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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Steve Cherry, February 19, 1999. Interview K-0430. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Athletics plays a key role in desegregation

Athletics spurred the desegregation process, Cherry believed, because of the potential contributions of black athletes to formerly all-white teams and because integrated teams provided a common cause for white and black students.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Steve Cherry, February 19, 1999. Interview K-0430. 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

MARK JONES:
How many black students did you have at Quail Hollow?
STEVE CHERRY:
The first year we had black students there, we had five black students in the entire school. And that school was around 1400 kids.
MARK JONES:
And, within the school, was there a lot of tension?
STEVE CHERRY:
Not there. Now, when I came up to the high school, here in Lincoln County, there was. See after I left Quail Hollow, I came back to East Lincoln High School and became head coach there, basketball and assistant for football.
MARK JONES:
Varsity basketball?
STEVE CHERRY:
Yeah. That's when Newbold … That's when Lincoln County desegregated and Newbold … They took Rock Springs and Newbold and made East Lincoln High School.
MARK JONES:
And what year was that?
STEVE CHERRY:
That was in 1967. '67-'68. The students that came in from Newbold, there were a lot of older students that were still in high school at Newbold. They looked - compared to some of the white kids that we had there, they looked like old men. They looked like they ought to be 35 years old - had beards and mustaches and were big physically and muscular… They made a definite impact on the athletic program at East Lincoln.
MARK JONES:
Was the athletic program integrated immediately?
STEVE CHERRY:
Yes.
MARK JONES:
I remember, I think I'm right about this and you can tell me more - the Shrine Bowl wasn't integrated for a little while after the rest of the schools were integrated. Now, within East Lincoln High and Quail Hollow you said that black groups integrated. Were they encouraged to play?
STEVE CHERRY:
Oh yeah. The athletic teams at East Lincoln High School kept - well, I started to say kept. Let's say it helped the desegregation process… tremendously. Had students come in and not been involved in athletics, I don't think that desegregation would have been nearly as smooth as it ran in Lincoln County. Because as I said before, they made a tremendous impact on our football and our basketball programs.
MARK JONES:
Just on their athletic abilities?
STEVE CHERRY:
Athletic abilities. It gave the student body a focal point. Something to cheer for and to get to know people and to see them as an athlete rather than just having somebody thrown together and not having anything in common. It gave them some common ground.