Michael Jerome Williams
Michael Jerome Williams was born on May 30, 1953. He grew up in Groveton Community through the sixties and graduated from Groveton High School in 1971.
I graduated from Groveton High School in 1971, and lived in the Groveton Community until the fall of 1975. At Groveton I was in an unusual position in that I was president of the school. I think it was the first time that the president of the student body was black. Before that they had a class president or vice-president named Rayfield Barber who was black.
Groveton is a community that I have often found myself very puzzled by in that it has so much potential for change. There are many people who are trying to do things in terms of racial interactions. It's a community where if you look at it in terms of socioeconomic status and ethnic groupings, there are no particular ethnic groups that have a really outstanding majority. You may say that there are plenty of whites but their income level varies tremendously. I think that the Groveton Community allowed many people to interact with each other who never interacted before.
The new school is in an area that is predominantly black. I rejoice that when I look in the phone book to look up Groveton High School I find the term Groveton Community School. I think that there are many people within the community who made efforts to make the school into a real community school.
I think racial relations between blacks and whites have stepped backwards. For the most part there are very few people who are taking full advantage of the situation. I don't think there’s adequate communications between blacks and whites. One of the disastrous things I've noticed is the presence of the so called recreation center at Groveton; I've never seen any white students there. When I grew up there it was still Bryant but it was still a community recreation center. I never saw any white kids playing there. I found that I don’t like the whole idea of the recreation department that gives black kids a recreation center to play in. The only activities that were involved were games. That was a case of not using fullest potential of the facilities to allow people to advance. There’s no cultural exchange or cultural enrichment.
If you didn’t have a recreation center the kids would still play basketball. If they really wanted to play pool they could n play pool at a friend's house. To me the rec center was an attempt to alleviate some of the tension between black and whites by giving blacks a place to be, particularly black students. I think that what it has done also is closed the door for many of them, that if they didn’t have that recreation center there they would be involved in other activities.
I also have to say that peer group pressures are tremendous within the black community as well as most communities. I think that most blacks subject themselves to the fears of peer group pressure, and they won't allow themselves to interact with whites.
One of the things I really rejoiced in when I was in high school is that I was president of a school that had a black population of perhaps eleven percent. I won the election by pretty much a landslide. There were certain things that we achieved that particular school year. It was the first year for the S.G.A. versus the S.C.A. set up. I felt that we had a greater possibility and chance of having people interact as people rather than racial groupings and rather then looking at each with bias and prejudice. I think that I was able to do things at Groveton because I was insane enough not to worry about peer group pressures.
One of the things about Groveton that I appreciate and will never forget is that I saw there were people who were trying to interact. It gave me the strength to decide to live in a way that’s different from many people. As much as possible I'm not race conscious. I try not to live that way. I think that Groveton provided a tremendous energy for change. I'm sorry to see that now they've changed to be more conservative in terms of race relations. It's kinda heartbreaking to see that. There's less interacting of the races now than in the past.
Growing up in the Groveton area during the sixties was very interesting. I crave for the sixties again in terms of what it did nationally, keeping people aware of situations in the world and people trying to take action regardless of how depressing life may have been to the people who were trying to take action.
The Groveton area in the sixties was a time of great change socially. I think I actually got to a point I lived with the influence of the entire Groveton Community rather than living with the influence of Quander Road. I think that if I had lived with the influences that were strongly around me, I would probably be out on the streets now being a hoodlum. I was able to gain from some of the ideas that other people had. I gained a certain strength and a certain courage-not a courage that you would use in a fight, which was also a part of my growing up in those days-but civil courage, the courage to take action when there was no one around to see that you took action or to take action when you knew that there will be scores of people who disapprove or to take a stand because it is right rather than going along with the majority of the people.
At the point of the Civil Rights Movement particularly in 1968, I was only a fifteen year old. I think as far as participation in Civil Rights Movements are concerned, I'm a person who has chosen to live without organizations. I think the Civil Rights Movement achieved a lot. It was a unique time in American History, as well as local history. My overall feeling goes that you can't legislate virtue; you can 't legislate laws to make people act correctly. You can't force people to act humanely because you have a law. It's an individual choice.
We find that for instance there are housing laws. We already had these glorious laws in the late sixties. Blacks and members of other minorities, and in some cases whites would go in the neighborhood looking for housing and if the realtor decided he didn’t want that person in that neighborhood, he simply didn't show him the house. It wasn't a case of what was legal. If he didn't show him the house, he can’t claim discrimination.
As far as participating in Civil Rights Movements are concerned, I think on an individual level I participated in a lot of Civil Rights Movements. In high school I had friends who were white and had friends who were members of other ethnic groups other than being black. I think my interaction with those people particularly in my Junior year in high school when I was class vice-president, did more for me in terms of civil rights. I was more active in civil rights then, than in any other time of my life.
