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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James Atwater, February 28, 2001. Interview K-0201. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Black community fears closing of black schools after the <cite>Brown</cite> decision

Atwater remembers general anxiety in the black community over whether the <cite>Brown vs. Board of Education</cite> decision would mean the demise of black schools. He worried whether black teachers, principals, and college presidents would be fired as their schools were integrated. He especially worried about the fate of North Carolina Central University.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James Atwater, February 28, 2001. Interview K-0201. 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

JENNIFER NARDONE:
For your master's. Were you in Durham when Brown vs. the Board of Education came down in '54 or had you already-
JAMES ATWATER:
I was in the service.
JENNIFER NARDONE:
You were in the service.
JAMES ATWATER:
I went into the service in '53, and I was in the service until '55, until 1955.
JENNIFER NARDONE:
So you, well, I don't know. Did you have any reaction to that when you heard about it?
JAMES ATWATER:
Oh yes. I had a reaction-
JENNIFER NARDONE:
You obviously had younger siblings who were in school still at the time. Do you remember feeling like okay, now, it's all going to it's all going to merge together. It'll happen, now it's going to happen.
JAMES ATWATER:
I think I can say that was my general feeling, but I also had some misgivings about it, from the standpoint that I was no entirely sure how it would be handled. Would that mean that all schools would simply be integrated or would it mean that black schools would disappear? And I think that that was the general fear among many people, many African Americans who saw it because whatever the quality or merits we had built up a parallel, and somebody mentioned, does this mean that won't be anymore black university presidents? Does this mean there won't be anymore black principals? And anymore black teachers, because I think the fear, justified or not, was that once that decision was made, it would be made, excuse the expression, on our backs. So, it was a mixed feeling. How fair would the process be, in determining who goes and who stays. Obviously, there's going to be duplication.
JENNIFER NARDONE:
Right. Right. There's been a lot discussion-in the discussion we've had in class about this sense of how important the black schools have been to the black community. At the same time, this knowledge that there's something missing, just in terms of numbers and financing, and things like that. But it had somehow transcended that and become something more important.
JAMES ATWATER:
Well, I think that the, well, I want to say time will tell, but, I think that again, from a personal standpoint, we, meaning the North Carolina Central family, is going through that process now-where do we go from here? Because North Carolina, the state of North Carolina legislature is saying you have to justify your existence, you have to diversify, etcetera , etcetera, and many people use the example of West Virginia State University, I don't know if you're familiar with that or not.
JENNIFER NARDONE:
I don't know-
JAMES ATWATER:
Okay, West Virginia State University was an African American school, at the same time that NC Central was, but once desegregation occurred, I think now it's a predominately white university. And of course, they're serving the area, and its history, African American, blacks, were coming from where ever to attend West Virginia State. But now, so, the good or bad, it's part of progress, but I think it's a matter of weighing which is done in extent-still questions.