Hawthorne Elementary in Boise

hawthorne-elementary2.jpgWe went on a quest for a couple of days. We were looking for information about an episode that occurred when I was grade school in Boise – a mere millennium, give or take. It came up in a discussion we were having about Barack Obama, and the relatively small number of African-Americans who call Boise or Idaho home. Now I know more than a few Idahoans who say “my people” have been here for four generations, meaning their children and grandchildren are fifth and sixth generation Idahoans respectively or even longer. (I’m only second generation, but then my father is first-generation American, so there ya go.)

We lived on the Bench when we were kids in the Lemhi, Ona, Palouse & Columbus area. We attended Hawthorne Elementary. When I started first grade, we were in this old, rickety building for my first and second year. By the time I was around 8 or so, somewhere around 1963, we moved into our new school – some semblance of Hawthorne as it is currently. (It’s been upgraded with a new roof, etc) As I recall, the demographics were considerably less than now. The school now has about 314 students. We had between 150-200. One class per grade although when I hit 6th grade, we had two classes.

In 1963 or 1964, there was a day where the entire school was to report to the gym for an assembly; the principal was to speak about something very important. At the time, that would have been Mr. Bill Quinney. Mr. Quinney gave a very concise talk. The gist was this: ‘We were having a new student who would be coming to school the next day. She was black. There would be no trouble.” No one stirred, and then we were dismissed. What I remember is having the discussion in our class afterwards of why in the freakin’ world did we have an assembly to announce a new student coming to school. Were they famous? What has always struck me about Mr. Quinney’s words was that one sentence. “There will be no trouble.”

The girl came the next day, and that’s just about all I remember of her. Since she wasn’t in my class or grade, I wasn’t particularly interested. I do remember an encounter where she came walking past our house one afternoon after school. She had a flat tire on her bike. My siblings, the neighbors, and I were playing when she came by. We invited her in to call her parents, but she adamantly refused to come inside our gate or yard to use the phone to call her father. One of us ran and got my dad who then called her father. Her father came walking from down Columbus Street (which in talking to Cherie Buckner-Webb, I said they had to have lived close by….. Palouse, Nez Perce). We told her father she wouldn’t come inside the yard, and he said they came from a place where it wasn’t safe for her to do that. I do remember telling her father we wouldn’t hurt her. My father talked to him for a bit, and then that was that.

I spoke to Mr. Dean Chatburn, who was principal when I first started school. He was there until 1962 and then transferred to Hillside Junior High. Mr. William (Bill) Quinney followed him as principal at Hawthorne. What Mr. Chatburn confirmed for me, even though the above clipping has it wrong, what I remember about the school. It was brick and wood. We were in it until I was in the third grade when we moved into this brand-new brick structure. As kids, we used the old school for adventuring and such.

He also said he didn’t recall the demographics of students changing while he was principal; the school was probably 100% – white or Caucasian. He was pretty certain no youngster who was African-American registered while he was principal. He thought that would undoubtedly be something he’d recall. Currently, there are 22 non-white students from grades 1 through 6. (Demographics aren’t apparently kept on the kindergarteners).

We couldn’t confirm anything with Mr. Quinney either as he died four years ago. What we could confirm was that he was Hawthorne’s principal until 1972 via the Boise School District. In talking to Cherie Buckner-Webb, who I got to know from my days at Planned Parenthood as she was on the Board of Directors, she was telling me her family has been here since 1908 – 100 hundred years of Idahoans. However, they lived in the ‘North End’ so she attended Longfellow.


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