Desegregation eases tensions and promotes cooperation
In this excerpt, Griffin argues that desegregation promoted better understanding between the races. He remembers a great deal of hostility between black and white students at segregated schools. Desegregation has ended this violent sense of competitiveness, made Charlotte more democratic by making blacks and whites more comfortable working with one another, and given African Americans a host of new opportunities.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Arthur Griffin, May 7, 1999. Interview K-0168. 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
PG: What do you think desegregation was accomplished in this part of Charlotte?
AG: What do I think it has accomplished? I think desegregation has accomplished two things. It’s certainly accomplished a better understanding of the races, believe it or not. I know people have different opinions about that, so I use my own experience. Growing up in Second Ward, we’d say, “Let’s go beat the white boy’s ass.” We’d say, “Why won’t they let us go play in Myers Park?” Not for sheer competitiveness, but there’s a sense of anger and hostility, OK. We wanted to play white schools so we could beat them up bloody, OK? Not to just play them athletically. This is a memorable experience–probably about three years ago, at Memorial Stadium, South Mecklenburg played West Charlotte High. My kids attended South Mecklenburg, because we live in that quadrant of the county. And the West Charlotte kids were on one side, my kids were on the South Meck side. And a friend of mine, he used to be a district court judge, he’s a lawyer now, named Michael Todd,–Michael went to Myers Park, but he was going to West Charlotte for a while, but he went over to Myers Park–we were saying, “Man, isn’t this something?” “Yeah, all these white people over there on the West Charlotte side, yelling for West Charlotte to beat, and all these black folk over here on the South Mecklenburg side, yelling for South Mecklenburg to beat West Charlotte. And isn’t this something?” And we almost cried, just saying, “Gosh, look how far we have come with respect to the races getting along.” Not to fight them, not to cut them. Back then, we didn’t have guns; it was a lot of knives, cuts, back when I was growing up in high school, in terms of violence. And it was a lot of violence, too.
But in terms of a goal or a benefit of desegregation, certainly that has been one, that we’ve learned to live a lot better. You don’t have the hostility and the hate. Even my own son, he’s a graduate of South Mecklenburg, was in the Carolina Place Mall during the Christmas holidays. He saw some white kids that he went to school with. They stopped and clapped and shook hands and talked and all that stuff. And, although he didn’t hang out with them, he hangs out with some black kids, but he knew these white kids well enough to have a conversation and talk, he hadn’t seen them in a while, since they graduated from school. And I reflect on that, because as a citizen in Mecklenburg County, or any county, but let’s just say these kids are voting age now, because they are. When you have to decide on civic issues, they can come together and reflect on the experiences that they both have. It won’t be a hateful, it won’t be haves versus have-nots. They can reflect on, “Well, I know a black guy named Tony Griffin and maybe he would benefit from this.” Or if they had some discussion, as citizens, as voters. They would tend to be more supportive of a healthy community going forward, as opposed to animosity, anger, one versus the other. So desegregation brings about a greater sense of democracy, both in terms of my own experience from West Charlotte and Second Ward, and I see it in my offspring, my kid, as he meets and greets kids that are white and are different, even though they didn’t associate with him each and every day.
The other value in terms of desegregation is that there are opportunities that did not exist for African Americans in a segregated setting. Now, what do I mean by that. Let’s take my wife. Her dad was a psychologist, her mom was a schoolteacher, and she lived twenty feet from West Charlotte. All the well-to-do black folk moved over to West Charlotte, all right? I was still at the ghetto school called Second Ward. But our brightest black children, kids who were ready to learn, kids who had family support, were given crap in terms of resources. West Charlotte, although it had better resources than Second Ward, couldn’t compare to Myers Park. You ought to hear my wife tell this story. I was in a business called–it wasn’t Decca then, it was called Distributive Education or something back in the old days–and they had their little office machines and such at West Charlotte, manual typewriters and such. Alicia says that when she went to Myers Park for some kind of meeting, they had an IBM 129. They had electric, the very first IBM Selectric typewriters, they were electric as opposed to manual. They had Somebody Woods reading something–can’t think of what it was–Dublin Woods or some kind of Woods, it was a reading program that was mechanical, it wasn’t computerized, but it was mechanical. All this stuff. And they didn’t have that at West Charlotte. So our best and brightest youngsters didn’t have access. Not saying that the best and brightest are the only ones who should have access; all should have access. But today, an African-American kid who’s ready to learn has access.
So that’s a distinction in terms of desegregation. A lot of folks say, “Well, if you go to your own neighborhood school,...” Well, we’ve shown our best and brightest in the black community had the best, but compared to the total community, did not have the best. So it’s access. Desegregation has created a greater access. Now, it’s almost like saying, you can’t discriminate. You can buy a house wherever you want to buy a house, but if you don’t have the money, you can’t live where you want to live. So the piece in Charlotte, as relates to desegregation, was about access. Now, we got some other things we need to work on in terms of preparing some kids to come to school ready to learn, etc. But you certainly don’t want to go backwards, by saying, “Here’s a kid from a family that’s ready to learn, but doesn’t have access.” So a lot of African-American kids now have access to quality education, because of desegregation. And it’s much broader than that. You just have to walk in my shoes to understand how deep this goes. African-American kids were coming along years ago, and even today to a great degree, “I want to be a lawyer, I want to be a doctor, I want to be a teacher, I want to be a preacher, I want to be an athlete, I want to be an entertainer.” What the hell do we ever hear about being a transportation–getting a doctorate in transportation? “What is that?” A landscape architect? “What is that?” Desegregation opens up a whole vista of knowledge and opportunity that’s not always on a piece of paper, but in the interaction with others, you broaden your knowledge base. And by broadening your knowledge base, you broaden your opportunities. African-American kids now hear about occupations and jobs and careers that they wouldn’t ordinarily hear about if you’re segregated.
And likewise for whites. Desegregation is good for white kids, to understand about others that are different, about African Americans, who are a large minority group in America. Likewise Hispanics. And I don’t know about the future because I don’t study all this stuff, but I do read a little bit, and I’m told that America’s browning. That the demographics will change. If you want your white kid to be successful, if you want your white kid to be a corporate president, who’s going to work for your white kid? Going to be a minority. Even from the selfish perspective, you know, of wanting to be a Wall Street wizard and be the President of the United States. Who’s going to be Vice President? Who could be in the Cabinet? Who will be the employees in the middle-management of government? It’s going to be minorities. And a minority, maybe, I hope and pray, will be President one day. But I’m saying to you, if we’re going to get along in America, looking perspectively, then it makes sense to be in a diverse setting, because we’re moving so quickly to our gated communities in the suburbs, and our churches aren’t,–where else? Unless you look at the purpose of education differently. If you look at the purpose of education as being one where you prepare youngsters for the future, then we see the future. This is a part of our obligation, is to prepare youngsters. If their future’s going to be diverse, where else do you prepare youngsters? We don’t have any arguments about technology. Parents want computers in the classroom. I gotta have it! Because why? That’s the future. Well, is the future diverse? If so, let’s prepare youngsters to live and work in a diverse society.
So I think–I gave you a whole big answer, much bigger than you asked for in terms of why desegregation, what’s the value of desegregation. It’s more than just resources. The history in this community right now, Charlotte as well as the country–in a segregated setting, you lose the community’s will. Twenty percent of all of the African-American kids are in ten school districts: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and they don’t bus. It’s not about desegregation in Chicago. It’s not about desegregation in New York. It’s not about desegregation in Philadelphia. It’s not about desegregation in Dallas. They go to all-black neighborhood schools. It’s about access and resources in all those communities.