Ballard-Hudson High School
Bivins v. Board of Education
Central High School

Bivins v. Board of Education

By Kristen Bretscher, Tahitia Butler, Laura Dawson, Rachel Griffin, and Michael Pradella

Oral history with Dr. Thelma Bivins Dillard

The key figure in the desegregation of Bibb County Schools was Hester Bivins, a single mother of seven children, three of whom played a major role in the integration of Bibb County schools. She worked as a maid making twenty to thirty dollars a week. It seemed like an average amount at the time, but really, it barely was enough to take care of all the children. Hester didn’t want welfare. She was the type of mother who instilled in her children the motivation to want to do better. She let them know that although they were black, they didn’t have to be worthless. Her strength and character spread through her children, filling them with hope. Hester wanted more for her children because of her experience in the education system. “She was a very smart woman,” said her daughter, Dr. Thelma Bivins Dillard. “She could play piano by ear, she was an artist, she made clothes by hand; my clothes. She taught us algebra, reading, phonics, how to sit properly, and social etiquette. So here is a lady who was genetically born to be a queen, and passed it to her children. So when integration started, she was ripe and ready to take action!”

Hester’s determination for a better life for her children came not only from the lack of education she had, but also from the way whites had treated her mother. In 1991, she told the Macon Telegraph the story of her and her mother as they were getting on a segregated bus. The way that the driver treated her mother was astonishing to Hester. The driver got really upset because Hester’s mother was taking too long to pay her bus fare. He jerked the bus and made all the food and other things fall onto the floor. Everything was destroyed. “Bottles rolling on the floor, and she was steady trying to pick it up, and he just knocked her down to the floor,” Dr. Dillard said in a somber tone. Hester cried tears of pain and disgrace as she and her mother made their way to the back of the bus, but her mother told her that it was ok, and she was used to it. Hester realized that was something she didn’t want to have to get used to. It was something that no one should have to endure. That moment was life changing for Hester Bivins.

In 1954, in the case of Brown vs. Board of Education, the courts ruled that all schools would be integrated, but in 1963, Bibb County schools were still segregated. There were three black schools and three white schools. Hester Bivins had gotten fed up with it. She was only able to go to school up to the eighth grade because of segregated schools. Her school was twelve miles away from her home, so there was no way that she could’ve walked there every day. After all, blacks weren’t allowed to ride the white school buses. She was sick and tired of the way things had been, so when it was time for Shirley Bivins, her oldest child, to enter school, no one would let her. Hester, who had been heavily involved in the bus boycott and picketing stores, filed the lawsuit Shirley Bivins vs. Bibb County Board of Education on her daughter’s behalf. Her boss found out about her idea to sign the suit, and she warned her that if she did, Hester would be fired, but she persisted. Shirley and forty other students sued the courts on the basis of the speed of integration, as well as schools’ refusal to integrate. Ballard-Hudson, the black secondary school, was good, but the books were second hand, the buildings weren’t up to health codes, and they had hardly any lab equipment. They wanted an end to the racial discrimination, or at least and alternative decree directing the school board to submit a plan for the complete reorganization of the school system into a unitary, nonracial system. But the Bibb County schools were trying to prolong the possibility of integrated schools for as long as they could. Judge Bootle told the Board of Education that he would give them the chance to integrate schools without having to go to court intervention, but the Board met, and there was a unanimous decision that the schools would remain segregated.  The lawsuit went in favor of Shirley Bivins, but failed to include the teachers and faculty at the schools. So the unanimous decision was overturned by Bootle.

Even after all of this though, Hester wasn’t really in favor of a completely integrated school as much as she was for all-girls and all-boys schools. “When it was offered, I jumped at the chance,” she said. “I dreamed of my girl going to an all-girls school. She didn’t want to go. It was me who insisted she go. Larry and James, I insisted they go to an all-boys school.” Hester was worried about her children’s safety, but she ended up suffering a lot of the consequences. Whites, who had often been friendly, shunned her. Even the people she worked for liked her for being able to take care of their children, but when her daughter started going to the same school, they wouldn’t even look her way.

Shirley Bivins was just a teen when she wanted to integrate schools.Bivins She knew it’s what she wanted, and she fought for it. She did sit-ins, boycotts, and anything else that she could to support the movement. Her dedication and strength helped her to succeed. The closeness of the Bivins family helped them in all their endeavors. Shirley did suffer when she integrated Miller High School. People made fun of her all the time. They treated her like she was less than a human being. She hated the torture she was being put through so much. She had gotten to the point where she tried to get kicked out. The teachers didn’t even treat the black students well. “They were treated like second class citizens,” Dr. Dillard explained.

