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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Gwendolyn Matthews, December 9, 1999. Interview K-0654. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Recollections of both peaceful and violent civil rights demonstrations

Matthews describes her experiences with integration outside of Cary High School. Matthews recalls participating in at least one demonstration to integrate a theater in Raleigh, but emphasizes that most of the protests she witnessed were nonviolent in nature. There were only two particularly volatile situations she recalls during the late 1960s and early 1970s. First, there were some violent demonstrations just after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Additionally, she recalls a more visceral response when it was determined that Ligon High School, the only African American high school in Raleigh, would be converted to a junior high school.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Gwendolyn Matthews, December 9, 1999. Interview K-0654. 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:
Okay. And then integration happened to the South, not only from your school perspective, but just life in general. Do you have memories of seeing that taking place in maybe the bigger cities like Raleigh or Durham?
GWENDOLYN MATTHEWS:
Only on a fairly limited basis because of the community that I grew up in, it was probably not until after Meredith, or once I started attending Meredith that integration became much more noticeable. And I did do some of the things that were taking place in Raleigh. For instance, I remember downtown had a theatre called the Ambassador and Blacks could not, had to sit in the back of it. So I remember doing that. And I also remember marching for the integration of that particular theatre.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
Did you actually participate in a march?
GWENDOLYN MATTHEWS:
Yes. They were peaceful. There were policemen and they had guards and hoses, but they never turned them on us. We would be over there saying our chants and the police would be here, just kind of standing there. So there weren't, when I was there, there was no dogs. The dogs lunged but they did not turn them loose on us. And so it was fairly peaceful. The only time I remember it getting violent was when Martin Luther King died, was assassinated. And then downtown became a whole different… But I was not a part, I was not there and I did not partake of that. But I do know, I had friends and they said it was not a pretty sight to be involved what was going on downtown at that time.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
How long did that last, do you know?
GWENDOLYN MATTHEWS:
I think just a night of that, when they found out that he had been assassinated, just a maybe twenty-four to forty-eight hour kind of time period, so it wasn't an extended period of anger and violence being wrought upon the city or anything.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
It was quite a time.
GWENDOLYN MATTHEWS:
It was quite a time, difficult time, but Raleigh seemed to have weathered it relatively well. And I honestly don't remember other than that particular time extreme cases of violence in terms of integration where there was… I know that there were times when people were very angry and very upset. For instance, when Ligon, which was the only Black high school, Berry O'Kelly was the only Black High School in that part of the county. You know, there were other Black high schools around the county. Ligon was downtown and it was a very, it was a school full of pride and lots of well known Black families and their children had attended Ligon. So when the time to change Ligon to what is now the middle school, and even though there were some very, very angry words passed. But not the kind of violence that had taken place in some of the really Southern areas took place. That was because here was landmark that they said, why don't you let us stay being the landmark that it is and let it continue to serve the community. Integrate it if you will, but let it continue to serve the Black community. And obviously it didn't take place. So that was one of the other more difficult times, I remember within the Black community and for the city of Raleigh was changing from Ligon High to a junior high.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
So it was more verbal violence, but not physical violence? And it went on for awhile?
GWENDOLYN MATTHEWS:
Yes. Now that's because there was lots of discussion about it, lots of write-up in the newspapers about it and lots of Town meetings about it, trying to absolve everyone or getting everyone to agree the best way to do this and in the end, of course, the City won.