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Title: Oral History Interview with Maggie W. Ray, November 9, 2000. Interview K-0825. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Ray, Maggie W., interviewee
Interview conducted by Grundy, Pamela
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Jennifer Joyner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2007
Size of electronic edition: 112 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2007.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2007-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2007-10-03, Jennifer Joyner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Maggie W. Ray, November 9, 2000. Interview K-0825. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series K. Southern Communities. Southern Oral History Program Collection (K-0825)
Author: Pamela Grundy
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Maggie W. Ray, November 9, 2000. Interview K-0825. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series K. Southern Communities. Southern Oral History Program Collection (K-0825)
Author: Maggie W. Ray
Description: 127 Mb
Description: 23 p.
Note: Interview conducted on November 9, 2000, by Pamela Grundy; recorded in Unknown
Note: Transcribed by Susan Estep.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series K. Southern Communities, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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Interview with Maggie W. Ray, November 9, 2000.
Interview K-0825. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Ray, Maggie W., interviewee


Interview Participants

    MAGGIE W. RAY, interviewee
    PAMELA GRUNDY, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
PAMELA GRUNDY:
This is Pamela Grundy and I am interviewing Maggie Ray about her experiences at West Charlotte High School. It is the ninth of November, the year 2000. I would just like to start by asking you a little bit about your own school. I believe you're from Charlotte, is that correct?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
I am. I went to two schools; first I went to Eastover School from first to sixth grade and then I went to Meyers Park Junior High and High School, which was also six grades. It was all white—there were black schools and blue collar schools in the county which I knew very little about. I got a very good education; Dick and Jane primers in the first grade and pretty standard high school stuff for the late '50s. I graduated in 1960 from Meyers Park. Advanced Placement classes were available but I did not avail myself of them. We had great extra-curricular activities and it was pretty much, what's that TV program with . . . oh, the guy in the black leather jacket? Quintessential . . .
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Oh, Happy Days.
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Yes, Happy Days, quintessential '50s growing up time.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Did you think at all about school desegregation at that point? Was that something that would have been in your thinking?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
No, it really wasn't at all in my mind. My brother graduated in '62, and he did have one black student in his class at Meyers Park. So it was beginning. The decision in '54, they waited a long time to do anything about it, so I think it barely started. And by the time I got back—having finished college and graduate school and travelling a bit—desegregation was well under way. I came back in '68 and schools were integrated, and faculties had been integrated the year before that.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Were you aware that the Brown decision would have happened? Is that something that you remember at all?

Page 2
MAGGIE W. RAY:
No, I don't.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Even Dr. Counts, the incident when she went to [unclear]
MAGGIE W. RAY:
I think I was gone to college then.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
That would have been in '57.
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Oh. I guess I was oblivious. I don't remember at all about that.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Were racial issues anything you thought much about?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Not at all. Actually I have to back up. My mother had always worked for black churches with making kind of connections between our white churches and black churches. So I did feel comfortable around black children, but I never wrestled with the issues I think, until I got older.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
How much contact did you have with these children?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
We did projects—Easter egg hunts and that sort of thing—but not much else. Very sporadic.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Did you have any other contacts with African Americans?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
I had a maid at our home who helped raise me. Probably one of my closest adult figures always, and she loved us dearly and we her. There was a great sense of opening up when I went to Providence, Rhode Island to graduate school. I went to undergraduate at Agnes Scott in Atlanta, where Dr. Martin Luther King was preaching, and I was there also totally oblivious to the whole civil rights movement. I did have one friend who demonstrated at the Krystal restaurant—that was a hamburger place—and was arrested and spent the night in jail, and it was a great shock to all of us that Sally would do such a thing. [Laughter] And I guess within maybe five years of that time I was involved myself in Charlotte, trying to build some bridges and that sort of thing.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
You said going to Providence was eye opening. How was it?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Well, I ran into African-American students who were not only as smart as I was but quite a bit smarter, which was cool. I enjoyed getting to know them. It was a brave, new time, sort of. Many times I wouldn't speak in a group because I had such a terrible southern accent