In 1963, Hester’s son Bert Bivins was the first African American person to be accepted into a school in the Bibb County School district. He attended Ballard Hudson High School, and he wanted to study electronics so that he could apply for a position at Robins Air Force Base. The school had no one to teach the electronics class that Bert needed to take. Bert and four other black men applied to Dudley Hughes Vocational School, an all-white school in the Bibb County.

His first application to the school was refused, and Ballard Hudson suspended him as punishment. This angered Bert tremendously. He was accepted for an apprenticeship in an electronics program. Many people encouraged him not to take it, but he knew he had to keep trying the system. The NAACP advised Bivins to join the federal case against the school district. He wanted to be a part of the case, but he knew it would last a very long time, and he wanted to participate in the electronics program right away. Bert, however, got even more upset when Robins Air Force Base told him that the federal government ordered a state school to let him attend.

Bert wrote a letter to attorney general Robert Kennedy informing him that federal funds were being allocated to a school that supported segregation. Three months later, the phone rang, and it was the FBI. At first, Bert and his mother were both skeptical if federal agents were truly the ones on the phone, and they thought it could be a trap by white men to get him to drop the case. The agents asked him about the letter that he wrote, and he was told to go to the FBI office in Macon as soon as possible. He knew that when they started talking about the letter that this was real. After he met with the FBI, the press heard of his story. They said that federal funding could be in great danger if the school did not accept Bert.

The first day of school was hard for Bert. He had to be escorted around all day just to make sure that no one would harm him. He was never spoken to by the white students or faculty at the school, and had to do everything on his own. He was threatened and laughed at, but he was determined to not let any of it faze him. He always kept a steady face to show that no one could discourage him. He was proud of himself for this, and he was determined to get through school.

Bert graduated from the electronics program at Dudley Hughes, and he worked at Robins as an electrician until 1992. He remained involved in the NAACP, and in 1989, he started night classes once again to be a teacher. He became a teacher at a local elementary school in Macon because he wanted what he had done to impact the lives of the kids today.

Bert’s younger sister, Dr. Thelma Bivins Dillard, was also a part of the civil rights movement in Macon. Devoted to the cause from childhood, she was a part of the bus boycott in Macon and even took the minutes at civil rights executive meetings at the calling of William P. Randall. She has gone on since then to garner many accomplishments in civil service.

When her sister, Shirley Bivins, was attending a newly-integrated high school, black girls were not permitted to join the teenage sororities on campus. She founded the Lambda Phi Local Teenage Sorority for the black girls attending integrated schools. She felt that it was necessary for these girls to have a place to congregate, talk, and support one another in the transition process.

Dr. Dillard won city council in 1979 and served for twenty years. Known as the “voice of the voiceless” in Macon, she did many things to help the less fortunate in Macon. While on council, she collected and distributed electric fans for the elderly and even founded the South Macon Community Development Committee. She ended her career as a city councilwoman when she ran for mayor in both 1999 and 2000, and she is now a teacher at Central High School working with special needs students.

Dr. Dillard is committed to keeping the memory of the civil rights movement in Macon alive. Recently, she set up an exhibit at the Tubman Museum to pay tribute to the first African American girls to graduate from integrated high schools in Bibb County. Girls who integrated and graduated from Miller High, McEvoy High, and Lasseter High were in the exhibition including Dr. Dillard’s sister, Shirley Bivins. Dr. Dillard is very passionate about everyone coming together regardless of race, gender, or disability.

Works Cited

Dillard, Thelma Bivins. Oral History. 26 April 2011.

Duncan, Heather. “The Trailblazer Who Didn’t Take No for an Answer.” The Macon Telegraph. 10 Feb. 2002. Tel 01A-13A.

Gorham, Lisa. “Bibb Board Enrolls Negro.” The Macon Telegraph. 14 June 1963. Tel 01A.

Scherer, Sally. “Continuing Education.” The Macon Telegraph. 30 Aug. 1994. Tel 01D-02D.

Shirley Bivins et al., Apellants, v. Bibb County Board of Education. 424 F.2d 97. United State Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, 1970. Justia US Law. Justia, n.d. Web. 3 May 2011.