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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 >>

Tensions mount well after desegregation

Tensions over desegregation did not develop for years at East Lincoln High School, Cherry recalls, but when they did, "you were expecting something to break out constantly." He remembers a brawl sparked by a Confederate flag. He does not know why tensions broke out years after a relatively peaceful desegregation process, but he cites the destructive influence of Ku Klux Klan members who were school parents. Cherry also reflects on the kinds of students who fought one another—rural whites and militant blacks, he says.

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:
Now you mentioned, previously, that there wasn't such a big thing at Quail Hollow but at East Lincoln there was …
STEVE CHERRY:
After about the third or fourth year. The first year everybody was very nervous and… The teachers, students, everybody was really nervous because no one knew what to expect. I guess I was one of the few people that had been involved with black students before the high school opened.
MARK JONES:
So this is the first year?
STEVE CHERRY:
This is the very first year of East Lincoln High School. And it was…it was… it was…a very uneasy situation but there was not a whole lot of tension. When the tension developed was three or four or five years after that, after everybody had been together for awhile. And the tension that really arose at East Lincoln High School came from what we call the T&I boys, which are your good ol' boys, the rednecks, and the carpentry classes and the brick masonry classes and some of the more outspoken, militant, blacks classes. And there was a lot of tension between those two groups, particularly.
MARK JONES:
How did that manifest itself. Like, fights …
STEVE CHERRY:
Fights, threats, people walking the halls. No one knowing what to expect. Staring at each other: one group standing on one side of the hall staring, another group standing in the cafeteria staring. You were expecting something to break out constantly. By that time I was assistant principal there and I was right in the middle of all of it, okay. Even though I was still coaching, I still had to be the disciplinarian and be between the groups and that was the unsettled time.
MARK JONES:
Do you remember any specific incidents where…
STEVE CHERRY:
Well we had a boy come in one morning in a pickup truck with a rebel flag flying on the back. And we had some of the more outspoken, bigger, blacks that were not involved in athletics - the athletes usually were not involved in these kinds of things because the coaches kept pretty close rein on the athletes. But these were people that were not athletes but they were still outspoken, more militant types. And they went to take the flag off the truck and we had a donnybrook in the parking lot. The law had to separate everybody. Eight or ten people were arrested and hauled off to jail and suspended from school for ten days. Parents were very concerned about safety factors and those kinds of things. That was one thing that comes to mind immediately. There were two or three others; things that happened over the course of those - I would say the middle years because it wasn't at the start. It was after everybody had been together five or six years and there was some animosity built up. And hard feelings.
MARK JONES:
And do you think- Why do you think it was that it took four or five years?
STEVE CHERRY:
I've thought about it a lot. I think a lot of it had to do… this was… I had the family- I'm sure that you've seen the video tape. [Phone ringing]
STEVE CHERRY:
What was I saying, now?
MARK JONES:
Talking about why it took four or five years.
STEVE CHERRY:
I'm sure you've seen the video tape of the guy in Greensboro, when the Klu Klux Klan marched, of the guy standing over the man pulling the trigger, shooting him… on tape. I had that family in my school. I had his son in the school. I had three or four very prominent Klu Klux Klan members in that school- parents, in the school. A lot of it was directed at those kids because they were in the T&I department. [Cherry is referring to the events of --- when …]
MARK JONES:
What does T&I mean?
STEVE CHERRY:
Trade and Industry- carpentry and brick masonry. They were a group of kids who came to school to learn a trade. They stayed together. They had a three-hour block of classes in the morning and they stayed together all day long and most of them were physically big and …
MARK JONES:
Were these white kids?
STEVE CHERRY:
White kids. They were physically big and most of them were pretty physical anyway. Had grown up on the farm. Had grown up around construction and were not afraid to fight and everybody knew that. Some of the blacks that moved in came from Baltimore and D.C. and that area and came down and they were more militant, more outspoken, than some of the blacks that were native to here. And, there was just a clash. I'm not really sure sometimes that it was as much black and white as it was a clash between people. But, it happened and there never - the thing that always bothered me about the integration situation, you and I, if I were black and you were white, you and I couldn't have a disagreement and you and I couldn't get in a fight. There'd always be fifteen on each side. You know. I'd get my buddies and you'd get your buddies and then we'd all go stand at each other and point fingers in the hall. And, you know, two people couldn't have a disagreement - have a fight. There was always a crowd on each side. And that was what was the scary part of it. Because you were always dealing with something that could blow up, even though it didn't a lot of times but it could have. And if it had, it would have been bad.