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and people would look at me and think, "Oh, it's all your fault, you're one of those southern white people." So I would be very quiet. Occasionally I would answer a question in class in my southern accent and people would look to think, "Oh, she answered that question in that accent!" [Laughter] So there was some disbelief on their part.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Really?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Yeah. There was a lot of prejudice against southern white people in that New England, ivory tower setting. I wasn't too worried about it all, but I do remember the summer of '64 I was a new graduate student and there were some riots in Rochester, and I can remember walking into the dining hall with a newspaper over my head, pointing and smiling and saying, "Look, it's not just in the South that we have these problems. You all have them too. Ha!" So that was the summer that Joan Baez sang, "We Shall Overcome," at the Newport Folk Festival, and I was there for that. It's always an emotional time, really a neat experience to feel that emotion that was going all over the nation, I think.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
You mentioned having had contact with African-American students in graduate school. What kind of relationships did you have? What kinds of things did you do?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Well, one of them was my T.A. [teaching assistant], graduate T.A., and we became quite good friends and still keep in touch. He was in Jamaica and had interesting stories about coming to the South as a black man having never lived in a segregated society. We built a trust relationship. It was quite easy for me to get over my hesitations about being with somebody that had brown skin, but the other way—his becoming able to trust me—was quite a different matter. It took a long time, and I was stunned by it. So it was very interesting. I had another friend who was a librarian at the high school where I was practice teaching, and so we went out socially and enjoyed the newness of that for both of us, and that was cool.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
So you had the sense of transformation; that things were changing.
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Yeah, yeah. And no prejudice had been in my home, so it was easy for me. I didn't have a whole lot of things to overcome or break through. I had a thought and it's gone. Sorry! Oh, I know what it was. I practice taught out in a small town in Rhode Island called Warren,

Page 4
and there were no black students in that school—mostly Italian and Polish second-generation American children, and there was one Oriental girl who was very aware of herself being different. I remember thinking, "Well, there's no way these people can understand what is going on in the South because they don't have to deal with this themselves." There was some Polish Italian rivalries but it wasn't the deep-seated sort of thing that the South was facing.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Did you find yourself often trying to explain to people how things were in the South?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Well, I did. One woman asked me, Did we really sit on the porch and whip people? And another one asked me, Did we really keep black people from learning to read? A lot of incredible misinformation that came from maybe Gone with the Wind and other old, old things that made me laugh. I was sort of surprised.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Did you feel you were able to be successful in telling people things were different? Or what would you say that would. . . ?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Well, I think that what I came away with was a feeling that we were honest about the fact that we had a problem to deal with, and that it was easier for the society there to be very self-righteous and yet also turn a blind eye to insidious kinds of prejudice that we have now in the South. For example, renting an apartment: a friend of mine, this same T.A. friend from Jamaica, called about an apartment and amazingly between the time he called and the time he got there to look at it it had been rented. Yes, amazing. So he was quite hurt by that, and I was made aware of how insidious this sort of prejudice was. It was not, what's the word, legalized. It was de facto instead of de jure, yeah.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
So you returned to the South in 1968. Did you return with some kind of a resolve to do something related to race or just related to society in general?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Yeah, I'm the quintessential altruist. [Laughter] A social activist kind of person and I married a person like that in '68, and so we were quite determined to do what we could. It was a time of great optimism: Johnson was President and we had the great society vision, and there were poverty workers and civil rights workers, and Julius Chambers was here and quite a few really fine legal aid people. So we really did feel we could make a difference and we all put our

Page 5
shoulder to the wheel, and I think in retrospect we probably did cause some good changes to happen and with a minimum of distress.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Was there any sort of, some kind of a turning point or moment in you? You sort of describe this youth that seems very insulated from society, and then by 1968 you're an activist and you're ready to change things. Can you recall sort of a time when that changed for you?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
I think when I went to Brown and got out of the South and made some friends across racial lines and out of my geographic area. Then I also had the opportunity to go to Japan and Beirut to live for a year in each place, and there I got a sense of how anywhere you go there are going to be problems. But diversity is fabulous, a real value for me and worth working for. I'd also been raised in the Christian family, Presbyterian family where religion was taken very seriously, and my mother was always quite astounded that we would live it, because we had been taught it. And I have this lovely Jessie May who had helped raise me whom I love so dearly, and this was for her and her family as well as for my Christian ideals. Mainline; it wasn't an evangelical Christianity, but mainline social activist kind of faith.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
So you thought about this woman you'd grown up with when you were doing things.
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Oh yeah, oh yeah. And then when I got into the school desegregation business I thought about my children, and that's certainly where West Charlotte came into play later—many years later when they grew up and attended there.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Okay, so your children went there as well.
MAGGIE W. RAY:
They did, they did. I taught there, and they came through public schools and ended up over there. My daughter didn't mind too much; my son just hated being at a school where his mom was, but anyway. [Laughter]
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Did you start teaching school right when you came back to Charlotte?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
I taught for two years over at East Meck, and then I took off about ten years to have my babies and raise them and—our babies—and during that time I worked on the desegregation case which has been pretty documented in Frye Gaillard's book, which you may have read. My husband says he paints far too lovely a picture of it but, anyway, it's written down, we'll

