Teaching as a path to progress
Here, Culp says that his teaching career was an extension of his time as an activist. Culp's pre-teaching life expressed the connection between religion, white liberalism, and the civil rights movement: the son of a minister, he participated in one of the first significant movements of the civil rights movements of the 1960s, the 1960 Greensboro sit-ins. To Culp, teaching was the next step in his effort to "bridge some of that gap" between the white and black experiences in the South. Culp took the opportunity to participate in integration on the staff level at West Charlotte High School in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with William Culp, February 19, 1999. Interview K-0277. 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: Okay. How did you come to be a teaching at Second Ward High School?
WC: Well, I was very involved in the 60s in the civil rights movement. I went to college from 1961 to 1965. I started out in Greensboro, North Carolina, during the sit-in demonstrations and became involved in those. I had grown up in a Methodist minister’s home and had received a lot of influence. Of course the race question and the civil rights issues were very important topics in my home during the 50s and early 60s, so I had become sensitized to questions of equality and racial harmony. So getting involved in the civil rights movement really sort of opened my eyes a great deal to what I perceived to be not only differences between the races, but also the substantial gap that existed between the black experience in the South and the white experience, and I think made me more sensitive and concerned about finding a way to bridge some of that gap. I then went to college and graduated and was in the army for almost three years, and went through the Vietnam experience, so when I came back and decided that teaching was
what I wanted to do I think it only natural that I perceived that one of the things that I would feel was important was finding a way to bridge some of that gap that existed between the white experience and the black experience, particularly in this part of the country.
PG: Had your experience in the army been integrated at all?
WC: Oh, yes. No question about the U. S. army being integrated, and I’d had the opportunity to serve particularly with a number of enlisted men who out ranked me who were African American and really had an opportunity to interact with them in a situation where they were more in control than I was. That was rather interesting and a real learning experience for me. Certainly among the troops, I was an enlisted man, and I had an opportunity to get to know a lot of not only African-Americans but Hispanics and others from different cultures. Certainly an enlightening experience and probably an experience that I feel all young people probably ought to have the opportunity to go through, although I wouldn’t wish Vietnam on anybody.
PG: And so when you decided to go into teaching, was it was it with this specific thought that this was one way that you could bridge this gap?
WC: Yes. I came back from the army with a college degree in history and political science. I did not have a teacher’s degree. I went out to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte for a year to get my teacher’s certificate, and specifically wrote a paper on Second Ward and did some studies there as a part of my class work, and specifically was interested in pursuing teaching in a predominantly black school, not realizing, of course, that I was sort of going to be in the middle of the integration movement here in Charlotte. I really anticipated teaching in a predominantly black school and that’s what I really volunteered for, I guess you could say, and made clear that that was my interest.
PG: So when you got a job you told the people who were hiring you that you wished to be at one of the black schools?
WC: Yes, it was made pretty clear that at that particular point in time that in Charlotte-Mecklenburg they were attempting integration at the staff level. I think anticipating probably that eventually there would be integration at the student level, but there were attempts and certainly questions. People were asked if they would be interested in this opportunity. It was still, I think, pretty much a matter of choice at that point in time. Later, of course, African-American teachers and white teachers were assigned on the basis of need as opposed to the basis of race really. But at this particular time they were looking for pioneers, I guess you could say, that were willing to go into predominantly black schools and teach in order to integrate at the staff level, at the faculty level.