To the Editor,
Much has been written and said about the service to our community by J. D. Bartley. Indeed he was a public servant in many ways, serving from a heart of love for the people and their welfare.
He has been recognized for his service to city government in various and diverse ways and to the Children’s Center. Too little has been said about his leadership as principal of Mount Airy Senior High School.
J.D. came to the high school as a business education teacher in 1957. He earned his principal’s certification and served as principal of the Jones Elementary School for one year. When Ivo Wortman left to become assistant superintendent of Harnett County Schools in the summer of 1966, J.D. became the principal of Mount Airy Senior High School.
I was employed as a teacher at the high school in 1960. J.D. was my mentor, helping in many ways to adjust to public school life. He not only was a fellow professional, he became a friend as well. When he became high school principal in 1966, he asked me to serve as his assistant principal.
J.D. served as principal of the high school for five years, 1966-1971. For those who may have forgotten, these were the years of total integration of the public schools of Surry County, The decision was made by the boards of education that the students of Jones School would attend the schools in the district in which they lived, whether Mount Airy, Surry County, Elkin, Stokes County, or Yadkin County.
Previously there had been token integration but in 1967, with total integration, Mount Airy Senior High School found that 12 percent of its students were African-Americans. This presented problems with which J.D. and I and the faculty were forced to confront and resolve. Many of the African-American students expressed strongly that they did not wish to be at Mount Airy High School but wanted to go back to Jones High School (which no longer existed). Of course there were some white students who did not want them at Mount Airy Senior High School.
No doubt the integration process was a traumatic experience for the African-American students who came to Mount Airy Senior High School. At Jones High School they had their own class officers, band, chorus, sports teams, and school community. Suddenly, they were thrust, as a minority group among strangers, both students and teachers. Most people, even adults, in a similar situation would react with hostility and resentment. Even while some of these attitudes did exist, under J.D.’s leadership tensions were lowered and relative stability and harmony between the groups existed.
There were random acts of violence perpetrated by each group. There were vocal parents who voiced their discontent with policies and actions taken by the school administration and faculty. The situation required constant awareness and vigilance. Either J.D. or I attended every team sports event whether at home or away. J. D. was a real leader in lowering tensions, ensuring a successful a transition and insisting that nothing interfered with the education of students. Despite many distractions, our students continued their excellent performance on all state and national measurements.
Mount Airy Senior High School came through the total integration crises successfully because of the leadership of J.D. Bartley. This success is emphasized by the election of an African-American student, Dennis France, as student body President in 1970. Many communities were the scene of violence and court cases stemming from the school integration issue. Mount Airy avoided this due to the leadership of J.D. Bartley during the integration process at the high school. When violence raged across the country upon the assassanations of the Rev. Martin Luther King,Jr. and Robert Kennedy, there were no such actions by the African-American students at the high school because J.D. allowed then to pay proper tribute.
I do not wish to portray a scene of absolute peace and harmony at Mount Airy Senior High School throughout the integration process. It was not that way. There were acts of violence with racial overtones by each group. J.D. and I, as well as some members of the faculty, were subjected to profanity, name calling, threats of violence, and vandalism to our homes and property. But when problems did arise, J.D. understood how to approach and resolve the issues. He was respected by the white and African-American community alike.
After five years of constant pressure, on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, never able to get away from school wherever we went, church, to the grocery store, shopping, the movies, ball games, telephone calls, J.D. resigned and took employment in the business world. Mount Airy City Schools lost an excellent administrator with his departure.
Several years later a reporter, who claimed to be from a national magazine, came to Mount Airy to do research for an article on local discrimation in the public schools against African-American students and the Bunker descendents. She and I spent a half-day discussing attitudes and actions in the public schools and the community both during my lifetime and my tenure of 31 years in the Mount Airy City School System. I shared with her some papers retained from my employment. Apparently her research did not reveal what she was seeking because her article was never published.
J.D. Bartley was a servant to our community in many ways. But his greatest service was as principal of Mount Airy Senior High School during a critical time in our schools and our community. He deserves recognition for his leadership in bringing success to this volatile area during a time of crises. For this our community is to be eternally grateful.
retired assistant principal, Mount Airy Senior High School
retired assistant superintendant, Mount Airy City Schools