Page 6
disbelieve it, right? [Laughter] So, when Betsy was ten, eleven I went back to work at West Charlotte part-time in the open program. and then in 1978—or was it '80, 1980 I guess—I went back full-time.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
And how long were you at school?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
I stayed there until '90. So I was there over a period of about fifteen years part-time and then full-time, and I saw the open program grow, wane and then grow again. And I felt the incredible sense of community that developed there among the staff and the students and the community, I think.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Let me ask, why did you decide to start, to go to West Charlotte and to the open program [unclear] ?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
I'm trying to think back . . . I think it was a part-time job offered to me by Sam Haywood and Lib Randolf; I think that's how that happened. I was ready and looking for something, and it was soon after the school decision of '74 that I went back part-time.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
So the open program has just been getting started.
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Just started, and I went as a biology teacher for a couple of years and then the competency program was instigated, instituted, and West Charlotte came out very poorly in that first round of competency tests. So I then went back part-time to help with coordinating the tutoring program for the competency and we did very well and improved the children's scores. And then the open program was really lagging, and so somebody got the idea that maybe I could help with that. So I switched over to that and then began to do that full-time.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Tell me about the open program. What was it?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Well, it was started as an elementary program and then gradually, as the children got older, they started Piedmont Open Middle. And then those children needed somewhere to go so they started a program at West Charlotte, which was a school within a school sort of idea. I'm not real clear on that history. The idea was that the students could make decisions about what and when they would learn things, sort of at their own learning style and their own pace. The only thing they couldn't do was to decide not to learn anything. So we tried to do that.

Page 7
We evolved from being really too loose into being more structured, and there was a nice sense of community among the open program teachers and student body. It was a small group, and if you misbehaved in Ms. Sizinger's World History class, by the time you got to my room I knew it and we could deal with it. It was good. The children had been together since kindergarten, however, and so they profited a lot from being at West Charlotte where they could make new friends and where new people could come into the open program and sort of give us a little ferment and a little different perspective. I taught tenth grade, and one of my favorite times was the first week of school when the Piedmont children would get mixed up with the children from Alexander Graham, who had been taught rather traditionally and were quite good students. The Piedmont children would come in and lean back in their chairs and put their feet up and say, "Well, what are we going to study? Let's decide what we're going to study this semester." And the AG children would come in and sit down and put their books on their table and say, "Would you give us the syllabus please?" [Laughter] And so both had great gifts for the other. The good students, the disciplined students had good study skills and a seriousness, and the open program students had a spontaneity and lively minds and curiosity. It was a great mix that tenth grade year. I found it invigorating and lots of fun to be involved in.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
That does sound really neat.
MAGGIE W. RAY:
It was really good. And a lot of the children from AG had grown up in the same neighborhood as the Piedmont kids, so it was a kind of a little rivalry between Piedmont and AG, philosophical and otherwise. So we saw the blending of the best of both, and it was good.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
What was the racial make up in the open program?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
It was about reflective of the community, about thirty percent black.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
I'm interested, one of my interests on these questions is about race and racial interaction at West Charlotte, and I'm interested in how that worked in the classroom. Is that something that you thought about in your classroom when you were teaching?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Nah. Those children had been together so long that they didn't think about color, and I didn't either. It was good. My daughter went to Piedmont in the sixth grade and became

Page 8
friends with Joy Barry, whose father was the chairman of the school board—and I think he might have died that year. Anyway, Joy was African-American and they became close friends, and are still close friends. And I loved watching them figure out, like Betsy didn't want Joy to use her hairbrush when Joy would come spend the night, and so instead of making a big deal of it Betsy just said, "I don't want your curly hair in my hairbrush, just use your own please." And so it just passed off. It was something that a grown up would have said, "Oh!", racial things, you know, but it was nothing to twelve-year-olds. They just managed, and it was really cool to see that happening. And they're still good friends. And my son, who came through two years later, still has a really diverse group of friends that they made during those years. They were very proud of the fact that they had done this. That was part of the mystique of those years at West Charlotte, that they took pride in making this thing work. We're actually probably snooty about it with other schools. [Laughter]
PAMELA GRUNDY:
You say people took pride in making it work. What did it take to make it work?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
I think we modeled, the teachers modeled getting along—it was an interesting era, because somehow when you work with people trust comes, and some of my very favorite professional colleagues are across racial lines. We don't think of each other as black or white, we think of each other as teachers who've been through these laughing. We laugh about war stories we went through and how we worked this or that out, and how horrible certain principals were and dah, dah, dah. So I think it was modeled from the top down; the administration was always a black and white pair, usually, or—I don't know how many assistant principals there were but they worked together well, so the children saw that. We had teachers who were proactive about this, and one person who comes to mind was Gary Wort, who started the SAVE program, helped start that. One of our students was shot and killed—Alec Orange, I think his name was—and out of that came an anti-violence [stock]. I don't know what SAVE stands for, but anyway—and that was also across racial lines. Nobody thought about that and that effort, everyone was focused on the common horror of this murder and doing something to prevent it. So I would say joint projects made it work, and modeling from

