Since starting our business three years ago, we’ve heard a lot of remarkable stories. Few stand out more than that of Olyvia Green, the first black teacher at Pease Elementary in Austin, Texas. In December of 2014, the Storyhouse team interviewed Ms. Green and turned the conversation into a short video. Olyvia’s contributions were honored at an African American Heritage Assembly at the downtown school where former students, fellow teachers, members of her church and the Pease Elementary community poured in to thank her and listen to her story. Today, we’re sharing both her video and story.
Olyvia Green grew up in Magnolia Arkansas, the daughter of school teachers. She moved to Pine Bluff, Arkansas to pursue a teaching degree and when she returned home, she married her High School sweetheart. When Olyvia was 26, her husband passed away and she and her two sons, ages 4 and 2 at the time, picked up and moved to Austin where she began substitute teaching. It wasn’t long before the principal of Pease Elementary, Ms. Hunter, ask that Olyvia join the staff at Pease Elementary. The year was 1968, the same year the Civil Rights Act was passed into law.
Olyvia, reluctant at first given the racial tension she knew she’d have to endure, accepted the position. She recalls an incident when she started teaching; she went to get some water when another teacher stuck a hand in her glass. “I didn’t throw the water on her,” she says, but instead went to grab some more water. When she came back, she placed the new water glass in front of the woman and told her, “Now, do you want some water? Cause if you put your hand in it this time, you gonna get the water.” After that incident, she didn’t have any more problems. Olyvia says, “I think they realized that I was there to do the same thing that they were there; to teach the children, nothing else.”
As a teacher, Olyvia set high expectations for the students, but also wanted them to have fun, always sending the kids home with a hug. Of her legacy, Olyvia says, “I’d like to be remembered as touching someone’s life along the way. I’d like to be remembered that I loved someone along the way; I made someone happy. I’d like to be remembered that I gave somebody a hug who didn’t get a hug that day.” Check out the video below for her full story, along with interviews of fellow teachers and students who help honor her legacy.
George Wallace, the then Governor of Alabama who refused to send the state’s National Guard to protect Selma marchers. During her job interview, Pease Elementary’s principal at the time, Ms. Hunter, asked Olyvia whether she thought George Wallace was prejudiced to which she responded, “Now, you know he’s prejudiced!” Ms. Hunter, impressed by her honesty, told her she’d received the job.
Storyhouse is a Texas-based business that preserves family stories, recipes, photos, and documents through multimedia projects. The Olyvia Green project was made possible through a partnership with the Austin Independent School District.
Maggie Mora is Storyhouse’s Marketing Manager and a Jill of all trades. When not working as an ESL teacher or with Storyhouse, she spends an unhealthy amount of time listening to This American Life and reading—absorbing other people’s stories is her favorite pastime.