Ensuring diversity at West Charlotte
Here, Culp describes his daughter's reaction to student government elections at West Charlotte designed to ensure a racially diverse group of officers. He uses their disagreement—his daughter believed in a purer form of democracy—to illustrate the kinds of ideas sparked by experiences with racial diversity.
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
WC: I remember in particular that one of the issues that came up at one point was when my daughter was at West Charlotte. It was the issue of student elections. They had tried to create sort of a convoluted process to insure that there would be racially mixed group of students in the student government. I remember that my daughter sort of bridled against that. She felt like it ought to be just like democracy, and that if you had the votes to elect people you should be able to elect people. She really didn’t feel very comfortable with this sort of convoluted process that they had created. Of course, the administration had done it in order to insure diversity. My daughter felt like if white students couldn’t convince black students to vote for them then there was something wrong and that it ought to be democracy. I remember a number of discussions we had about that, and I was trying to stress to them that the process was created to insure some diversity in order to make everyone feel more comfortable. She was, in effect, arguing for a more pure democracy and creating a situation where people had to compete. If they couldn’t compete, then they had to figure out how to compete better. I think that was a very interesting discussion, and certainly I never won that argument. On the other hand she learned to live with the accommodation of the process that had been created.
PG: And this was essentially a process to insure that white students got to be elected?
WC: That’s exactly what it was. The black students were firmly in control with numbers, guaranteeing some diversity. I think about it in the argument that’s gone on about the U.S. congress and the creation of racial districts to try to insure the election of some minorities to the congress of the United States. And yet the courts have struck that down and say, in effect, you can’t do that to insure that people of certain races are elected. I can hear my daughter now saying, “See, they’re saying it has to be pure democracy and people have to learn to overcome their prejudice in their voting,” and so forth. It was just an interesting discussion that sort of brought out, I think, a greater understanding on the part of my children of what both black and white students were dealing with in an integrated situation, particularly one in which white students found themselves in a minority which, of course, black students had found themselves in forever. I think it was a learning experience.
PG: Did you agree with the process?
WC: I defended the process. I don’t know whether you could say I agreed with the process. I defended the process because I understood perhaps from a little different perspective of why there needed to be some artificial creation of positions for both black and white students in order to insure harmony. My daughter being younger, and like I had been at one time perhaps more idealistic, certainly saw it from a different angle. I think many of us find ourselves defending the status quo at times, not because we necessarily agree with it, but because we don’t really have a better idea. We don’t have a better plan to put into place. As I watch education and the struggles that go on with what to do in the present day about integration and how to try to maintain some diversity in the school population, it makes me realize more and more that there are needs at times to create artificial processes in order to insure that everyone feels included in the final program. While you may not always agree with the final product, I think we’re all called upon to accommodate ourselves to some extent in order to look for the greater good for the society as a whole.