Page 9
the top down did work; and maybe having been together since they were young, the open program in particular, they were able to model for the other people in this school. Another thing that I think was key was that we had such a socio-economic diversity; we had poor, white children and middle-class, white children and rich, white children, and we had poor, black children and middle-class, black children and quite a few debutantes, so we had well-to-do black families involved. And then we had the ESL group which were at that time just newly escaped from horrible violence. These refugees were there, and we had our hippie group there, which was nicely racially mixed; the dramatists and the people who could read tarot cards and all that stuff, so we had—anybody you wanted to be you could be, and you could try it out and come back. Anyway, that was good. So we didn't have this terrible divide that you found in some schools, where you had all rich, white children and all poor, black children, which made a very difficult situation, I think.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Can you elaborate on how the differences in class worked to affect the atmosphere?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
I think there was a real effort to not put somebody down who was different from you. If you have somebody in the same socioeconomic class with you, if you have a white debutante and a black debutante, they have that in common, and so that makes across racial lines friendships less difficult. We also had a fabulous marching band, which lots of white children wanted to be in and were allowed to be in, and that was also across all socio-economic [lines].
I think that's part of the beauty of the program in the public schools, is that you can get an instrument and do your thing, no matter what your background is. So that was cool; my daughter was in the advanced classes and found herself a little bit bored because everybody was kind of alike, and so her senior year she went back to taking band just so she would have contact with people who were not these, trying very, very hard to get their grade point averages up and dah, dah, dah.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
[unclear]
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Yeah. She missed that.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Did you have conversations with her about that?

Page 10
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Well, we did. We did. So she chose that. She also did sports, and I think women's sports was just beginning to be real in that community.
I'll tell you an incident that I love: we had one white player on the, basketball player on the team and when he would go out to play—he was quite good—the crowd would say, "White boy, white boy, white boy . . ." and he would go onto the court and this was good. I mean, there wasn't anything awful about that; it sounds awful but it wasn't. It was grand. [Laughter] It was a real sense of community there. There was a lot of humor, and that helped. The student government, I don't know if you have this in your memories or not—memoirs—but student government would do a skit on the first day of school, and the white students in the student government would give this skit and they would be on the beach playing and sun tanning and having their shades on. Then they would close the curtain and then open the curtain, and there'd be all the black students as if it were the same people with this wonderful tan, thirty minutes later. So that sort of set the tone for the whole year, that we have different skin colors and we can laugh about this. [Laughter]
PAMELA GRUNDY:
And they did this every year?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Yeah, it was an annual skit for the new sophomores that came in.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
That's great. Do you know how that got started?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
I have no idea. The woman that was head of the student government was a lovely African-American woman who had been to Columbia. She was about as big around as a pencil and she had a big, white afro; her name was Murt Rice, and she lived in the neighborhood, right down the street. She had a great way of getting people to do right and think beyond their old ways of doing things.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
It's interesting, because it sounds like in some ways you didn't think about race, but yet it was also very open in some ways, if you thought about it.
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Yeah, it was pretty obvious that we had lots of different colored people there.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Do you ever remember any efforts made specifically on the part of the teachers to try to bring students together or try to make school activities balanced or anything like that?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
I really don't. Actually, now, this is perking my memory a bit. I had a colleague named

Page 11
Betty Sizinger, whom I think you did interview—
PAMELA GRUNDY:
An assistant of mine did that interview.
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Yeah, and she and I, whenever we were in charge of doing anything that was public— and we were in charge of the honors and awards assembly for many years—we would always make sure that who sat on the podium was representative of the school. Occasionally people would forget that and there would be a bit of a hullabaloo from the students if everybody on the stage was white or black. They would be, "How can we do this? This is not right. Who forgot to check our public appearance?"
PAMELA GRUNDY:
So who would be on the podium?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Well, student presenters or people who were chosen to make speeches.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Students were very attuned to this.
MAGGIE W. RAY:
They were, I think so.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
That's great.
MAGGIE W. RAY:
It was a cause, yeah, and we sent those people to Boston. I'm sure you've talked with folks who've done that.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Were you there when that happened?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
I was just barely there.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Do you remember that?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
I do vaguely, and I thought it was cool. Having been up there, you know, near Boston to school, yeah, we'll send our kids up there. [Laughter] Teach them what to do. And I did have another wonderful moment when a student of mine was applying to Brown, which was where I had been, and they were having racial unrest on the Brown campus. So this was an African-American student, and I wrote a recommendation and I said, "Angela will be quite an asset because she will be able to help you work through the racial unrest on your campus, because she's done it in Charlotte-Mecklenburg in the public schools since she was born." Yes. [Laughter] That was a nice, kind of crowning moment for me to send some of my babies up there to help them get straightened out. [Laughter] Yeah, that was fun. She didn't actually end

