Significance of church and school for African Americans in Chapel Hill
This excerpt describes in explicit terms the importance of church and school to the pre-integration African American community. At Lincoln, black students found nurturance, motivation, and a structured environment that encouraged discipline and achievement. On the weekends, church replaced school as the central actor in African Americans' lives.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Fred Battle, January 3, 2001. Interview K-0525. 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
RG: What do you think Lincoln High School meant to the African American community when you were there?
FB: There’s no doubt about it, Lincoln High School was probably one of the chief cornerstones of the black community. It was a place that not only we could go in terms of education. It was also a place that we knew that, in going in here, that there were certain expectations that was expected out of us. Now if you wanted to try the system and not live up to the expectation, then you would encounter a problem. And you would encounter the consequences of that problem. But I think most people, what it really presented, it presented a place of love and affection that was shown to all students by the staff. It presented an affection that sometimes you didn’t get from your parents. That gave you the motivation, that you are somebody, and that you can make it. And that all you have to do is apply yourself.
RG: Did you find the same thing when you went to A&T, the same kind of supportive, loving environment?
FB: You know, when I went to A&T, I guess it was a different contrast. I guess I was disciplined enough where you were told what to do, and you were told, you know, this is your first class, you got to go here, you got to go there. When you got in college, those parameters wasn’t there. You had a class at 10:00, you might not have another class till 2:00. You had more freedom to adjust to. And it wasn’t as structured as the high school was. And then you had to re-discipline yourself because that could be abused. But if it was abused, then you’d have to pay the consequences. And if you want to lay in and not go to class, there’s a penalty. So it took upon a different type of task, in terms of learning. But once you adjust to it, it wasn’t no problem.
RG: You mentioned that the high school was very structured. Would you say that your whole life growing up, the whole African American community in Chapel Hill was very structured?
FB: In a sense, yes. Let me relate to that. You know, we had the blue law in Chapel Hill at the time. And that’s where no stores or nothin’ was open on Sunday. OK? As a result of that, then, people were mainly confined to goin’ to church, stuff like that on Sunday. And it was a family activity. The whole family attended church. So the church, in a sense, was a larger structure. Church was a powerful institution. And this is what made the school as large, because it had the church support. (inaud) Like it wasn’t nothin’ for us to have, let’s say, study class after school. Teacher was there, they had people if you needed help, need assistance or whatever. Which was good, because a lot of times they wouldn’t get paid for it, but just did it out of their dedication that they did this, to help the students, to make sure that they would excel at whatever they decided they wanted to do. But getting’ back to the church, I can recall where we used to have church activities, Bible school, and at that time it was held in the summer, and used to be packed. Used to be packed. You used to look at four five hundred kids. Those were elementary age kids. And they went through similar or the same type programs as at school. You had your classes, you have your opening ceremony that began the Bible school, you allegiance, your prayers and everything. And then you moved on. It was half a day. But see, it wasn’t no, let’s say, summer camps or nothin’ like that that kids have today. That was it for us. And I think then we might have had more latchkey kids, but it wasn’t latchkey because the community itself watches over the kids. And your neighbors watch over, and I think that was the kind of closeness that you had. At that time, too, there was no such thing as people locking their doors at night. Everybody left their doors open. During the summer months, you would have to sit out there on your porch till about twelve or one o’clock, before you get the house cooled down, you could come in. But you know, it wasn’t no such thing as a class system either, because we didn’t look upon anybody as probably bein’ rich, anybody bein’ poor. We were all in the same class.
RG: All struggling?
FB: All struggling.