Our Junior class was the class to start the really cheap proms at Groveton. This sounds like a trite thing but it isn't. In my Junior year we sponsored a prom that cost three dollars a couple, and even though the prices were only three dollars a couple I'll admit that I gave tickets away to some people because they couldn’t afford to buy tickets. We participated in setting up tuxedo rentals and things like that. We got more people involved in mainstream conventional ideas and conventional things that society says one must go through. These people wanted to go into the mainstream of society, that's, in a way, standing up for peoples civil rights.
We have a tendency in this country, blacks, whites. all people in this country have a tendency to cast dirt upon people. We look for the negative things too often. Martin Luther King to me was a person who as I speak of him I um ... have to almost fight back tears. He's a person who was a beautiful human being in terms of his own courage, his own strength and knowing what was right. He was good simply because he couldn’t do anything else. That’s very important. You're not going to act in a good way, you're not going to act strongly because you have a title. If he had been a man without a title, he would have been just as effective.
He could have been just as effective, if he had been in South Africa rather than the United States. He was a man... if he had been anywhere in the world, chances are he would have been destroyed, not necessarily assassinated as he was. He would have been destroyed because he was a man who said the truth and who couldn’t do anything but speak that truth. There's a tremendous amount of courage in that, and a tremendous simplicity.
If we don't denigrate people, if we don't cut them down, the next thing we want to do is build them into super heroes. The truth of the matter is that the man to me was a super hero. Super hero, not such that one may put a big "S" on his chest and say "this is a superman,” but the fact that he lived so simply. The truth is not anything very complex. It is a very simple matter. He lived that way because it was the only thing he could do and that too is what he represents.
It was the end of my sophomore year and they were talking about doing away with the dress code. So the beginning of my Junior year, Groveton didn’t have a dress code. It was kinda radical because we were the only school in Fairfax County that didn't have a dress code. Well, we had a dress code but it was something like you could wear anything you wanted as long as you didn't interrupt the educational process, so you could wear anything. I don’t think anyone was ever brought before the review board for the type of clothing that they wore. I really enjoyed being in a place that was first to try something. It seemed the county had to change their policy because Groveton after all was doing without a dress code already.
The years I remember the most about high school were 1970 and 1971 and protesting had become very mild. In fact, I think they had better protests after we left. I'm kinda sorry sometimes; that they didn't have protests; on the other hand most of us really needed our education.
The thing I liked about Groveton in those days is that Groveton got away from having sockhops and all that teeny-bopper type of stuff and they had rock concerts. One of the groups that played was called Crank. It was quite interesting; the administration didn't like it too much. At the rock concerts you find more people drinking beer and smoking marijuana inside of the school and things like that, but at the same time you didn't find this competitive element of people trying to out dance the other. I enjoyed the rock concerts much better than I liked dances. Probably because I'm not a good dancer.
Now, I'm a teacher's aide in a high school and I see a lot of drugs, much more than I saw at Groveton. I don't know if it's because at Groveton I was so naive when I was there or what. I don't think we had any more or any less drugs than most of the Fairfax schools at that time.
I hung out at Groveton as much as possible. I was involved in student
government, involved in football and track and a number of other clubs
and organizations. I hung out there for survival of my spirit. Of course
high school kids feel there's other places to
hang out at -Shakeys was one of them and the drive-in movies on occasion.
The class of '69 I think people thought 'Was the worst class ever. I thought it was the worst class ever and I was only a sophomore. It's very difficult to say what the community thought. The P.T.A. at Groveton hasn't always been supported by the entire community. It’s always been certain segments of the community who supported the P.T.A., as well as student government. I'm not certain what the community thought in terms of the academics at Groveton. I thought the class of '71 was a great academic class. As I remember it, it was a four way tie for valedictorian or something like that. People looked at Groveton as that school on the hill, in those days up on Popkins Hill off Popkins Lane. It was that school on the hill that was mostly a hippie freaky type of school. The beauty of Groveton was that you could take people from a lot of different backgrounds and not force them to have to change. They could just allow people to be what they were, and I think that was the best part of Groveton. I don't know if its like that any longer.
The things that affected me most about Groveton were not legends, they were realities. In my senior year for instance my best friend got murdered. He was killed on the G.W. Parkway. That was something that affected me for the rest of my life. I think that Groveton was a place where there was a lot of fun and games, but we had a mixture of tragedies at different times that forced us to grow up faster than high school students grow up now, and I don't know which one is better.
The last time that I was in the community, I found that the youth in the Groveton Community are some what smaller than they used to be. That is the first impression that I have. These kids are really small, they're kids, and we were grown people. I think that's true of any teenager. I think you'll always think that way.
The black community must have doubled since I've lived here in the last four years. I'm used to people who grew up on Beacon Hill Road, Quander Road and Emit Drive. Now I'm starting to see black kids coming from all over, and that’s kinda interesting. A lot of the kids who are there now are kids who just like the mainstream of the population have moved in from other parts of the United States. I guess Washington has had a lot of input into Groveton nowadays and that is about all I see in the community now.