Page 12
up going there, but it was fun to write the letter.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Well, I mean, this is really [unclear] . You're saying you talked about this and talked about your concern about the image of West Charlotte and who's representing the school. Who was your audience that you were thinking about?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Well, in the programs within the school itself it was the student body audience—that's a good question. I guess the community. I'm not very focused on this question, say it again.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
I'm asking, you had a consciousness of image and of that accomplishment, that this was something that was important that was being accomplished in the school, and I guess the question is, you were doing it for yourself but also maybe for other people to see? Who did you want to see this, and what effect did you want it to have on them? You may not have thought about this.
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Well, I think it was really an effort to show that it could work. When I was involved in the desegregation stuff there were so many doubters, and to go to West Charlotte, to be assigned to West Charlotte, was the worst for many people—"Oh, we've got to go over there to that formerly black school." And, "Who wants to go there?" A lot of negative stuff. So I think for me it was a stubbornness that, "This is not so awful and it will be good." And I had a vested interest because my kiddos were going there; our neighborhood had been assigned there. It was very satisfying when it did work. We had riots and stuff early on; it wasn't perfect by any means and there was a lot of stuff still going on, but it wasn't the pervading spirit. And it was addressed and worked on, I think, in a way maybe that other high schools were not able to do, maybe because of good leadership and also because of this kind of unique mix of kids. Our kids would say, "This school is a bottle of what life is like in the world." And I would say, "Oh, no, this is a unique three years in your life where you have a chance to experience the way the world ought to be, but when you get out you will find it quite different." And it was such a shock to many of the kids, some of whom went, interestingly enough, to northeastern Ivy League schools and came out and said, "It's really boring! It's like vanilla ice cream up there!" They missed the diversity. We indoctrinated them, I will have to

Page 13
admit, into the value and the joy of diversity.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Did that happen to your children?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Actually, my children chose pretty diverse places to go, but my daughter, this was interesting, her freshman class—she went to Earlham in Indiana—and her freshman class had to read about Jackie Robinson integrating baseball and she said, "Mom, this stuff is so boring! I know all about integrating places! I could teach this class!" So that was cool. Yeah. And once they had some graffiti written in the bathroom, some racist graffiti, and they all had to walk through, had look at it and she just called me and said, "I'm just rolling my eyes; I have to walk in there and look at this graffiti." I think she probably brought an interesting perspective, having lived through what she lived through, and learned what she learned.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
One other question I had, you mentioned briefly that relates to this diversity are these ESL kids and I guess they were mostly Vietnamese originally.
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Well, yeah, Vietnamese and Cambodian and Thai.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
How did that change the school?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
They were pretty self-contained at first, and then as they got more proficient in English some of them came into the regular classes. Early on I remember having one very smart young child who could speak English very well and told about his escape in a boat—he was a boat person—and how he had had to hide from the pirates on an island. This was so, so shocking to these safe children who were doing cool things about integration but didn't have a clue about that kind of hardship and political unrest and stuff like that. And the Vietnamese couldn't believe that they were in America and had food and safety and all that so that was a good interaction. I can't remember a whole lot of interaction except for just the awareness of their presence, because they did have classes separate because they were learning the language. Oh but they did sponsor—what was that thing called—it wasn't foreign language week, but something similar to that where everybody, the different cultures brought food in booths. They were very, very active, and kids loved to go to their booths because they had all this wonderful, exotic food that they would bring. So they did fit in there, and I guess broadened the

Page 14
perspective from the European languages which were also represented. [We had] Spanish, German clubs and French club, and then we had the ESL kids, so that was good.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Well, I was interested in whether, I mean, obviously racially the South had always been black and white and then here you see something that's different, and I mean, we see more and more of that now, and that's really good, the transformation. I was just wondering if it had any impact on thinking about [unclear] .
MAGGIE W. RAY:
I'm trying to think if I witnessed any racism from blacks towards Vietnamese. I think there was a little bit of that, but I think it was squashed pretty fast if it was mentioned. It was politically incorrect to speak like that in groups; I'm sure some of that went on outside my classroom, but . . .
PAMELA GRUNDY:
[unclear] on this question have shifted a little bit. Did you have a sense of West Charlotte as being a historical black school? Obviously it had been a black school for so many, many years. When you were there was there a sense of that history as an all-black school, or was that something you even thought of?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
There was, because there were students there who were children of graduates, and there was of course the band, which is really the signature great thing for kids to watch. There were still—some of the assistant principals that went through there during my era had been around when it was historically black. I have an interesting personal connection with it as an historical black high school: my father went to MIT and my grandfather moved to Charlotte from Ohio via Cuba. He was a very fair man, my grandfather, and he was known by the guidance department at West Charlotte when it was all-black as someone who could be called upon to provide money when it was needed for worthy, aspiring students. He would provide train fare to Boston and back for the MIT kid that could possibly go there but couldn't afford to get there and back. So those are very interesting things for me to find out. I knew nothing about it until the busing time. I had this kind of overflowing of love from many people in the black community and somebody told me that that was why. I was Mr. Earl's granddaughter, so . . .

