Student notices more segregation as she advances through school
Abramson describes her experiences in an open school system in Charlotte, North Carolina. She remembers her elementary schools as well-integrated places where, because students chose to go there, everyone felt themselves to be on equal footing with everyone else. By the time she reached high school, however, Abramson noticed that her classes were less diverse, with fewer black students in advanced classes.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Carrie Abramson, February 21, 1999. Interview K-0275. 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: Did you have a sense that there was a kind of parent who sent their children to the open school?
CA: Yes. I mean, I think I grew up with that impression and—oh gosh—it will say a lot about my parents. I’m glad that they are not here. [Laughter.] But I think in my mind it was always people who were sort of more liberal, more politically liberal as well as sort of socially liberal in the sense of wanting kids to have a more diverse experience. One of the issues with the neighborhood school system which gets back to the segregation issue was that they were not very integrated, even when you had a school like Dilworth which I think actually did have a pretty relatively even mix of both black and white students. There were not always—they didn’t feel integrated a lot. And so the open, optional school system—it was called both—gave a sense of you chose to be there. It was something you chose to do. So, therefore, you were all on even footing and you had all come from different places all over. And it removed some of the “I live a block away. You live ten blocks away. You get bussed. I don’t get bussed, I walk.” Because basically everybody was bussed. So that was sort of different. And the parents—it seemed to me that the parents had to have sort of a belief, as they do today, to step outside of the system that you are presented with you have to have some belief that there is something better that that offers to your child. And so they were parents who were very engaged in their children’s education and really paid a lot of attention to what they thought the right things were. And both my parents were educators, so it probably had something to do with that. And a lot of the kids who were there, their parents were educators. A lot of them were lawyers, people who had a pretty high level of education. And so I think—that was sort of the image I had in my mind.
PG: Was that true for the black children as well as the white children, was that the same image?
CA: Some portion, but not as many, especially once we got to Piedmont, because there was more of a neighborhood element there and we were located very close to Piedmont Courts which is one of the large housing projects. So it was not as much, it was not as clear to me there as it felt like it was at Irwin, although I was very young at the point, and so it is quite possible that it wasn’t that way. But there were always a lot of, a good number of black children in my class who had come from probably relatively even socio-economic background, similar to the one I came from. And in some cases, actually, probably higher income than the one I came from. When I think back to the people I actually knew all the way through to high school. By that point I could tell more. Their parents actually made more than my parents did. But it was not necessarily as clear to me in elementary and junior high.
PG: So at this time in elementary and junior high did you feel integrated? Did the school feel integrated?
CA: It did to me. And I definitely would not have noticed at that age. I mean, that changed when I got to high school. But I definitely would not have noticed at that age as much that it wasn’t, but it did feel very integrated to me. I played a lot of sports, especially in junior high. And those teams were very integrated. I also was involved in theater and drama, and those classes were very integrated. When I think back on it, the one area, and this continued through high school that did not feel as integrated were advanced academic classes. At the point when you started to differentiate advanced from non-advanced, there definitely seemed to be a break. And there were always black children, or African-American children in those classes, but it was definitely a far lower proportion than they were represented in the school. And I don’t think I ever recognized that until I got to high school. And I’m not even sure, although I would like to think I was much more aware at that point, I’m not even sure I even questioned it when I was in high school. I think it was probably when I got to college that I looked back and I said, “That was not as integrated an experience as I might have wanted or thought it was.” And I’m not sure I realized that at the time, that I was as sort of politically aware as I might have been.
PG: Were you aware when you were, again, really talking about your ( ), the early experience, were you aware that this was an unusual thing, or did it seem like an unusual thing that you went to an integrated school where black and white students did the same kinds of things?
CA: No. It seemed completely normal. Even, I mean, at all levels. From a very early age it never occurred to me. I mean, I understood what segregation was, and especially by high school I understood a lot about what it had been, and I knew a lot of people who had been involved in the desegregation in the schools, like my father, and Maggie Ray, and so I had a real awareness of what that had been, and what was different. But it never—it just felt normal to me. It never would have occurred to me that there wouldn’t be Asian students, or black students, or anybody from a different race in my class. Because from kindergarten on, they were.