Black students riot for change
Jeter remembers being a member of a small delegation that visited Chapel Hill High School's principal to request that the school more visibly reflect Lincoln's traditions. When their requests were denied, riots began. In thinking of the rioting, which she did not participate in, Jeter says that now that she is older, she realizes that racism is impervious to change.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Gloria Register Jeter, December 23, 2000. Interview K-0549. 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
BG: So you were one of the people who went to the principal. Were you the leader of that group?
GRJ: I’m not sure that we had a specific – to my knowledge there was no designated leader. But I talk well. And I talked well even in high school. And I’m sure I spoke – I’m sure there were some other people who said some things as well, but I know I talked to her.
BG: Was this in your junior or your senior year?
GRJ: I think this must have been my junior year.
BG: So in ’69.
BG: Do you remember specifically the things that you asked for, or was it just sort of general discussion?
GRJ: No, I think there were very specific things that we asked for. We asked for, like, maybe a change in the school color, a change in the mascot – there was, it was those kinds of things. We were very specific about the things that we wanted changed.
BG: What about academic changes?
GRJ: I don’t remember asking for any academic changes other than maybe we did ask for some more black teachers, but I don’t remember anything –
BG: Did you have any black culture or black history –
GRJ: Oh you know – no, we did not. And that was one of the things that we wanted. A black history class or some sort of black cultural class. But they didn’t have any white cultural class either, not that they needed it because that was pervasive. And as a result of that I remember being suspended from school for two or three days. I remember the school closed for two or three days. I also remember – now here we are, this high school is way down, at that point it was way outside of the black community, it was pretty far from where most of the white people lived as well, it was out in the country. But I remember after that incident, there were car loads of white people, white boys who had gone home and gotten their shotguns and had come back to the school and they were riding around in the parking lot with their shotguns. So we could have had, I mean, it could have potentially killed some people, but – it didn’t – but that is, that, I distinctly remember that.
BG: So this was, it sounds like, almost a spontaneous event, the riot.
GRJ: It was. It wasn’t anything – we didn’t plan to riot. We planned to go and make certain demands on the principal, to say, “we want these things and we want you take our considerations for real.” But we hadn’t planned a riot.
BG: How long did the riot last?
GRJ: Probably 30 minutes.
BG: Did you have any of the black teachers who were there come talk to you?
GRJ: I don’t remember anybody coming to talk to us.
BG: From the little bit I’ve gathered so far, apparently, some of the black students locked themselves in an area and then marched off campus. Do you remember any of that?
GRJ: I don’t remember any of that.
BG: You were really a [beatnik?] weren’t you. (laughs)
BG: That was a good [tellsnicker?].
GRJ: Yeah, I’m afraid that’s all I am. Even my husband says I talk a good game now and I’m not (laughs) I don’t back it up always very well. I don’t remember that.
BG: So you got suspended, yet you spent your time in the bathroom.
GRJ: Yeah, but I was in the principal’s office a lot, that’s why they suspended me.
BG: They suspended everyone who went to the principal’s office asking for changes?
GRJ: Yeah. Now they didn’t suspend all the black students, but I’m pretty sure those of us who were in the principal’s office –
BG: So the assumption was that you initiated the riots.
GRJ: Right, right.
BG: Was there any proof that you had?
GRJ: No. And the people who initiated the riot was Marshbanks. Because here you have a group of angry young people, asking for something rather reasonable, and it wasn’t like we had not requested some of these things before. And instead of her responding positively, she just, I don’t know – I can’t remember what she said, but it was in effect, “get out.” I’m sure that’s – at least, that’s the feeling that we got. It was like, “we don’t care what you want, just get out.”
BG: So you left her office and the word spread. Did the group who went to see her come and say, “We’ve got to do something about this,” or was it sort of a mass reaction to –
GRJ: I think it was just a – reaction. Just, WOOSH. And everybody just went running.
BG: Can you remember any more about it?
GRJ: I remember going home and my father being very upset saying that I was going to be arrested and put in jail, and I remember the state police driving up and down our street.
BG: Were there police at the school at the time? State troopers, any –
GRJ: There were some after the fact. But this was nothing planned, so they didn’t have any foreknowledge so they weren’t there on the spot. But they were there after the fact.
BG: Was this reported in the newspapers?
GRJ: I’m sure it was.
BG: You don’t recall specifically whether it got big press –
BG: --or if people came to interview you for the paper
GRJ: Nah, nobody interviewed me from the newspaper.
BG: Did any of the black students get interviewed from the newspaper that you know of?
GRJ: Not that I know of. This – we went – there was some sort of, TV show, afterwards. Because I remember watching myself on TV. But, I can’t remember. I can’t remember. I don’t know what that was about. And I think – you know, in a lot of ways it’s bad to get old? Because you – cut through so much of the bullshit so much quicker. And as a young person I felt like I could make a difference, I can make people understand that racism is a terrible thing. So it’s, it’s, I should go out and when people ask me to express myself, I should say, these things, but when you get to be, older, you realize that you’re not gonna make anybody change and it doesn’t matter what you say, and so you just don’t worry about it anymore (laughs).