Teacher recalls ‘walking through doors,’ courage and triumph amid desegregation

In 1970, 5-year-old Pia DeVore entered first grade at Mitchell Road Elementary. A school she would return to many years later as a teacher. She wants to see more courage and fearlessness from trailblazers, and representation in education.
Mitchell Road Elementary's Pia Devore now teaches at the school she once helped desegregate in 1970
Published: Feb. 22, 2023 at 4:02 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

GREENVILLE, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - One Upstate teacher can relate to the story of Ruby Bridges, thrust into the forefront of desegregation when federal marshals escorted her into elementary school. Ten years later, one local teacher was one of the first Black students to enter Greenville’s Mitchell Road Elementary School. And she’s sharing her first-hand account of courage to walk through the door, and why she’s still there.

We’re in the den of Mrs. Pia DeVore, M.Ed., where she covers writing, mathematics, and reading stories about history makers like Ruby Bridges.

“She wasn’t afraid to go to school, and I don’t remember being afraid to go to school either,” she said.

She was raised in Greenville’s progressive Black Nicholtown neighborhood, a self-sustaining place that had its own Black Wall Street once.

“It does matter,” she said. “It was a strong community.”

Then in 1970, South Carolina schools were integrated, and a 5-year-old Pia DeVore entered first grade at Mitchell Road Elementary. A school she would return to many years later as a teacher.

“Ruby Bridges is a little girl that went to school, and she was me. And I thought that if I tell my story to my students they would remember it,” she said.

A story of heroism that students let alone visitors, can’t miss. It’s visibly evident on her classroom door.

“And it’s within my lifetime, which to me is sad, that it’s only been 53 years in Greenville County Schools since integration,” DeVore said.

A story in American history that lines every classroom door in this school, but DeVore is more concerned with history in motion.

“If you haven’t lived it, you don’t understand it,” she said.

DeVore’s referring to courage and fearlessness as a trailblazer, and representation in education.

“We need some ruby bridges, we need more of us, because you will adapt to the space that you’re in,” she said.

Like other educators, she’s juggling multiple roles including teacher and role model.

“The success of a child depends on the teacher,” DeVore said.

And she believes her job is also to show students what role models of color look like every day.

“I know that when I walk through the hallways and the students come up to me and I can relate to some of the students that other teachers cannot relate to in a way that other teachers cannot relate to them because they see me as their parent or someone they can associate with,” DeVore said.

Strategies and gains she wants to see accomplished before she exits the classroom, but until that day she’s focused on the history still being made.

“Sometimes you have to walk through doors because it’s bigger than you,” DeVore said.