Redistricting controversy in Native American schools
In this excerpt, Jones describes how the school system operated in Prospect, North Carolina, under segregation. Race played itself out somewhat differently in this majority-Native American area, and the major conflict that took place concerned which Native American children attended which Native American school, Prospect or Oxendine. Students redistricted to Oxendine insisted on attending Prospect, and while as principal Jones could not enroll them, he assigned a teacher’s aide to educate them. At the time, only a handful of black and white students attended Prospect School.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with James Arthur Jones, November 19, 2003. Interview U-0005. 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
MM: What about deciding, in the case of schools, what Indian children were eligible to go to a particular school? Did the school committee have any say-so over that?
JJ: Very little. You know, Ms. Maynor, I really am not sure when the district lines were drawn up. It was just understood that all of the Prospect people, the Indians that were living in this Prospect community went to Prospect School. Usually that [highway] 710 was kind of the dividing line. That was a natural boundary. Then those kids went there. Oxendine which is above us up here, at that time it was called Cherokee, the students and families lived in that area, they went to Cherokee School. And the same thing was so in Magnolia, down in Fairmont, down in Green Grove, Fairgrove, the Magnolia section, the kids who surrounded the school. It was a long time to the best of my knowledge before any real district lines were drawn up like they are now.
MM: Right. Well, it’s just interesting to note for people who aren’t from here, who aren’t familiar with the community, that everybody knew each other well enough to really know.
JJ: Right. To really know.
MM: I know it’s hard because you’ve been in the middle of it, but if you could just tell us a little bit about how people knew. What was the way? How would you, for example, know whether someone belonged to the Prospect community?
JJ: Where he resided in his home. Where he lived. If he lived in that area, I knew he was supposed to go to Pembroke School. If he lived in this area like up here to Red Hill area, all those students we knew they were coming. Over to the Philadelphus area—and by the way, that’s one I didn’t even mention. Philadelphus had a little school system over there, and that was white, and we didn’t have any operation with them whatsoever. And all the kids around the Buie section, we didn’t have any kids out of there. They had their own school over there, and it was all white. We didn’t have many kids living out in these outlying areas. Once in a while a family lived there, but they’d have to make their way.
We had the buses go through, and the buses only picked up the Indian children and brought them to the Indiana school. The whites picked up the white kids and took them to the white school. Fortunately, we had one black family as long as I can remember lived less than two miles up the road up here at the old Red Springs road, and the bus came from Red Springs and got those kids, and took them over there as long as I can remember. That’s the way it operated.
MM: It’s interesting because a lot of what we’re trying to figure out with this project is how that segregation system was enforced, because it seems so easy in some ways to be able to cross lines depending on your circumstances, but it sounds like in this community it wasn’t an issue.
JJ: No, it wasn’t. Now, when we really had an issue was when they drew up the district lines, and that was about the time, maybe ‘70s. Right there about ‘70s, when they drew the Maxton line up there, and they came all the way out to Red Hill Road. At Red Hill Road the kids on this side, let’s say the east side, they came to Prospect and Oxendine schools. It was Indians, mostly Indians. The kids on the west side of that Red Hill Road, they had to go to Maxton. That’s when we really had a little war, a little war so to speak.
The students, their parents resented it. They said, “I went to Prospect School. My children’s going to Prospect School.” We even had a little conflict with Oxendine students in Prospect—the parents, not the students, but the parents. The parent says, “I went to Prospect School. My children’s going.” And they were really living in the Oxendine School District. I remember when I became principal the superintendent asked us to go out and talk to these parents, and we did, the principal of Oxendine School and myself. We went out and talked to them. They told us point blank, “We’re not going to Oxendine School. I went to Prospect School. My children are going to Prospect School. My grandchildren are going,” and that’s how dynamic they were. And it happened until eventually it went to court and finally got it established.
Still, just recently, the last couple of years, they’ve reorganized. Last year, I think, they redistricted. It took effect last year, and it’s going to take effect, I understand, this school year even more than it did because you’ve got an influx especially of Oxendine School. Red Springs School came and got Indian kids within, well, right beside the school. You know the Oxendine School Road? Okay, Red Springs School District went to the school property line, dropped behind the school property line, came back and joined that right above the school property line, and everything from there west that was Red Springs. And they was as close to the school, those kids, as from here to the next house, a quarter of a mile. They had to go to Red Springs. Now that was awful. That was awful.
MM: What was the purpose?
JJ: That’s the way the set up the district lines.
MM: Yeah? Why do you reckon they set them up that way?