Page 15
PAMELA GRUNDY:
That's very touching.
MAGGIE W. RAY:
That was, it's still touching still to think that. My father also helped out after my grandfather. There was a guidance counselor there named Joe Champion, who was a great help in easing white parents into West Charlotte because he had been a guidance counselor at Second Ward, which was the other black high school. He got assigned to West Charlotte and he didn't want to go to West Charlotte, either. So he came over to our neighborhood and said "I know how you feel! I didn't want to go there either!" He was quite good, and was one of the ones that let me know about that relationship.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
That's amazing.
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Yeah, an amazing story.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
When you say you felt this outpouring of love, how did you manifest it?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Hugs and arms and . . . you know, you don't have to validate yourself when you walk into a group, or I never had to. It was cool. Yeah, it really was amazing. My husband was known also as a man who worked for social justice, so that didn't hurt anything. It all kind of flowed together.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
You had done some work yourself, I think, also. Right?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Yeah, a little bit, a little bit.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Well, I guess when you say that he knew, this guidance counselor knew how to ease white parents into West Charlotte, what needed to be done to keep these white parents happy?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Well, I think humor was a great thing, and someone from over there saying, "It's going to be fine. Your fears are unfounded; it's a safe neighborhood, I live there." Joe Champion could say, "And I'm safe and your children are going to be all right." Not everybody believed that, and of course, it wasn't totally true in any high school at that time. I mean, you just wouldn't stay by yourself at a high school, or anywhere in town. So some of the fears were justified, but he helped and I guess that's the main thing. I'm trying to remember if they had tours and stuff, seems like that did all sorts of things to make the transition easy.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
You mean in some ways it might have been more difficult for the parents than the

Page 16
students to deal with?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Good question. The years when black and white students were in the classroom together for the first time I was raising little babies, and so I wasn't on site then. When I came back in the mid '70s that pretty much was over, so I can't really address that question. I do think that with the little children, it's always much easier, they're unselfconscious. A friend of mine told me that her little five-year-old got off the bus and she said, "How was your first day at school?" And she says, "Oh, I sat next to a brown girl." So this is the innocence, and in junior high anybody that's different has a problem. Somebody with a zit [Laughter] has a problem, so it gets harder, I think.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
That's interesting. [unclear] Then does it change again in high school?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
I think then it depends on what your parents think and if your parents are racists, the you're probably going to be . . .
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[TAPE 2, SIDE A]

[START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
PAMELA GRUNDY:
I was going to ask, did you ever talk with students who were troubled by their parents' racism? Did they develop different racial views?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
I expect that that was discussed, but I don't have any remembrance of that. There were always rebellious teenagers every place, and we did have our share of—the ones who maybe would articulate it the most would be the hippie, artsy, outspoken ones who would criticize their parents and maybe go out with someone across racial lines just to kind of "in your face, mom" attitude. I'm sure that went on. I don't have any personal recollections of that.

Page 17
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Was there much dating across racial lines?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
A couple. Every year there'd be some noteworthy couple. I don't know of any marriages that came out of that, but I kind of lost touch with those children.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
But that was something unusual.
MAGGIE W. RAY:
It was noteworthy. I don't think it was terribly noteworthy but it was noteworthy, yeah. Gay people were very noteworthy, and we did have a few cross dressers. That would get a lot of attention, yeah; far more attention for that than an inter-racial couple, yeah. [Laughter]
PAMELA GRUNDY:
That's very interesting.
MAGGIE W. RAY:
It was. Both of them were equated to the drama scene and one black and one white, if I remember correctly, and they were rather flamboyant about it. Yeah, that was much more interesting than the racial things. This would have been mid to late '80s you see, so that's pretty far along into the progress.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Did you see much change in the school during the years that you were there? You were there something like fifteen years.
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Yeah. I felt it—the spirit and the commitment and the pride for being this little microcosm of how we can get along—grow, I felt that grow—and the open program grew and blossomed during that period of time. The open program was responsible for bringing a lot of the diversity. It was self-selected stuff—why don't you turn that off and I'll go. [Recorder is turned off and then back on.] They're quite impressionable by simple things like a tape recorder; they're still real young. So let's see, we were talking about cross dressing, and then we had just . . .
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Changes. You were talking about the open program and it brought more diversity to the school.
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Right. Yeah. My home was in the middle of the county, and people went to Piedmont Middle School from all over the county. We drove miles and miles and miles when we would go spend the night with someone, all the parents. So when high school came and they got their cars they could drive to my house, which was the middle of the county. So we had a

