The Era Before Brown v. Board of Education

C. Vanessa Baxter oral history interview, 2004 December 21
Vanessa Baxter describes her experiences as a student in Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools from 1959 through the early 1970s, focusing in particular on the impact of integration. Ms. Baxter describes attending an all-black elementary school, then moving to an integrated junior high, Sedgefield Junior High School. She recalls how integration was a success at the school, and also within the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Junior Symphony Orchestra, where she played the violin. Ms. Baxter attributes this success in part to the higher socioeconomic background of the students, and in part to successful leadership within the school. After junior high, she attended Harding High School, which she describes as a school with greater racial conflict. Ms. Baxter discusses significant problems, including violence, with integration at Harding High School, and talks about how the principal fueled racial conflict through uneven treatment of students. Ms. Baxter returned to Harding to deliver the commencement address ten years after she graduated, and she describes a significant improvement in race relations that had occurred by that time based on her experiences with the students during her visit.
Calvin and Naomi Davis oral history interview, 2004 November 23
Calvin and Naomi Davis describe their experiences as students, teachers, parents, and grandparents in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system, and reflect on the significant changes in education during their lifetimes. They discuss both the challenges and successes of the integration of Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools during the 1960s and 1970s, and express concern about the possibility of resegregation in the future due to judicial changes. Mr. and Mrs. Davis perceive the major threat to school integration as a shift away from public support of integration policies, which they attribute to changing demographics caused by the influx of people from other parts of the country into the Charlotte area.
Walter Dial oral history interview, 2004 May 12
Walter Dial reminisces about his childhood and youth growing up in Charlotte's Third Ward and attending local segregated schools in the 1930s and 1940s, including Isabella Wyche Elementary and Second Ward High School. Mr. Dial describes the white and black residents of Third Ward, and discusses other nearby communities, including Dilworth, Brooklyn, Blue Heaven, Greenville, Cherry, Second Ward, and Biddleville. He describes extracurricular activities he participated in during high school, including baseball, football, and working in the cafeteria; as well as recreation outside of school, including rollerskating and visiting young women in different neighborhoods. Mr. Dial also talks about racial tensions in Charlotte, including his experiences working as a teenager during the summer delivering telegrams and encountering hostile white youth and adults in North Charlotte (now this area is called NoDa). He describes the businesses in Charlotte's neighborhoods during the 1930s-1950s, and notes that many of the grocery store and other business owners in the black communities were white.
Vermelle Ely, Price Davis, and John Funches oral history interview, 2004 June 29
Vermelle Ely, Price Davis, and John Funches all attended Second Ward High School in Charlotte, North Carolina, and are all members of the Second Ward High School Alumni Foundation located on Beatties Ford Road in Charlotte. In this interview, Ms. Ely, Mr. Davis, and Mr. Funches reminisce about their high school experiences. Although they attended Second Ward decades apart from each other, all interviewees emphasize the feeling of camaraderie and family connection that they experienced there. In addition, Ms. Ely, Mr. Davis, and Mr. Funches describe their personal experiences with segregation, desegregation, and integration--Ms. Ely as a teacher in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system, Mr. Davis in New York City after graduation, and Mr. Funches in the military and the work force in Charlotte. The discussion turns to the interviewees' opinions on the significance of the black community in Charlotte, the weakening that both integration and urban renewal caused within this community, and the loss of black identity in the present generation at the time of interview. The interviewees express ambivalence about integration; they feel while it was mostly beneficial in that it provided everyone with access to the same educational system, blacks in Charlotte lost their strong sense of community.
Janet S. Gamble and Delores A. Crowder oral history interview 1, 2004 January 12
In this first of two interviews, Mecklenburg County natives Janet Gamble and Delores Crowder discuss their private family lives, the Derita neighborhood in Charlotte, and their elementary school experiences attending the all-black Rockwell Rosenwald School during the 1940s-1950s. Ms. Gamble and Ms. Crowder reflect on the teacher' classroom responsibilities and their typical school schedules. According to the women, one of the central responsibilities of the teacher was student discipline, which often included corporal punishment. They also describe favorite recess or play activities, including softball and jump rope. Ms. Crowder and Ms. Gamble then discuss their school's lack of educational and material resources. Both women remember the prevalent use of hand-me-down books and secondhand classroom desks, and an absence of contemporary amenities. The women recall their school' use of stoves for heat and lack of running water for the buildings. According to the interviewees, sinks and running water were added later when a local church offered financial support.
