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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 >>

Principal tries to balance demands of racially separated community

Cherry recalls feeling a great deal of pressure from the white and black communities over the course of his tenure as principal of East Lincoln High School: the black community worried that he was discriminating against black students, and some members of the white community called him a "nigger-lover." Although he sometimes raised whites' or blacks' ire, Cherry sought to do the right thing without regard to race.

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

As far as generally, as far the community was concerned, were there was there a lot of concern?
STEVE CHERRY:
I think a lot of people were concerned about it initially. Especially the white people. I knew more about them at that time than I knew about the blacks. I think there was a lot of concern, but I don't think there was as much concern after the first couple of years as there might be within the last few years. Right before I retired, there was a lot of - I got called a lot of names by both sides. I was principal at that time. And all of the responsibility fell on my shoulders.
MARK JONES:
And what year was this?
STEVE CHERRY:
This was- I was principal at East Lincoln from 1982-1996. Fourteen years. And, the longer I stayed in the administrative end of the school system, the more pressure that I felt, especially from the blacks - the NAACP and that kind of thing. The government - I have forgotten the name of the report we had to fill out. Anyway it was a suspension report. And, if I had too many blacks on there percentage wise, they would jump me. The county office would jump me and the NAACP stayed on me. As a matter of fact, I told the president of the NAACP in Lincoln County one time - he came in and said, ‘You're prejudiced.’ I said, ‘Yes, I sure am.’ It sort of stopped him cold and I let him sit there for about fifteen or twenty seconds and I finally told him, ‘I'm prejudiced against trouble.’ And I said, ‘I don't care if trouble is polka-dotted, it's out the front door.’ That sort of took a little bit of steam out of his sails. And then, on the other side of the picture, if I let a black get by with something and not suspend him then there was this faction of the white population that was always callin' me the ‘N’ word - the nigger lover. You know, you're sitting in a position where it's almost a no win position. And the only thing you can do, or the only thing that I tried to do in that situation was do what I felt was right for the kids and let the chips fall where they may. If you were in trouble, you were in trouble. I don't care what color you were. That's sort of the way I looked at it. That's the way I operated at East Lincoln High School until I left.