The first black student at THS
By Michael Butler
The desegregation of schools began in 1965 in Tallassee. Bernice Paschal was an eighth grader at RR Moton that year when the call came for her to leave the all-black school for the all-white Tallassee High School.
"I was 13 years old," she said. "I had my two little sisters, Mona and Debra. We walked together. I thought there might be dogs, police or fire hoses, but it was very quiet."
Bernice, now Simmons, recalls that period with a sense of pride.
"I was representing my church and my community."
Simmons' step-father Sam Carr was a teacher, who let the family know of the transition.
On the parade route as Little Miss RR Moton, a fourth grade Bernice in the back seat direclty behind Charles Blalock and next to Linda Williams Shelton.
"I was going through puberty. I was wearing lipstick and had my first boyfriend. I had been the queen and nominated to the student body at Moton. I loved Moton. When I went to Tallassee it was different. Nobody said anything to me except during P.E.
"I was never hit or touched. Sometimes you need a touch, a hand on a shoulder or handshake. I always kept my faith in God. He was my best friend. That's how I made it through school."
There was some name calling.
"At Moton they might have called you a traitor. The white kids might have called me a spy."
With Charles Blalock and Isaac Brown during a Black History Month radio program in 2012. The young deejay is Daniel Butler.
Still, Simmons likes to focus on the positives.
"I loved being a Tallassee Tiger, especially being the first black Tallassee Tiger. We got black teachers in. I had better books and more opportunities. My experience was pretty good."
"I still have good relationships to this day - 56 years later. I look back now and hope it made a difference. I hope it made somebody else want to have a good education and better life."
Simmons ran track at Tallassee and carried it over to Tuskegee University after graduating from THS in 1970.
Now she resides in Quincy, Fla.
"I'm retired after being a nurse for 43 years. I'm taking care of my husband, who is a disabled vet. He's blind. We're just living in the country and enjoying ourselves."
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