Importance of racial diversity
When Culp sent his own children to school, he felt that interacting with African American children was an important part of their development. In doing so, they gained strength from understanding difference. Part of that understanding came from being racial minorities at the black-majority West Charlotte.
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: Was there any thought about sending your children to these black schools, the open schools had all been ( ). Would that have made a difference?
WC: I don't think that consciously entered our decision making, but we would not have been interested in sending them to schools that were segregated or predominately white in nature. We certainly liked the open school component because it did provide diversity and provided the opportunity for interaction not only with African-American children, but also interaction with children of other cultures, Hispanic and others, that make up the mosaic that we think should exist in society and that children should be exposed to. But I don't think that we really made a conscious decision because naturally your children start at elementary level and you sort of monitor their progress and decide whether they are proceeding on a course that you think is good for them. Really, the only school they went to that had a predominantly black population, more than fifty percent, was West Charlotte. The others, of course, were more along the seventy/thirty ratio that the school system as a whole had. But I’ll have to say that there was a little bit of me that certainly felt like the interaction with children who were African American was a critical part of their education, and to learn about the real world you really have to be involved in the real world. We’ve always tried to provide for our children, at least, the opportunity to know how other people live and how other people think so that they are not isolated and so that they are not protected, if you will, from different influences. In my family, at least, it’s been a very successful process, and I try to encourage other families to look at as a process that they ought to put their children into so that their children can learn from it.
PG: When you speak of it as a process, could you describe to me the process?
WC: Well, what I mean by a process is that the interaction has both positive and negative connotations. You have to learn how to interact with people and that includes people who are different than you are, who don’t have perhaps the same values or the same cultural standards or the same background or even the same language necessarily. You go through that by having this interaction. You begin to learn how to cope with differences and how to make those differences create strength rather than weakness. When I say process I’m really looking at the interaction, both the negative and positive aspects of it. It certainly hasn’t all been positive. There certainly have been traumatic moments for my children just like any children in school, and yet they’ve learned from both the negative and positive, and I think it makes them stronger people.
PG: Can you think of any particular lessons that your children learned, either positive or negative? Do you have any specific memories?
WC: Well, I think, probably the biggest impact it had on my children is that they do not judge people on the basis of the color of their skin. As Martin Luther King said, they judge them on the content of their character. So I’ve noticed that my children much easier make friends with people who are different, who look different than they are because they can see beyond skin color or beyond language being different. So I think that’s probably the most significant influence that it’s had at least on the children that I’ve had the biggest contact with. And it’s been interesting how they’ve maintained friendships over the years with a pretty wide and diverse group of students, for example, from West Charlotte. Both of my children still maintain ties to a number of their high school friends and, in fact, have done a better job of that than I did, frankly. I think perhaps part of that is that I didn’t have as unique an experience as they had in high school. My high school was pretty plain and boring really when you get right down to it. I think that that continued tie that they feel to West Charlotte and to their high school friends is an example of the importance that that time period in their life has played in their life and has made a real difference for them. I think the other thing that was important for both of my children was that they got the opportunity by going to West Charlotte of getting the feeling of what it was like to be a minority because whites really are a minority at West Charlotte. I think that was good for them to go through that experience. I don’t think anybody would want to be a minority their whole life, but to have some experiences like that during your life I think is probably humbling and helps you better understand the difficulties that others have who had to struggle against discrimination or struggle against feeling alone or isolated or alienated. I think in both cases the ability to be comfortable being in a minority situation where you are the minority and also being comfortable, more than comfortable being attracted to people who are different than you are. I think both of those are the strengths that came out of their high school experience.