Rev. Oscar Tillman speaks to students at Kyrene de la Estrella Elementary School on Wednesday about his experiences growing up in the South during the era of segregation.

Kyrene de la Estrella Elementary School fifth-graders embraced Black History Month to the fullest this year, even marching the school's halls to re-enact Dr. Martin Luther King's 1963 Civil Rights Movement march. But the Rev. Oscar Tillman really topped off their study Wednesday by revealing the truth behind his experience growing up in the South. "You can't shake apart what happened in history," Tillman said. "They need to know the good, the bad and the ugly. We aren't at Dr. Martin Luther King's dream yet." Tillman, a former Tacoma, Wash., school board member and current president of the Maricopa County NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), said he always makes time for kids and schools. "I was born in the Deep South during segregation, and when I was in school I attended what was known as a 'colored' school," Tillman told the students. "I never attended school in September because that was cotton-picking season. If you picked 100 pounds, you got $2." Tillman told students he could be bitter about how he was treated back then, but refuses to. He credited his teachers who kept him on task and made the most of the limited time he had in school. "I never ever received a brand new school book," Tillman said. "We always got books handed down. When they (white students) got new books, we got their old ones; they got new uniforms, we got their old uniforms." Tillman reminisced about receiving one-cent tips when working in a restaurant, serving in the U.S. Air Force, meeting Dr. Martin Luther King, shopping in the basements of department stores and his commitment to volunteering in the NAACP. "Phoenix played a major role in what eventually changed history," Tillman said. "In 1917 Phoenix started their (NAACP) branch. There were some very dedicated people to start it here in the desert shortly after the formation of the state." After his speech, students waved their hands in the air eager to ask Tillman about his life. When one student asked if there was still racism today, Tillman brought a final reality check. "Last year we had 411 complaints at the NAACP office in Phoenix dealing with racism," Tillman said. "Those were just the complaints that were documented. So, yes, we still have very serious problems with racism." For more information on the NAACP, visit

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