Education

St. Stanislaus preserves history of racial integration — 50 years later

jvicory@sunherald.com and

Mickey Piernas, left, and Lonnie Bradley enrolled at St. Stanislaus in 1966. They were the school’s first black students.
Mickey Piernas, left, and Lonnie Bradley enrolled at St. Stanislaus in 1966. They were the school’s first black students. Special to the Sun Herald

In 1966, the first two black students enrolled at St. Stanislaus College at the invitation of the principal, Brother Lee Barker.

The following year, St. Augustine Seminary’s high school merged with St. Stanislaus. The merger also came at the direction of Barker, who served from 1966 to 1976.

Fifty years later, St. Stanislaus hosted a gathering to commemorate the historic Bay St. Louis events.

“We want to make our student body aware of remarkable historic events which took place 50 years ago,” said Richard Gleber, co-director of admissions and director of public relations for St. Stanislaus, a day and boarding school for boys in the seventh through 12th grades.

Friday morning, upperclassmen visited St. Rose de Lima Church and junior high students visited St. Augustine Chapel. The two Catholic churches and their communities are credited with having a heritage of racial integration.

Later Friday, students met with guests who had experienced the integration period, including the school’s first two black students, Mickey Piernas and Lonnie Bradley, who recalled their fears and experiences from their freshman year at St. Stanislaus in 1966-67.

“That first year was tough,” Bradley said. “We didn’t know (the other students), and they didn’t know us. There were some difficult times. But that second year, when the seminarians (St. Augustine students) joined us, it got much better.”

Piernas agreed the experience made the two uneasy at first.

“It was tough and a little scary,” he said. “But it got better. And it was worth it. I am thankful for my St. Stanislaus education.”

Curtis St. Mary, a seminarian who joined Bradley and Piernas in 1967, thanked the two for “paving the way.” He recalled a basketball trip the St. Stanislaus team took to “somewhere in North Mississippi.”

“After our game, we went to this restaurant,” St. Mary said. “The waiter went to Coach Cuccaro and whispered something. Coach then came to me and Kevin Dugay and told us to go to the bus. We were fuming. About 10 minutes later, the rest of the team came walking to the bus. I found out later that Coach asked the other players about how they felt about their teammates who couldn’t eat in the restaurant. They all said that if we couldn’t eat there, they didn’t want to eat there, either.”

Here is a short history of the cultural and political environment in the years before St. Stanislaus College’s integration effort.

▪ 1954: In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education declared separate schools are “inherently unequal.”

▪ Between 1955 and 1960: Federal judges held more than 200 school-desegregation hearings.

▪ 1958: The Supreme Court ruled fear of social unrest or violence, whether real or constructed by those wishing to oppose integration, does not excuse state governments from complying with the Brown ruling.

▪ 1962: A federal appeals court ordered the University of Mississippi to admit James Meredith, its first black student. Upon his arrival, a mob of more than 2,000 white people rioted.

▪ 1964: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was adopted. Title IV of the act authorized the federal government to file school-desegregation cases. Title VI prohibits discrimination in programs and activities, including schools, receiving federal financial assistance.

Justin Vicory: 228-896-2326, @justinvicory

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