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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Charles Adams, February 18, 2000. Interview K-0646. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Opposition to busing and the important role of athletics in desegregation

Adams discusses busing and athletics in relationship to school desegregation. First, describing a general sense of opposition to busing, which began in the early 1970s, Adams focuses specifically on why some opposed busing because of its impact on athletics programs. According to Adams, who had become assistant director of the North Carolina High School Athletics Association by the late 1960s (he later became the director), athletics offered newly integrated students a unique way of coming together.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Charles Adams, February 18, 2000. Interview K-0646. 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

PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
In 1971, the Holly Springs High School, I believe it was, was closed down. And that began a bussing program. Do you recall how that went?
CHARLES ADAMS:
I was over here then and my Dad and died. And I remember because we had all the schools in the state and the Black schools were being absorbed by the White schools and the Black organization, which was the North Carolina High School Athletic Conference, which was our counterpart in Rocky Mount, we merged with them in about '72 and took in all the Black schools in North Carolina. And we caught hell for that too. And that was the right thing to do. And we knew it was coming and we knew probably the best way to integrate the schools was through athletics, because with you and I down there on the line in football, I don't care if you're Black or White. So that's what I remember. But I had been gone from Cary for five years, my Dad was dead and I wasn't involved in local politics. And my Mom didn't talk that much about it anymore. She was still teaching then. But I do remember when they shut Holly Springs down and did the bussing because I know how it affected us here. We used to have a rule that said, if you go to school, you have to live in that administrative unit, which meant in Wake County, to go to Cary you had to live in Cary. Well, then, Judge McMillan came out with this court ordered bussing. And this did away with that old rule. We could no longer say you had to… you were only eligible where you lived. We had to change our rule to say, you are eligible wherever the Board of Education assigns you. And that took care of bussing. So we were doing it at the state level at the same time that Holly Springs was being shut down and bussed over there. But I was not as knowledgeable about that because I was gone and didn't have anybody to talk to about it.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
So you're not real aware of how it went or what kind of opposition?
CHARLES ADAMS:
No, because at that time it was going on pretty much all over the state. And there was huge opposition to the bussing because you were taking kinds out of their neighborhood school right across the street and sending them ten miles away, and they would have to get up at 6:00 and they would get home at 5:00. Nobody liked bussing. It destroyed athletics for awhile because you were living here, and you had to play ball over here, and you couldn't go home after school because nobody could get you back over there. And people didn't have any allegiance over here. So bussing created probably as many problems as we've ever had in this state. I don't even know whether a jury would say it worked or it didn't work. I notice now a lot of places going back to the way it used to be. But I think it probably has some pro's and con's. I couldn't speak specifically to Holly Springs.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
Can you talk a little bit about athletics in general and how you think it contributed to integration statewide?
CHARLES ADAMS:
I don't think there's any question, I think we would have been in a third world war without it. I do not think the schools could have integrated without athletics. Because in athletics in most cases in this state, it's the single thing that brought the two races together and made it much smoother. And if you go back and talk to any superintendent, principal, A.D. or coach during about a five year block in which we were integrating, they say that athletics is the thing that brought the two races together, that kept the school open. Because the kids didn't care whether you were Black or White, could you play? And you became teammates and you were down in the trenches together and they learned to appreciate and respect each other. And it carried over into the school. And I really believe it would have been a blood bath for North Carolina had we not had athletics. Because that was the filtering point that made it all happen. I think you can look back and really credit athletics as being the single most success story in integration, not just in North Carolina but in the South, in the country.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
How accepting were the White students to having Black students play with them and take part in athletics in the beginning? Was it tough?
CHARLES ADAMS:
I think in the beginning they didn't know each other, and so therefore it's kind of stand-offish and taking a look and trying to size them up. And then, I think, if they realized they could play and they were good people just we were. And the only thing that I think I remember a lot of was where parents got upset because Sam came here from a Black school and took Johnny's position. And of course, it worked both ways back then. But I think the Blacks enjoyed finally having the opportunity to be able to compete and see who was good. And they fit in very nicely and the Whites, I think, were probably a little more stand-offish, but soon found out that these kids could play and by and large they're pretty good friends and neighbors. Sadly enough, here we are in the twenty-first century and they still segregate themselves. You can go into a school and the Black kids will eat over here and the White kids will eat over here. You get on a bus and the Black kids will sit over here and the White kids here. But in athletics it's put them more together.