Eighth graders explore Madera’s Black History
For The Madera Tribune
Chief Warrant Officer Kirk Edwards is a native of Madera and a 1973 graduate of Madera High School.
Students in search of the African-American experience
Scott Gandy’s class at Eastin-Arcola School and Samuel Colunga’s class at La Vina School has taken up the challenge of trying to find out what it was like to be Black in Madera from the 20th to the 21st century.
Recognizing the enormity of this effort, the students have developed a plan that involves searching the newspaper archives, researching the histories of local families, interviewing members of the African-American community, and connecting with churches and organizations that have strong connections to the Black community. Their end product will be a published book.
The students began their project by researching the family of Chief Warrant Officer Kirk Edwards (U.S. Coast Guard), a 1969 graduate of Thomas Jefferson Middle School, a 1973 graduate of Madera High School, a 1980 graduate of CSU Northridge and retired director of Cadet Bands, U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Groton, Connecticut.
Born in 1955, to Delois and Polete Edwards, CWO Edwards is the descendant of slaves. His paternal great grandparents, Eli and Emma, were born into bondage in Louisiana. During Reconstruction, one of their children, Howard Gilbert Edwards, migrated from Louisiana to Oklahoma where he married Candy Anna “Candyann” Hill. They, in turn, became the parents of Polete Edwards. In 1943, Polete moved to Madera with his family and enrolled in Madera High School, graduating in 1946. In 1950 he married Delois Henry, and in 1955, they became the parents of Kirk Edwards.
When contacted at his home in Connecticut, CWO Edwards readily agreed to share some of his family history with the students. He wrote that his great-grandfather, Eli, played the fiddle on the plantation. Edwards surmises that perhaps this accounts for the love of music that developed in later generations of his family, including his own musical interests and talents.
Life was difficult for the Edwards family, as it was for most African-Americans during Jim Crow days and beyond, but they weren’t “jaded by those experiences.”
One of the accounts that Kirk’s father shared with him was the time he was the winning pitcher for the Madera High School baseball team. He said that the coach took the team out for refreshments after the win. He said that the proprietor of the Madera restaurant told the coach that he would not be able to serve the team if his father was included.
The coach informed the restaurant owner that if Polete Edwards could not be served, then none of the team would be served. With this, the owner relented and served everybody.
The elder Edwards also told of the times African-American students were not allowed in the Madera High School swimming pool.
CWO Edwards recalls that discrimination was still alive when he followed his father to Madera High School.
As he remembers, “there was still concern in the African American community during the times that I was attending Madera High School that African-Americans girls were still not able to participate in the letter-girls and the majorettes that marched with the band because of their ethnicity. Madera High School resolved the issue by having an African-American Drill Team march in the back of the band. I believe that some progress was starting to be made on these issues as I was graduating.”
The student historians will next research the life of the Rev. Naaman Haines, a dynamic leader in Madera’s African-American community during the 1960s, for insight into the Civil Rights movement in Madera. At the same time, they are researching the newspaper morgues of the Madera Mercury and The Madera Tribune for a journalistic appraisal of the experiences of Madera’s African-Americans.