Page 18
tremendous, diverse group of kids coming in and out of our house, particularly with a son and his group. We had a Latino, and—let's see, and three blacks and a couple of really poor, white boys, and then my son and a couple of other kind of middle-class kids and they had all met and become friends at Piedmont and then moved on as a group to West Charlotte. So you can see there just a little bit of how the open program added to that diversity in this student body. And I think a lot of the good stuff that went on in the open program was adopted by classrooms throughout education nationwide, and I think the open program became less distinct as the years went by. I think also magnets were, other magnets came to be, and so the open program was no longer the draw that it was in the early years. I think that led to the lessening of diversity at West Charlotte.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Sometimes people talk about the open program as being—in terms of numbers fairly small. Would you say its effect on the school was larger than the numbers?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Yeah. These children were able to be leaders, and also by the time they got to be eleventh and twelfth graders they were beginning to move out. The open program was quite tight tenth grade year, and then the number of classes offered in the open program dwindled so that by senior year it was only English. So they were out in the school mixing in and no longer quite the tight little group, which was healthy all the way around. It wasn't a large group. Well, it was actually—we had about 150 kids a year, is that right? 120 to 150 kids in each class, and then three classes, so 500 kids max maybe—and the school was 1500, I think, so maybe it was more in numbers than people thought. I would say a third of the student body, yeah. And they were good dramatists, good musicians and good students, thanks to their Piedmont background, I think.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Before I move on—I have a couple of bigger questions to wrap up about desegregation, but is there anything else that you think is important about the time you were at West Charlotte that I haven't asked you about? Anything about the school or the experience?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
I think we had a long string of really good principals. I was there from the time Bill McMillian was principal to the time Barbara Ledford came on board, and we had good

Page 19
principals who were simpatico to the mission of being this human relations example for the world. So that was important, and the staff was also, felt this was a good thing to do. So we had all this good leadership and we had this diverse student body and this good will so it worked. I think that probably was the main thing.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Well, I'll move into a deep question, which would be, what effects do you think school desegregation, and maybe West Charlotte in particular just to stay very general, had on Charlotte?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Well, I think we have yet to reap the full benefits of that. I think we have a group of young people there probably from thirty-five down who went to school here who know how to act in an integrated setting and who know that stereotypes are wrong and that people can manage, if not in great love and peace and harmony at least civilly together. I think my hope is that that will reap benefits. They're just now getting old enough to take some leadership roles. One of my students is a principal that I just saw today—he has been promoted to principal in an inner city school—so that's cool; another former student is head of the SWAN Fellowship, Executive Director; another one has her own drama company and did something about riding the bus to, was it at the children's theater? Are you familiar with that?
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Yeah. [unclear] .
MAGGIE W. RAY:
April Turner was her name, and she was in my class. So I think I'm beginning to see how they're going to live their lives, having had this background. I think it's unfinished, the story is unfinished. I think they got, my children got good academic education and they also got this wonderful learning about human things. I guess they got, I hope they got the feeling of the importance of the value of diversity, which is going to be the key from now on even more. I feel sorry for children who went to all white schools like I did and came to this later on. The ones who still go are isolated, because I think they're fearful of things that are different and often along with that fear comes a false sense of pride that their way is the best and only way to do things. Certainly at West Charlotte—if you came over there from a private school all of a sudden you realized there were lots of ways to live and yours was definitely not the best!

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[Laughter] It might be one of the ways, but it was quite interesting to watch that happen to children for the first time who hadn't grown up in it.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
So you would really see that transformation?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
I would. Yes. And some of my very own neighbors would come, and—a lot of them wanted to come to public high school to play sports or for an adventure or whatever, and some of them made it and some of them didn't make it, which is very interesting. And of course, the ones that made it I loved it and they would see what we were all about.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Was there a sense sometimes in the neighborhood that there were folks who didn't think that a place like West Charlotte was the right place for kids?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Yeah, and most of the young families that have moved in now send their children to private school, which is very sad to me. I heard a story the other day about a child who went to school and had a black teacher and the mother said, "How'd you like your teacher?" She said, "Well, she never came, it was just the maid." [Laughter] So there you have it. And it was a black teacher.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Was that recently?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
That was this week. Well, in September, and it was a black teacher in a private school. [Laughter] What a nice anecdote. Hello! Anyway. . . .
PAMELA GRUNDY:
When you embarked on all this what were your hopes for—I guess, what were your hopes and expectations for school desegregation, and to what extent were those realized?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Somehow I just knew it was right. I think the hope was that by mixing up we could raise the level of achievement for everybody, particularly those who had been deprived. And I think that in the twenty-five years that have passed the lesson that everybody has learned is that that's not enough to have equality of opportunity. And I think Charlotte-Mecklenburg has slid backwards, and that's what this suit has turned into being. The legal problems started out being, "my little daughter can't go where she wants to go to school," but out of that—and I think this is rather brilliant—has come this push for equity in all the schools. And that will help, but I'm hearing this inner city magnet school dealing with neighborhood children in the