Janet S. Gamble and Delores A. Crowder oral history interview 2, 2004 February 23
In this second of two interviews, Mecklenburg County natives Janet Gamble and Delores Crowder discuss their private family lives, the Derita neighborhood in Charlotte, and their elementary school experiences attending the all-black Rockwell Rosenwald School during the 1940s-1950s. The two women discuss the Derita neighborhood in northwest Charlotte during the mid twentieth century, in particular, healthcare providers, business owners, community leaders and the role of local churches. Ms. Gamble and Ms. Crowder then briefly discuss their educational experiences attending the segregated Rockwell Rosenwald School and Torrence-Lytle School and how they received second hand educational resources from the white schools. They also share their thoughts on integration, which began in Charlotte after they both graduated from school in the early 1970s. Bringing the conversation up to date for the time of the interview, they reflect that there had been a move away from busing to achieve racially balanced schools towards school assignments based on neighborhood in the 2000s.
Charles Jones oral history interview 1, 2005 May 18
J. Charles Jones--civil rights activist, Freedom Rider, and founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)--recounts his early life growing up in the Carolinas and his involvement in the civil rights movement. A native of Chester, South Carolina, he describes the strict social divide between whites and blacks living in small southern towns and the constant threat of physical violence for African Americans. While attending Johnson C. Smith University, he was active in student government, which led to his involvement in the larger national student political movement starting in the late 1950s. Mr. Jones discusses his experiences as a delegate to the 7th World Festival of Youth and Students for Peace and Friendship in Vienna, Austria, highlighting his debate with Paul Robeson Jr. on the merits of democracy versus communism and his experiences of African American expat culture in Europe. Because the youth festival was organized by the Soviet Union, Jones's participation drew the attention of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and he describes what it was like having to testify in order to prevent being labeled as a communist by the government and by the media. Mr. Jones describes the powerful effect that reports of the Greensboro sit-in had on him while returning home from testifying in Washington, D.C., citing this as the motivating force behind his decision to start a lunch counter sit-in in Charlotte. Mr. Jones describes the first day of the Charlotte sit-ins and how students and the local media looked to him as a spokesman of the movement due to his heightened media profile. Mr. Jones, a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), continues with a discussion of his civil rights work on the national level, including his activism as one of the Rock Hill Four, who were responsible for SNCC's "Jail No Bail" policy. He also recounts his harrowing experience as a Freedom Rider, and his deep realization of extreme danger and isolation that characterized civil rights activism in Mississippi during 1961. Mr. Jones describes his role in McComb, Mississippi, where he reported on the brutal treatment of student protesters from Burglund High School to the outside world, which prompted his request for help from Robert Kennedy. Explaining that he had to go into hiding to prevent being captured by the police or the Ku Klux Klan, he recalls his first meeting with Assistant Attorney General John Doar and the horror Jones felt upon learning that Doar was also being tracked by the Klan and feared for both their lives. Finally, Mr. Jones reflects on the responsibility he feels in ensuring that history records the experiences of the students and activists who challenged the racist Southern establishment and prevailed., Charles Jones was a 67-year-old man at the time of interview, which took place at his home in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was born in Chester, South Carolina, in 1937. He was educated at Biddleville Elementary School, West Charlotte High School, Harbison Junior College, Johnson C. Smith University, and Howard University School of Law; and was employed as an attorney., Digitization made possible by funding from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act as administered by the State Library of North Carolina, a division of the Department of Cultural Resources.
