Stay The Course
Perfect Bound Softcover
Stay The Course, set in rural North Carolina in the late 1960s through 1971, tells the warm and compelling story of a grandmother's ("Ma") lifelong dream to witness one of her own get a high school diploma. To Ma, the day you "finished up your schooling" was the day you got your "freedom." And, with four grandchildren set to graduate like stair steps, nothing seemed to be standing in the way. But on a cloudy Saturday evening, tragedy strikes, leaving one grandson dead, another running from the police, one granddaughter emotionally shattered, and Ma with one last hope... Lori.
Though, nothing could have prepared Lori for the struggles she would face on her journey to fulfill Ma’s dream...sibling relations, race relations, accepting personal responsibility for her decisions, and having to learn positive ways of addressing life’s challenges by first seeking to understand differences rather than judge. And just when she thought the worst was over, the worst was yet to come.
On a beautiful Saturday evening, three days before Ma’s dream would stop being a dream, bringing an end to one of life’s cruelest games of dodgeball, the unbelievable happens.
Mr. Brown walked through the door of my classroom shortly before the nine o’clock bell sounded. The room fell dead silent. It was so quiet I could hear myself breathe, anxious with the anticipation of hearing his speech, even if it was the same old speech he had given to every other eighth grade class. He stood in front of the classroom by Mrs. Brown’s desk. She was his wife. They spoke in low whispers. When their chatter ended, Mr. Brown cleared his throat and faced the class.
“Good morning boys and girls,” he began in his deep speaking voice.
“Good morning,” we sang back like a church choir.
“In 1954, Mr. Brown continued, “when you were just babies in your mother’s arms,” (the class snickered at that) “thanks to a great Negro man and brilliant attorney named Thurgood Marshall, the Supreme Court, the highest Court of this land, handed down a decision that would change all of our lives. That decision made it unlawful,” he repeated the word 'unlawful' several times, “for the United States of America, our country, to have segregated schools. Separate and unequal no more.” He paused. “Now some of you may have already heard from your parents, maybe on television, or the radio about some changes that are taking place. Change is a good thing,” Mr. Brown said, nodding his approval, “and although it has been slow making its rounds, integration has finally come to Carroll County, North Carolina.” His eyes slowly scanned the room of anxious students as if he was taking a careful count. “Now, your teacher,” he nodded towards Mrs. Brown, “has what is called a ‘Selection Sheet’ that she will pass out to each one of you. On this form you must check the high school you want to attend. Your choices, of course, are Snowden High or Kramer High. We hope that by handling it this way we will voluntarily get the number of students we need over to Kramer High.”
A hushed, noisy buzz poured from the students. Nora, who sat right across from me, leaned in close. “What does he mean by it’s our choice?”
“It’s your choice.” I shrugged. “Just mark the box for Snowden High.”
“I know this is new and different,” Mr. Brown said, “so feel free to ask your teacher, Mrs. Brown, any questions you might have. I have nothing but the utmost faith that you can succeed anywhere. And I want you to always remember this,” Mr. Brown pounded his fist in his hand in rhythm as he spoke, “change is a good thing,” he said, and quickly left the room.
Not until Mrs. Brown placed the ‘Selection Sheet’ on my desk did it hit me that my eyes were still glued to the closed door waiting for Mr. Brown to come back and give the speech he was suppose to make. I stared down at a piece of paper that asked me to chose whether I wanted to begin the most important day of my life attending the all-Negro Snowden High, or the all-white Kramer High — a decision, in my opinion, that didn’t require much use of a brain. I positioned my pencil over the box for Snowden High.
“We want you to select Kramer High,” Mrs. Brown said in a soft whisper, nearly startling me out of my chair. Her mouth was so close to my ear I felt the warmth of her breath.
“Mr. Brown said it was a volunteer thing,” I whispered back.
“I know what Mr. Brown said, but we’ve got to get a certain number of our Negro students over to the all-white school.”
“Maybe you can git enough without me.”
“But we have to make sure. It’s the law now.”
I could feel Mrs. Brown staring, peering around at me. I refused to look at her. I kept my eyes fixed on my pencil hovering over the box for Snowden High.
Mrs. Brown leaned in close again. “Lori, Mr. Brown and I have talked at length about you and we both agree. You’re smart. Quick. The students we send to the all-white school have to be strong enough to handle the kind of challenges they’re sure to face, and you’re one who can do just that.
"But I wanna go to high school with my friends.”
“Lori, you’ve been chosen to represent the Negro race. Now even if you don’t check that box you will be assigned to Kramer High.”
E. D. Arrington, affectionately called Lois by many, is the fourth of seven children. She was raised on a farm in rural Greene County, North Carolina by her grandparents, Tom and Eva Brown Arrington, until their deaths. After graduating from T. C. Williams High School (school of the Titans) in Alexandria, Virginia, she pursued her higher education at local colleges and universities, lived and worked in Maryland and Washington, D. C. for twenty-five years before retiring to Wilson, North Carolina.
Stay The Course, Arrington's first published novel, is based on her life experiences; and, like her main character, "Lori," Arrington says she draws daily strength and encouragement from lessons her Ma taught through storytelling. Lessons such as: Friendship has no color. Good people are not perfect people. And the one lesson Arrington says she hears Ma whisper most often, particularly in her later years: "Sometimes the road you on can git so bumpy you'll wonder if you ever go'n git where you headed. But there's only one way you ever go 'n find out what's waiting on you at the end of that road. You gotta stay the course. Stay the course."
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