Mary Crossland was among the first group of Black educators on the frontlines of desegregation, who joined the faculty of predominantly White schools in the early ’70s.
Her co-workers celebrated her 51 years of service to Dallas ISD students and her commitment to L.O. Donald Elementary – the campus where she taught for 49 years – during a retirement ceremony on June 22, 2021.
“It is the honor of my career to have been here with you,” said L. O. Donald Principal Kathryn Carter. “I can never thank you enough for all that you have done for children. And all I can say is that we will keep on. We will keep pushing the doors open for you and for children, like you did. And thank you for sharing your stories with us.”
Crossland graduated as valedictorian from her high school in New Boston, Texas. She earned her bachelor’s degree at Prairie View A&M University and later returned to earn a master’s in education. After graduating, she moved to Dallas in 1969 to work as a teacher for Dallas ISD, her first and only employer.
We spoke with her about her early career and her efforts to teach during a turbulent time, and about why she chose to spend the last 49 years at her home campus.
Tell us about your history with Dallas ISD and its efforts to desegregate schools.
Right after schools were integrated, I worked for a year and a half at J.N. Ervin Elementary. Dallas ISD sent eight teachers from predominantly-black schools to predominantly-white schools during the 1971-1972 school year, and I was one of two from J.N. Ervin who was chosen to go to L. O. Donald. We were the first Black teachers to work in that school.
There were unpleasant things that did happen, and most of that came primarily from the community and the parents, and sometimes even the faculty, because to some people we weren’t wanted. But that didn’t deter me at all. I am a person who didn’t give up and I was put there for a reason. I truly believe that I was sent there for a purpose and I was not going to be driven out. I knew that I had the ability and that my school Prairie View A&M University had prepared me, and I knew that I could do this and I did do it. I was determined that I was going to stay and I did.
The other African-American teachers who were transferred to L. O. Donald and I had similar experiences and we stuck together. If anyone had any kind of problems, we shared it with one another. And I have to honestly say that we had principals who were in our corner. And when ugly things happened, the principals were there to orchestrate and keep things on an even keel.
When I first started teaching at L. O. Donald, I had no idea that I was going to stay for 49 years.
In high school, we had teachers who were true visionaries. Our principal was the TAG teacher and when I was in ninth grade, I was placed in a room with ninth, 10th and 11th grade students. They began preparing us for what they knew was coming. We didn’t know, but they knew. Therefore, we were exposed to a lot of things that prepared us for the future. When I was only in 10th grade, I was taking advanced mathematics, like trigonometry, and that was unheard of back then. We had a principal and we had teachers who grouped us and taught us everything that they knew we would need when we got to wherever we were going to go.
Most of us went on to Prairie View A&M. I had a four-year scholarship there. And when we were in that school, we studied hard and the professors did not play around because they knew what was coming. After I got out of school and went to J. N. Ervin, I didn’t really know what was going to be expected, but I knew that I had the ability to do it. I wasn’t afraid of my ability and I really wasn’t afraid of facing children. The only thing that bothered me was that I didn’t know what was to come from the neighborhood. I did find out, and a lot of it was not pleasant, but one thing that stood between us and the neighborhood was the principal.
What do you love most about teaching?
The best part of being a teacher is knowing, honestly, that you’re in the very best profession. We are the ones who start with kids who have very little knowledge, and we put all that we have into teaching the children to become astronauts and engineers. And we’re at the very base of what happens in the future . We really mold minds and initiate a path to success. We really do.
You have to love working with children. It takes a special kind of person to say: ‘Yes, I will stay with you until 5 p.m. if necessary for you to learn how to do what it is that you don’t know how to do well. It takes a special person to do those kinds of things. You have to love children and you have to love wanting to help them.
The students at L. O. Donald were always wonderful, well behaved and eager to learn. They were attentive, they were polite.
It’s hard to say goodbye to those that I know are our hope for the future. By preparing them for what lies ahead, we must instill in them the importance of holding on to their dignity, because the greatest love is inside of them. A glorious day is coming. I’m just thankful that I am witnessing its beginning. Our children will usher it in. To all my brothers and sisters, know this: All that I am and ever hope to be, I owe it all to Him.