Dyess Elementary received historical marker to commemorate role in integration

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Shannon Hall
  • 7th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
On Feb. 22, the Dyess African-American Heritage Committee hosted a ceremony to honor Dyess Elementary receiving a Texas Historical Commission Marker for being the first elementary in Abilene Independent School District to become racially integrated.

When Dyess Air Force Base opened its gates in 1956, African-American students who lived on base had to be bussed miles across the city to attend school at Woodson Elementary. On Jan. 21, 1963, the AISD school board voted unanimously to amend the district's attendance policy, allowing 38 African-American students joined white students to transfer to Dyess Elementary.

"We never knew why we went to a different school, we just knew that now we walked with our friends to Dyess, instead of getting up early to catch a bus," said Betty Jones, who was entering first grade at the time of the integration. "There was no bullying or riots. It was a great transition, we came to school to learn and that's what happened."

It was the dedication and drive of five African-American mothers and Capt.  John Rice, a Harvard University graduate and Dyess Airman, that helped make this integration complete. These six parents wrote letters to Alfred E. Wells, AISD superintendent at the time, about not understanding why military children could play together and visit each other's homes, but not attend the same school right outside of the gate. Jones' mother was a part of this group.

When Senior Master Sgt. Tremayne Hubbard, Dyess African-American Heritage Committee president, learned how Dyess helped promote the school's integration, he knew he had to do something to honor those who contributed. From that day on, he began researching AISD integration, applied for a historical marker and has since joined the local historical commission.

"It is important to preserve what happened at Dyess Elementary because it played a huge role in the integration process here in Abilene, Texas," Hubbard said. "First, we got approval from the school board to pursue the marker, and then we worked with the Taylor County Historical Commission to apply for the marker through the state of Texas."

To get the funding for the marker, the African-American Heritage Committee did multiple fundraisers and received donations from the Dyess' Chief Group and the Dyess Spouse's Club. In the end, they raised $26,000, and on February 2, the confirmation came through from the Texas Historical Commission that the marker was approved.

During the ceremony a replica of the marker was unveiled and will be located in the school until the official marker is installed in a flower bed in front of Dyess Elementary. Although it normally takes up to three years before a historical marker is completed, Hubbard has achieved this task in just a year.

Dyess Elementary students and faculty, parents, local community members and Dyess Airmen were in attendance for this historical moment.

Col. Michael Miller, 7th Bomb Wing vice commander, had a few inspirational words for the students.

"On Dyess we don't see religion, male or female, color, ethnicity or anything of that nature. We are one team, one fight," he said. "Your Dyess Elementary motto is one team, one mission, every child, but before integration it wasn't every child. You all are very lucky and fortunate to be a part of this school. This is a wonderful, long-time coming moment that has now been accomplished."

Miller also commended Betty Jones on her courage and encouraged the students to write because they all have the potential to make a significant impact.

"For schools to become integrated 100 years after the civil war is too long," Miller said. "That moment between Abilene and Dyess is truly what it means to have a great partnership, and that is where it started."