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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Walter Durham, January 19 and 26, 2001. Interview K-0540. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The 1968 "riot" at Chapel Hill High School

Durham describes the actual "riot" at Chapel Hill High School in 1968. Durham, along with several of his classmates, used chains to lock down the school. According to Durham, the teachers quickly got the students "back in line" and there was no major violence or damage done to the school. He stresses the fact that this was not an organized protest or strategy, but rather their decision to demonstrate that they could instill fear in others. In doing so, however, Durham mentions that many black students were angry because they were also locked in. Durham says that what they sought with this demonstration was to have more of a voice at Chapel Hill High School. He again emphasizes the family atmosphere that had characterized Lincoln High School and indicates that they hoped to regenerate a similar feeling at Chapel Hill High School by drawing attention to the fact that they wanted to be included. Ultimately, Durham recalls that little change actually occured as a result.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Walter Durham, January 19 and 26, 2001. Interview K-0540. 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

BOB GILGOR:
Can you remember the things that occurred that you were involved in, that made people call it a protest or a riot?
WALTER DURHAM:
Well, me and a few more guys we took some chains and locked up the school. We locked up the whole school. And I guess we probably beat a few people down. Wouldn't go to classes and stuff like that. Once things got started and it was a lot of people involved, that's when the main group of teachers that would be involved in not hurting people but making people go back to class. They pretty much got things back in line.
BOB GILGOR:
The black teachers?
WALTER DURHAM:
I guess I was the one that wouldn't do what they say do, and then I had the police called on me by these teachers. So I pretty much got back in line after then.
BOB GILGOR:
Did the police arrest you?
WALTER DURHAM:
No they didn't.
BOB GILGOR:
Didn't pat you?
WALTER DURHAM:
No. We left. And then I guess that's pretty much what we wanted to happen. As long as I got out of the hallways, stuff like that.
BOB GILGOR:
Did you break any windows, or did you see any windows get broken?
WALTER DURHAM:
I don't think any windows was broken.
BOB GILGOR:
How about property destroyed?
WALTER DURHAM:
I don't think a whole lot of property was destroyed.
BOB GILGOR:
How long was the school locked up?
WALTER DURHAM:
Well for about an hour or so. Couldn't nobody get in and couldn't nobody get out.
BOB GILGOR:
Did you see fear or panic among the students when they knew that they were locked in?
WALTER DURHAM:
Yes.
BOB GILGOR:
Is that something that you were aiming to produce?
WALTER DURHAM:
Like I said it wasn't a strategy, it wasn't a plan. It was just saying, "Let's do this." And we felt like if we could do this, that we could put fear in people. But I think a lot of blacks got mad at us for doing that because they was locked up in there too.
BOB GILGOR:
So it wasn't every black in the school cheering you on?
WALTER DURHAM:
Well they was cheering us on until they got locked in. And when they couldn't get out to be with us or whatever-if we let them out then the whole school would have been out-I guess after then they sort of grew mad at us for that particular moment.
BOB GILGOR:
When you unlocked the, unchained the doors, unlocked the school, was there something that made you do that?
WALTER DURHAM:
Unlocked? Nobody made us do that.
BOB GILGOR:
Why did you unlock it?
WALTER DURHAM:
Well there were a lot of people coming on campus. A lot of students started calling their parents and stuff like that. So we thought it was about time for us to unlock the doors.
BOB GILGOR:
Did you march on campus? How did you disperse?
WALTER DURHAM:
This was just a bunch of unruly teenagers with no direction. We didn't march off campus but I guess that's the one thing that didn't cause us to get what we were after because there really wasn't no structure in it. It really wasn't organized. People were doing things and they might last for an hour or two. In a week or two, a couple of people would be doings things but pretty much as a whole there wasn't anybody doing anything. So it was pretty much well that we had this back in order. So until I left school-I left school in '69-there was a lot of things didn't change but I had left school.
BOB GILGOR:
So you didn't see many changes after the protest?
WALTER DURHAM:
Right.
BOB GILGOR:
You say you didn't get what you were after. Take it back: what were you after?
WALTER DURHAM:
Well one of the things that we said was going back to Lincoln. Another one that we thought that we were after was to tear the walls down: let us be a part of, let us belong to this school, let us be a part owner of this school, that we can come to school every day and enjoy school like everybody else did. And feel free to do that. Just didn't feel free as a whole that we could do that.
BOB GILGOR:
What was it about Lincoln High School that you wanted to go back to? What was at Lincoln that you didn't have at Chapel Hill High School?
WALTER DURHAM:
That family atmosphere. Always feel that once that you got people on your side you can always divide and conquer. And the same people that I knew down in Lincoln, they was in separate groups. If I get this group over here, and I said "If I had this group of people, they would be happy. But yet still I don't have to satisfy other people, as long as we can keep a few happy." I still see that now. That a few are being made happy. And so if you would get somebody to speak out for you just like they had a few black teachers that would speak out for them and they kept the other ones in control.