LONGVIEW, Texas (KETK)- July 4, 1970 is a day engraved in the history of Longview. As race remains a topic of conversation, many wonder how far has America really come?
“I didn’t think that something like that could happen or would happen in Longview area,” said Lynnshya Ward, thinking back to when he heard first hand stories about what happened on that day.
According to court documents, 50 years ago two men, Fred Loyd Hayes and Kenneth Ray McMaster placed dynamite underneath Longview ISD school buses.
“Being told that an entire fleet of busses had been destroyed,” said Dr. Elizabeth Melton,
The explosion causing serious damage, not only to property, but also to the minds of African Americans during that time.
“They called some of the Texas rangers to do this investigation and to figure out what was really happening,” remembered Dr. Melton.
While it will be hard to find pictures of the two men now, their actions will be forever remembered for many still living in the small town.
Growing up, for the past 48 years, Lynnshya Ward is reminded of what happened just before he was born. The meaning behind the crime echoed in school.
“When I was in elementary kids were being treated different,” remembered Ward, now a founding member of Gregg County Coalition for Change.
Hayes and McMaster, bombed the school buses in order to destroy transportation for African American students. They received an 11 year prison sentence and given $11,000 in fines.
Days before the bombing, on June 17, 1970, a federal judge approved for buses to carry Black students to all-White schools. Creating public-school integration, a move that was being mirrored throughout the South.
“This was right at the time of desegregation so we understood what this was all about,” explained Ward, who said the headlines in the paper were just a fraction of everyday life, “in grade school and all of that I never felt that I was separated from everyone else until I started learning that certain people lived in a certain area and we lived in another area.”
He describes it as the great divide in Longview. Ward explaining it still exists today. Separated by a highway, the city is split between luxury and money put into boosting the economy, while on the other side , life remains in somewhat of a standstill.
“You had blacks that didn’t stay in a certain area and you had only whites. There was a time blacks were not able to walk down that particular street, in fact that park, the city park had a fence around it and it had on there during that time that blacks were not allowed inside the city park,” said Ward.
Major incidents in a small town, yet many living in Longview today, are not aware of the explosive past.
Dr. Melton creating her dissertation around her hometown’s history.
“Having grown up in the public school system in Longview, and just in east Texas, being kind of aware of the undertones without really having necessarily the language to understand what was happening,” explained Dr. Melton.
Creating a play called “Unpacking Longview”, in hopes to spark conversation about moments from desegregation, following in her father’s footsteps.
“My dad’s work on the school board and then later, as he helped start the race relations committee in Longview also really influenced me and motivated me to kind of want to continue some of that work,” said Dr. Melton.
Collecting stories from parents, teachers, and students connected to desegregation in the 70’s.
“Being faced with the stories repeatedly again and again of people being called the n word, or just these kinds of small but everyday acts of violence that was even more common I think when things were segregated,” explained Melton.
Learning in 2020, change still needs to happen.
“The world is still really struggling with how we deal with racism and how we address it,” said Dr. Melton.
As protests and calls of actions continue, many wonder how far has America come?
“We are a divide, and somewhere we have to find the place of saying you know what we can’t allow what the past produced for the present, but we need to change it,” said Ward.
A message to those marching, to remember the past, in order for a brighter future.