Mable Latimer oral history interview, 2005 April 18
Mable Latimer reflects on her experiences at West Charlotte High School, both as a student during the late 1940s and early 1950s, and after coming back to the school as a volunteer in the 2000s. Education was segregated at the time in North Carolina, and only black students attended West Charlotte until 1970. Ms. Latimer believes that when she attended West Charlotte the teachers were highly experienced and the parents were deeply involved in the education of their students. She describes the West Charlotte of the 2000s as having less experienced teachers and less involved parents of students. Ms. Latimer discusses her thoughts on various problems within the Charlotte Mecklenburg school system and proposes what she sees as several possible solutions, including hiring more qualified educators with experience in mentoring at-risk, low income students and encouraging abstinence education. Ms. Latimer also reflects on the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision on school desegregation, which happened while she was attending college, and the integration of Charlotte's schools. Ms. Latimer closes the interview with some words of advice and encouragement to low income and high risk students.
Connie Patton oral history interview 1, 2005 May 2
Connie Patton shares his memories of his family, school life, and the Brooklyn neighborbood in Charlotte where he grew up during the 1930s and 1940s. Mr. Patton describes the Brooklyn of his youth as a close knit African American community with socioeconomically and occupationally diverse residents. He reminisces about the many jobs he held as a boy and teenager in the local area, including working at the Myers Park golf course, working a paper route, and working in a drug store, and describes how the teachers would accommodate schedules for students who worked at night. He also describes details of daily life during his youth in Brooklyn, including how teachers and neighbors would help each other and keep an eye on children, and how children respected their elders. Mr. Patton talks positively about his experiences attending the segregated Morgan Elementary School and Second Ward High School, and describes his teachers at both schools as being excellent, well educated, and involved. He also describes being drafted into the military during World War II, followed by attending Carver College in 1949, an evening college for returning African American veterans located in Second Ward High School.
James L. Ross oral history interview 3, 2005 March 22
James Ross, a native of Mecklenburg County, discusses his experiences with racial segregation and civil rights activism in Charlotte, North Carolina. Growing up in rural Grier Heights, Mr. Ross attended Billingsville Rosenwald Elementary School and Clear Creek High School before being transferred to the urban Second Ward High School as a result of city expansion. Education was segregated at the time in North Carolina, and only black students attended these three schools. Mr. Ross discusses his experiences serving in the United States Air Force in Texas, where he worked alongside whites for the first time, and his subsequent career in job development and consulting in Charlotte. Mr. Ross also relates his involvement with the Charlotte Bureau of Employment Training Placement, whose goal was to integrate the Charlotte workforce. In addition, he describes his work with Charlotte mayor Stanford Brookshire and Charlotte police chief John Ingersoll during the 1960s and 1970s to help improve communication and relationships between white and black residents of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, which included sensitivity training for white police officers. In particular, Mr. Ross stresses the important role that negotiations, humor, and peaceful protests played in bringing about a positive change in race relations in Charlotte during the 1960s-1980s.
Freddie and Christine Sanders oral history interview, 2005 February 1
Freddie and Christine Sanders reflect on what it was like to be students at the all-black Second Ward High School in Charlotte's Brooklyn neighborhood during segregation in the 1940s and early 1950s. They describe school dances, football games, and extracurricular activities at the school. Mr. Sanders also discusses daily life in Brooklyn and talks about his various jobs as a teenager and young adult, including working in local restaurants and at the Quail Hollow Country Club. Mr. and Mrs. Sanders talk about school desegregation and integration, which came well after they graduated, and describe what it was like for their children to attend integrated schools in Charlotte. The Sanderses' children attended schools close to home, but they describe how some students had to endure long bus rides because of new student assignments to achieve racial balance. During the interview, Mr. and Mrs. Sanders examine and discuss photographs from their time at Second Ward High School.
Daisy S. Stroud oral history interview 2, 2005 February 3
Daisy Spears Stroud describes her life and experiences as an educator in the Charlotte Mecklenburg school system. Mrs. Stroud's teaching career spanned the transition from racially segregated to integrated education, and she describes working in a range of environments, from a one-room rural school to a newly-constructed school with many resources, Oaklawn Elementary. Mrs. Stroud recounts anecdotes that illustrate the school integration process, and notes that early on, black educators and students were individually selected to integrate white schools. Mrs. Stroud also talks about her husband, Gerson Stroud, a celebrated principal and administrator in Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools.