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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Leroy Magness, March 27, 1999. Interview K-0438. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Segregation oppresses blacks, but Magness does not blame whites

Magness recalls segregated Lincolnton. He remembers busloads of white students passing black students walking to their segregated school and a black man losing his job for drinking from a white-only water fountain. He does not blame anyone for segregation, and reasserts his belief in keeping his head down and avoiding conflict.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Leroy Magness, March 27, 1999. Interview K-0438. 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

MICHELLE MARKEY:
Well, what would you say have been some of the biggest changes around here in your lifetime?
LEROY MAGNESS:
I'd say the schools when they integrated. You mean through the years, is that what you're saying? Yeah, I guess the schools.
MICHELLE MARKEY:
What were you thinking when desegregation occurred?
LEROY MAGNESS:
What did I think about it? Well, I guess I didn't think about it as much as some people because I wasn't in school and when they started going, they had a little trouble at first, but I don't think it really amounted to much.
MICHELLE MARKEY:
What was the trouble specifically?
LEROY MAGNESS:
Well … I don't know … like I told you, maybe one or two of the whites and a couple of the blacks didn't see eye to eye on something - schoolchildren. Yeah, schoolchildren. I don't think any grown people were involved; I don't really remember. But I do remember hearing something about some of the schoolchildren getting into a ruckus, but they got it straightened out pretty quick and there wasn't any bad results out of it. I think some of the NAACP offices went and straightened out some of the black children, but I can't say about any of the white children or who looked after them. They did get it straightened out so it wasn't too bad.
MICHELLE MARKEY:
Do you think desegregation was worth it?
LEROY MAGNESS:
Well, some are discussing it now, but I don't really know. What they're saying is that is wasn't equal and that the blacks weren't getting what they were supposed to be getting. I know back when I was in school, my mother and some other ladies - we didn't have a principal connected with it; but we didn't have a bus to ride home. And they had some children down at the other end of the county who didn't have a way to get to school, so I think they finally bought an old bus to transport the children up here to school. And I think one of them might have been in my class. And I don't mean any harm for saying it because you couldn't help it and I couldn't either, but these buses were running up and down the road hauling white children and some of the black children had to get to school the best way they could. Now I don't know whose fault that was and I'm not laying the fault on anybody, but it wasn't exactly right - you know that too, don't you? I'm not putting the fault, unless it was the state, because it was segregated. I know a black fellow who worked at a mill around here. They say he did it for devilment, but he went and drank out of a white fountain, and they fired him. In the courthouse, they had restrooms for blacks, water fountains for blacks, restrooms for whites, water fountains for whites. But like I was telling you, you might meet somebody tomorrow or the next day who would say, ‘I went and got some water out of there, I did this… ’ but I didn't force myself to do anything about it, and maybe you say I'm chicken and maybe I am, but I won't admit to it because I just don't like to get in hassles about things. I don't like to do that. And that's the way I've tried to tell my boy, not to get in things when you don't have to get yourself in trouble. Even now, out on the highway, me and my wife are out there driving. I'll be doing the speed limit which is 45 or 55 and somebody'll be behind me and they're just dissatisfied because they want me to break the speed limit. And I just hope that we'll get to a place where they can go around me so I won't have to deal with that. I know that some fellows got in a fight right down here at Gastonia. Man was driving a truck, and he said he was pushed out off the highway, and he got off at a ramp and the man followed him home, and they got in a fight. So you don't know when you're right or when you're wrong now. So I just don't like to get in things like that. And when I say something, I want to be honest and tell the truth about it, and they can believe it for what it is. If the truth hurts, now I can't help that. That's just the way I am. I don't want to be involved in certain things. Because I love my family, I love my wife, I love my children, my grandchildren, my neighbors, and I try to love my neighbors in other families. I don't want to go around here with someone shooting at me, because you can't tell what people will do to you know. Just like Charlotte. I don't go to Charlotte. I went to Charlotte one time several years ago because I wanted to see about getting me a suit. I went to the store and went in. But then I came out and my wife said, ‘Where's your suit?’ And I said, ‘We're going home.’ I'm scared of Charlotte. Yeah, I'm scared of Charlotte.
MICHELLE MARKEY:
What scares you about it?
LEROY MAGNESS:
They've got so much hell raising going on over there wouldn't you be afraid? I'm afraid of it, and I don't mean any harm telling you. I'm scared of Charlotte. I don't go, not by myself. I go with somebody else. It shouldn't be that way. Just people have got so mean. They'll take your car. I heard people bumping cars with folks over there. Man down the street said someone bumped his car. I don't know what it's coming to. What do you think about this 2000 millennium? I was talking to a white lady who I used to work for last night. The way she was talking last night, it's scary.