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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Kathryn Cheek, March 27, 2003. Interview K-0203. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Tensions at Chapel Hill High School

Cheek's strongest memories from junior high school are of her fear of being hurt by black girls. She describes how some black girls would ambush white girls in the bathrooms. Black girls also fought among themselves, she remembers, or fought white girls over romantic attachments to black boys. Interracial romantic relationships were taboo.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Kathryn Cheek, March 27, 2003. Interview K-0203. 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

SUSAN UPTON:
Well, it there anything else you remember about desegregation in the schools, or any other experiences?
KATHRYN CHEEK:
I don't. I mean, I have very vivid memories of the horror in junior high. Of being scared to death of being physically hurt.
SUSAN UPTON:
How come?
KATHRYN CHEEK:
The pulling earrings out and stuff. The one black girl that haunted me all the way through junior high telling me she was going to kill me. I mean those were very significant, very vivid memories.
SUSAN UPTON:
Why did she do that?
KATHRYN CHEEK:
I don't know. I wish I did know. It's thirty years later and I still don't know. [Laughter] I don't have any idea.
SUSAN UPTON:
Did you know her before?
KATHRYN CHEEK:
Probably not before junior high because that was the merging of elementary schools and I don't think I knew her before then and I haven't run into her since. I think she dropped out of school.
SUSAN UPTON:
Did you know anyone who got their earrings pulled out in the bathrooms?
KATHRYN CHEEK:
Yes, yes.
SUSAN UPTON:
Did a lot of people?
KATHRYN CHEEK:
Didn't take too many because after the first couple of occurrences you didn't go in the bathrooms.
SUSAN UPTON:
Was anything done? Did they-
KATHRYN CHEEK:
There was never any proof. What would happen is you'd walk in the bathroom and they'd-the lights would be turned off. You'd be grabbed, earrings ripped or whatever and then be shoved out the door. And then by the time you could get help everyone would be dispersed, so there was no proof.
SUSAN UPTON:
Was it like that all of junior high?
KATHRYN CHEEK:
No, it must of been just my ninth grade year, or maybe eight and ninth grade. I don't remember it being that way in seventh grade.
SUSAN UPTON:
But nothing really-
KATHRYN CHEEK:
No. And I remember you traveling in numbers, you didn't-and I know adolescent girls are packs anyway, but you didn't go off by yourself anywhere.
SUSAN UPTON:
Were there many fights that were black and white?
KATHRYN CHEEK:
Yes. And I don't know the causes, and I don't remember any white and white fights. It was either white and black or black and black. A lot of girls, a lot of black girls fighting. And that was all the time. Fighting among themselves or fighting white girls because of jealousies, perceived jealous or whatever. Because a white girl would be paying attention to a black guy or vice versa black guy paying attention to a white girl.
SUSAN UPTON:
So you think it was worse then among the girls than among the guys?
KATHRYN CHEEK:
For that, yeah.
SUSAN UPTON:
What about like in high school, the issue of black and white dating , was that still a-
KATHRYN CHEEK:
I remember seeing one mixed couple and I can still remember my shock. I encountered them in the stairwell, I mean I can show you the stairwell. It made a vivid impression. It was-he was a tennis player and it was a white guy and a black girl, and I remember being just dumbstruck. But that's the only time I remember anything about it. I mean, that was not, neither of those guys were considered smart by their friends. I mean, it was like that was not the smart thing to do.
SUSAN UPTON:
Did a lot of the people in the school know about it?
KATHRYN CHEEK:
Yes.