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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 >>

Concern that the gains of integration are being reversed

Ray worries that some of the gains of integration are being reversed as she sees African American children struggling in school and life. The lesson she takes from this change? It is not enough to provide only equality of opportunity.

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:
When you embarked on all this what were your hopes forߞI 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 thatߞand I think this is rather brilliantߞhas 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 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 seeߞan 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 lifeߞbefore 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 offeredߞresources and good teachers and good administratorsߞwe 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 fearߞand I think the League of Women Voter's has articulated this wellߞthat if you get a 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 meanߞI love analogiesߞI 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.