JJ: I guess they wanted to keep the enrollment of their school up, and that’s the way the district lines were drawn. It caused so much hard feelings. The Indians wanting to come—they didn’t want to go to Red Springs, but they were just about forced to go to Red Springs. As I was telling you earlier, the same thing was true with Oxendine. They didn’t want to go to Oxendine. They wanted to go to Prospect because their parents had. This is the kind of thing—it was not an easy battle. It was not an easy battle, but eventually I think it’s somewhat resolved.
But now they’ve reopened because of the educational levels and federal compliances, and state compliances. If “X” school is not doing as well as “B” school, or “Y” school, then they have given the parents the prerogative, “Well, if you’re not satisfied,” and that’s happened this year I understand, I’ve been told that, “If you’re not satisfied with your child going to “Y” school, and you want to put him in “X” school, come down and we’ll arrange it, and put him over there.” I don’t know whether that’s the best thing from an educational standpoint. Maybe some. But then that creates a lot of animosity.
MM: Right. Right.
JJ: It does.
MM: Well I know that there was a time in the 50s, late 50s and early 60s where people were doing that.
MM: They were deciding not to go to the schools they had been assigned to. Tell us about that period of time.
JJ: Now, we had that. We had a few. There again, that’s where a big law suit came about when that happened. I don’t mind telling you. I had a classroom full of kids. Back then we had trailers. We had a classroom of about thirty-some kids that were assigned to Oxendine School. Their parent’s says, “We’re not going to let them go there. They’re going to Prospect School.” Now, we couldn’t keep them off the bus, and I was principal at this time.
MM: So this was 72?
JJ: Okay, the bus picked them up, brought them to school. They went to the cafeteria like all the other students, but I could not enroll those kids in Prospect School. I could not give those kids books. If you want to enroll you’re not going to get books. Did not furnish a teacher for them. Those kids sat there one whole year, and the only instruction they got, I took it on my part. I said, “I’m not going to let them stay there a whole year without some kind of guidance.” Couldn’t get books. I got a letter from the superintendent specifically spelling this out, and I told the parents. I read the letter to the students. It was the sixth, seventh, and eighth grade kids.
I says, “Now, you boys and girls understand this is the letter from the superintendent, and I must abide by what the superintendent says, or otherwise I won’t have a job. That’s how important this is. Now, you either do this or you get out.” So I read it to them, and I told them that they had all the other privileges that any other kid had there. They went out and played. So I brought in a teacher’s aide. I assigned a teacher’s aide to that classroom. She stayed there the whole year. I said, “Take these kids to the library. Film projectors. Film strips. Library books. Use them. However you see the interest of these kids, and you keep them moving. Keep them going.” I said, “They’re not going to run all over the campus. They’re going to operate just like another class. You’re their teacher, and you’ve got to carry this out, and I expect you to carry it out. You’re the teacher, not on paper as far as the Board, but you’re Prospect’s teacher, and you’re these kids’ teacher, so I expect you to carry it out and be the teacher.” We got along with it.
MM: How many kids?
JJ: Thirty-some kids.
MM: Okay. And these are parents that lived on the west side of Red Hill Road?
JJ: That’s exactly right.
JJ: In fact, some of them lived this side, and they were supposed to go to Oxendine School, but they resented it. They’re parents said, “I’m not going there.”
MM: But Oxendine was an Indian school?
JJ: Oh, definitely, but just because tradition, that they went to Prospect School. Sometimes it’s hard to break them. You know, Indian traditions are tough. They were tough. It wasn’t always easy to deal with.
MM: How did the situation get resolved?
JJ: They went to the Board of Education and they had a law suit. They had a law suit about it, and finally some of those parents—and I talked with them so much. I said, “You’re hurting nobody but your child and your grandchild. You’re depriving that child of an education. Go on to Oxendine School because Oxendine School is a feeder school to Prospect. Let them go there until the seventh grade or eighth grade, they’re coming on to Prospect to the high school.” I said, “You’re not getting any education for them.” I said, “You’re hurting nobody but you and your child.” So, they gradually ( ) in, and it evolved.
MM: So they sort of accepted it over time?
JJ: Yeah, they finally accepted.
MM: To what extent, because I know that this was at the same time that the county board was trying to send Blacks to Prospect, so were those two issues related?
JJ: No, not at that time. They were not. Now, we had at that time, I think I told you this before, that was not an issue because we only had about four black kids that was coming at that time, and about four or five white was coming at that time. That particular issue was not interwoven or related anything to the Blacks or the whites. That didn’t really happen until they brought about the greater district areas and began to force the integration. That’s when that developed, when they started forcing.