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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William and Josephine Clement, June 19, 1986. Interview C-0031. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Pushing for school integration in Durham during the 1950s and 1960s

William Clement discusses his involvement with the Durham Committee as the chair of the education committee during the 1950s. William describes how the Committee was advocating for school integration, especially following the <cite>Brown</cite> decision in 1954. He describes how they worked tirelessly to find parents willing to have their students pioneer the integration process. In the early 1960s, they finally succeeded in getting the school board to accept the integration of six African American children, serving as a harbinger of things to come.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with William and Josephine Clement, June 19, 1986. Interview C-0031. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Then in the Durham Committee I became a member of the education committee and eventually chairman of that committee, and it was during the time that we were suing the city for separate but equal, that was the suit that was being heard. Thurgood Marshall was working with the NAACP; he was the attorney that came down. And in the meantime, in 1954, the Brown decision came down, so that eliminated that. Then we started working on the matter of integration, and so, you know, about what went on in Virginia, and North Carolina, and finally, we had the pupil assignment law passed in North Carolina, and it was our committee's responsibility to go into sections of Durham to get the parents to agree to petition the school board for reassignment because the kids were leaving that community, walking past elementary schools, coming across to the black community. So we were able to get some of the parents and finally after a long period of time, I recall the many visits that we went up to the school board and I can hear the chairman of the board, now, Mr. Fuller, saying, "Never! Never! Never!" And they did a lot of things. They tried to start a double session because of the overcrowded conditions in the black schools.
WALTER WEARE:
Would this have been in the early sixties, late fifties?
WILLIAM CLEMENT:
No, this was in the middle sixties, I imagine. During the early sixties.
WALTER WEARE:
Josephine, are you on the board at this time?
WILLIAM CLEMENT:
No, she didn't go on the board until August 1973 . . .
JOSEPHINE CLEMENT:
No, another era.
WILLIAM CLEMENT:
Yeah. There were no blacks on the board at all. It was really interesting. Some of the papers that I turned over to the Southern Historical Society [The Southern Historical Collection], some of the clippings from the papers, we were fortunate to have saved them. I had a very good secretary who really kept files, that's why my files, I think, were in pretty good shape. So that was quite an experience. We finally got the school to approve six blacks to be integrated and there were three members on our committee and we took those three young students to one of the elementary schools for that whole year. We alternated. And then we got the parents and the friends, got clothes, remember we got clothes for the girls, and so forth. That was another really thrilling experience. So then I really retired more or less from the Durham Committee as chairman. I'm still on their committee and on the executive committee. And then I really got involved in a lot of other activities.