More than a dozen participants in a new KTWU documentary offer insight on attending Topeka's segregated elementary schools.

"I Just Want to Testify" will debut at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 15, at the Brown v. Board National Historic Site. It will air at 8 p.m. on Thursday, May 16, and at 8 p.m. on Monday, May 27, on KTWU.

Planning began several months ago and the taping, a reunion of sorts, took place March 23.

"It's humbling," Carolyn Wims-Campbell said of being part of the project. "I've very thankful this documentary is being produced to tell our story."

The alumni attended one of the city's four all-black elementary schools — Buchanan, McKinley, Monroe and Washington.

Wims-Campbell, who went to McKinley from kindergarten to sixth grade, offered a perhaps unexpected perspective.

"We knew the teachers loved us and cared for us," she said, adding that she was thankful for her elementary school experience at a segregated school.

When integration occurred, "We lost out," Wims-Campbell said.

She recalled feeling sorry for her brother who went to Grant Elementary, by then integrated.

Jack Alexander said segregation was the only thing he knew as a child.

"I really didn't feel segregation even though I was in that setting," he said. "In my mind, we had everything we needed, teachers were super."

The alumni emphasized the high expectations the black teachers had for their students and lamented that many of the educators lost their jobs when integration took place.

Norma Avery attended Washington for kindergarten and first grade.

"We used to walk past Parkdale to get to Washington," she said, adding that she would see other kids playing on the school playground.

As a child, she wondered why she had to walk to a different school when Parkdale was right there.

"I didn't understand it," she said.

In second grade, the schools were integrated. At Parkdale, a teacher was intent on making her right-handed.

"She made it exceptionally hard for me," said Avery, who suspects she was treated poorly because she was black.

The group reminisced about the days when children played marbles and knew that if they misbehaved outside of their house, word would get back to their parents faster than they could bicycle home.

"We had a strong neighborhood," said Clarence Martin.

Several black-owned businesses thrived around 4th and Kansas until "urban renewal" wiped them out, said Alonzo Harrison.

When integration occurred, Wanda Dixon said she remembers wondering why students at Lowman Hill didn't have to change schools but students from Buchanan did.

Most of the students attended Topeka High School.

Pamela Johnson-Betts pointed out that black female students had less opportunities than males because they were excluded from athletics.

"You still don't have a place to shine," she said.

Deborah Dandridge said she enjoyed the diversity, including Hispanic and Jewish students, though a hierarchy existed. She learned that issues of diversity weren't necessarily binary, but "far more complex."

Many of the students went on to have successful careers in education. 

Beryl New said being told to go to secretary school motivated her to get her doctorate. She was the principal of Topeka's Highland Park High School for seven years and is now the certified personnel manager for Topeka Unified School District 501.

Johnson-Betts is the executive director of the Topeka Public Schools Foundation.

Wims-Campbell served on the USD 501 school board and the Kansas State Board of Education.

Dandridge is an archivist at the University of Kansas' Spencer Research Library.

Community organizer Marty Patterson has been working on the alumni project for about two years and has been intent on getting the group's voices heard.

"When you have them all together you get the story and the energy that was of that time," she said.

Topeka's story is unique because integration occurred without any violence, she added.

Eugene Williams, general manager of KTWU, hosts the documentary. He said the participants experienced a drastic change in American culture and politics during the Brown era.

"I don't think a lot of people realized that they were making history at the time," Williams said. "So it's extremely important and it's told from their perspective. That's what really great about this: They're telling it."