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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Maggie W. Ray, November 9, 2000. Interview K-0825. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Growing awareness of the civil rights struggle

Although she graduated from high school in 1960, six years after the <cite>Brown</cite> decision, Ray remembers that integration had "barely started" in Charlotte. She describes herself as "oblivious" to the civil rights movement, but was aware enough of racial dynamics to know the effect that her southern accent might have on northerners. She did not participate in the civil rights movement in the early 1960s but welcomed news of it.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Maggie W. Ray, November 9, 2000. Interview K-0825. 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

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 backߞhaving finished college and graduate school and travelling a bitߞdesegregation 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?
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 projectsߞEaster egg hunts and that sort of thingߞbut 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 restaurantߞthat was a hamburger placeߞand 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 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.