Segregation was not an issue for retired teacher

Published 9:31 pm Tuesday, February 7, 2006

By By Janet Little Cooper
Bishop Lyons, Sr. knows about African American History first hand. As a child and young adult, he lived and worked in the midst of its making.
Lyons who is well known for his many achievements in education, civic organizations and church, was born and raised in Evergreen, Ala.
He graduated from Conecuh County Training School in 1948 after sitting out for one year to help his father farm. The Army had drafted his brother and his family needed his help.
He recalls the days of segregation in the schools and among the town residents. Lyons went to an all black school and remembers the school buses loaded with white children passing him by as he walked to school.
"I remember it well, but I try to block it out of my mind and not think about it," Lyons said. "When we went to town, we had to drink water from the fountain for colored people and had to sit upstairs in the movie theater while the white people sat downstairs."
After graduating from high school he went on to Alabama A&M where he earned his Associates Degree and then to Tuskegee University where he got his Master's Degree in agriculture education.
Lyons got a teaching job in Andalusia where he taught for a little more than a month before being drafted by the Army in 1952 during the Korean War.
"When I returned to Andalusia from the Army, I went to the superintendent to get my teaching job back," Lyons said. "He told me that he no longer had a job for me. I told him that I was under the understanding that if a person was gainfully employed at the time of deployment, the job was secure. He (superintendent) then told me that he would just have to fire the person he hired to replace me. I asked if the teacher was married, and had children. When I found out that he did, I told the superintendent not to fire him and I left."
Lyons went to the Teacher's Institute for a meeting in hopes of finding another job. He had made the decision to continue his education if nothing was available. While he was at the meeting the superintendent he had met with earlier traveled to Lyons home and then to the Teacher's Institute to find him.
"He got up on the stage and interrupted the meeting by going to the microphone and asking if a Bishop Lyons was present and if so would he please meet him outside," Lyons said. "I met him and he had two teaching jobs come open, one in Alexander City and Atmore. He told me that Atmore was only 40 to 50 minutes from my home and offered me the job. He then asked me if I had a car and when I said no, he replied, "Get one."
Lyons came to Atmore where he started the first vocational agriculture class at Escambia County Training School. He later went to Escambia County High School where he taught agribusiness until he retired in 1986.
Once again in his life, Lyons was faced with segregation in school. Only this time, he was the teacher and not the student.
Early in Lyons teaching career, the schools were integrated bringing new challenges for the young teacher.
"I talked with my students and told them what was going on," Lyons said. " I told them that we were going to have to work together. We were all there for an education. There were differences, but I didn't let it interfere. I treated every student the same and I had the support of the parents. I visited the homes of every one of my students in the afternoons. I made myself fit in. I never stopped them from what they were doing. If they were in the field working, I would sit on the ground and help them do it. It paid off, because I never had any trouble."
According to Lyons it seemed that the adults had a more difficult time dealing with the integration than the students.
"Things kept going on in town just like they had before," Lyons said. "There were a lot of differences within the town. But people are just people, no matter whether they were black or white to my wife and I and we just tried to stay out of it and do what we knew to do – teach.
Despite Lyons efforts to stay out of the sometimes racially charged situations, his family fell victim to the hatred when three crosses were placed on his front lawn at his Atmore home. He recalls the feeling of seeing one of the crosses burning and the anger it brought to him and the fear for his wife and children.
After the third incident, police determined that cross was not intended for the Lyons family and was placed by mistake in the wrong yard by an unknown perpetrator from Monroe County.
"There has been a tremendous change since then," Lyons said. "We have made a lot of progress."
Lyons himself has achieved much. He became the first black president of the Escambia County Teacher's Association during his career when the schools were first integrated and was also the first black appointed to the Atmore Utilities Board.
"I have never seen a difference in a person's color," Lyons said. "We are all the same."
February marks the beginning of Black History Month – an annual celebration that has existed since 1926.
Harvard Scholar Dr. Carter G. Woodson organized the first annual Negro History Week, which took place during the second week of February. Woodson chose this date to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln – two men who had greatly impacted the black population.
Over time, Negro History Week evolved into the Black History Month that we know today – a four-week-long celebration of African American History.
In recognition of African American History Month the Atmore Advance will be featuring a local African American who has been influential in Atmore throughout their lifetime in the Sunday editions during the month of February.

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