Page 21
environmental studies magnet. And I am nose-to-nose with the failure of our school system to help these little boys who are eight-years-old and who are almost unreachable with my methods, you see—an older, white lady's methods. And you read about this, but I'm living it. It's very interesting. Part of it is cultural, part of it is economic deprivation and what they're up against, and the fact that they get to school at all is amazing. These just happen to be African-American children. When I taught at Independence I had trailer park children in the same boat, so it's not entirely a racial thing. Maybe, I think it's more economic, and I think that we've realized that. And the schools that worked the best were the ones that were mixed like West Charlotte.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Is this not something that you had ever encountered when you were teaching at West Charlotte?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Some, yeah. And in a former life—before I was at West Charlotte I worked at a place called the Street Academy, which was for kids who had been kicked out of regular school. I did run into it there and that was an individualized, loving, compassionate environment in which some progress was made by some children. I think the Smart Start and all this Pre-K thing is good to level the playing field. And I think in the twenty-five years since we did our Citizen's Advisory Group thing that the focus was moved from race to equity, and that's as it should be. We've had to learn this. It evolved, and we still have the most visionary, amazing concept of public education on the planet and our country that will educate everybody who needs it, be they retarded or a genius or anything in-between. People are down on public schools, but I'm not. [Laughter] I just think it's incredible what task we've set ourselves about.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Could you please tell us, when you say move from race to equity, what specifically do you mean?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
I think the hope now is that if the schools are equal in what they offered—resources and good teachers and good administrators—we don't want to ever move back to separate but equal, but we can slide back in that direction without doing a whole lot of harm. There's a big fear—and I think the League of Women Voter's has articulated this well—that if you get a

Page 22
concentration of poor, deprived children in one school that it's going to be harder. I think this place, Bronze Avenue is prime possible place for that to happen. Neighborhood children will come and ninety-five percent will be on free lunch, and it will be interesting to see what happens.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
But you view this equity as more important than the experiences they would have integrated?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
I don't know the answer to that. I would not want to go to an all chocolate school or an all vanilla school, I mean—I love analogies—I like rocky road ice cream. And I have my doubts about whether that will be good. But I think we don't have much choice but to give it a try given the legal rulings, and I hope that it will be watched very carefully and that the children won't be allowed to be in a bad situation. That they won't allow it to continue if it indeed is intractable. It's an interesting time.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Very interesting time, talking about these kinds of things. Let me just ask—I just have two more questions and then I'll let you go—how do you think your experiences at West Charlotte affected what you do now? Your teaching and how you [unclear] ?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Well, one thing I had to do was I had to change my teaching style, because I was teaching students who had very organized lives from home. I mean, they got up at a certain time, their clothes were laid out, they did their homework, they were on their way to college, dah, dah, dah—they had soccer practice and then they went home and practiced their music. They were regimented within an inch of their life, and when they got to my room it was fine to just lay back and be spontaneous. They needed that, and I thrived on that. Then I get over to some other schools where people don't have any organized life at home and the last thing they need is an unorganized classroom, so I had to really tighten my belt and get strict, and it was not in my nature. So that was one change. Was that your question? [Laughter]
PAMELA GRUNDY:
How did it affect your view as you look back?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
How did it affect my . . .
PAMELA GRUNDY:
What you took with you from that experience? And it may not be something you can [unclear] .

Page 23
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Well, I look back on it now—it's been ten years, I guess, since I've been there—and I look back on it as the high point of my career, where things worked well and where we really did succeed meeting our goals, and was the Halcyon days, I think, for me. Yeah.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Well, is there anything else that you think is important about West Charlotte or desegregation or race relations? Anything that we haven't talk about yet?
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Well, I'm almost sixty and now I'm having fun watching this effect of what we did in the '80s, but I think, like I said earlier, the story is not over. I guess that's the main thing I've gotten from talking today—that it's going to play itself out, and I can't help but hope that the good solid stuff that this whole generation of children experienced will flower and affect the nature of the community.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Well, all right. Thank you very much.
MAGGIE W. RAY:
Oh you're welcome. What fun. [Laughter] I've wandered a bit and you'll edit, I'm sure.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
I wanted to say before I turn this—since it's a new tape—that this is Pamela Grundy and I'm here interviewing Maggie Ray about West Charlotte High School in Bronze Avenue Elementary School and it is the ninth of November, the year 2000.
END OF INTERVIEW