On Aug. 31, 1956, Mansfield NAACP and Bethlehem Baptist Church leader T.M. Moody attempted to enroll three teenagers -- his cousin Floyd Moody, nephew Charles Moody and Nathaniel Jackson -- in the Mansfield school district, following the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that it was unlawful to prevent them from enrolling at Mansfield High School on the basis of race. The lawsuit followed the Supreme Court's 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that “separate but equal” was unconstitutional.
That attempt failed, and the Mansfield school district was not integrated until 1965. But approximately 100 people crowded into the foyer of Bethlehem Baptist on Aug. 31 to honor the courage that it took to attempt.
Mobs gathered three times in 1956 - on Aug. 30, Aug. 31 and Sept. 4 - in front of the Mansfield school on East Broad Street, now the district administration building. Three effigies were hung - one at Main and Broad streets, one from a flagpole in front of the high school and another above the school entrance. Gov. Allan Shivers sent Texas Rangers to preserve the peace and said the school board should transfer any students out of the district if their attempts to enroll incited violence. A year later, President Dwight Eisenhower sent federal troops to Little Rock, Ark., to integrate Central High School.
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“I remember the first day sitting at the school table with the superintendent saying ‘you will never enter this school,’” said Floyd Moody, 77, now pastor at Mount Horum Missionary Baptist Church in Fort Worth.
Moody never attended Mansfield High School, instead returning to finish his education at I.M. Terrell High School, the Fort Worth school district’s African-American high school, which most black students in Tarrant County attended.
Things have changed in the past 60 years in the Mansfield school district, now one of the most diverse districts in the area.
“I’m one of those fellows that believes every successful thing comes after hard work,” Moody said. “If you want to get a rose, you have to go through the thorns. Now we are celebrating the rose of Mansfield Independent School District.”
Superintendent Jim Vaszauskas pointed out that the district that wouldn’t allow black children has been led by two school board presidents of color, as well as having diverse principals, assistant principals and members of the administrative council. Vaszauskas said the Mansfield school district owes a debt to T.M. Moody.
“When I reflect on the actions of T.M. Moody and his sacrifice, it was not for his children, because he didn’t have any children, but for all children,” Vaszauskas said. “Thank you, Pastor Moody. You’ve made us a better district and I’m honored to serve in his shadow.”
Floyd Moody also gave credit to T.M. Moody, who was his father’s first cousin.
“They are the real heroes, those people that led us,” he said. “At 17, you did what your momma and daddy told you. My dad said T.M. says we need to get closer to home for schooling. I didn’t like it, but there wasn’t anything i could say.”
He’s proud that to have been a part of the attempt, although he doesn’t talk about it often.
“I’ve learned that if you quit at the first go around because it’s hard, you’ll never receive the blessing,” Moody said.
“My grandkids don’t know anything about this. I don’t talk about it,” he said.
The community’s history should be honored, said Bethlehem Baptist Pastor Michael Evans, who has served on the Mansfield school board since 2007, two years as board president.
“Help us to never forget the tears that have been cried,” Evans said in a prayer. “Lord, make us a united community. We are better. We have a long way to go, but we are better.”
This article contains information from Star-Telegram archives.