atlanta contributed to this report.