Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Willa V. Robinson, January 14, 2004. Interview U-0014. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Poor high school resources leave black students unprepared for college

Robinson relates a story about her son Fred's effort to go to college. He was accepted at a college in Charlotte, but administrators there balked when they realized he was black. Robinson used connections to find a place for Fred at Howard University, where he quickly learned that underfunded, poorly outfitted Maxton schools had left him unprepared for a rigorous college curriculum.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Willa V. Robinson, January 14, 2004. Interview U-0014. 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

WR: I was one of those that believed that for the simple reason—. My son graduated from the all black school, and he wanted to be a doctor. Well, first of all they wouldn’t let him in at, I think it was a college up in Charlotte. I can’t think of the name now. But anyway, what they did to him, they accepted him without him going there. They didn’t see him. Two weeks before time for school to open I took him for his interview. When they realized he was black they cut him off just like that. Now, it’s two weeks before college is opening up to start. This lady, I’ll always remember her, Miss McDuffie. You might have heard about Laurinburg Institute? MM: Um-hum. WR: Well, Miss McDuffie was one of the founders. She helped me by her being an educator and knowing people to get my son in Howard University in two weeks. She made a few phone calls to a few prominent people at that school, and three days before the school was opened she called me. She says, “Get Fred ready and have him at Howard University,” at such-and-such a time, at such-and-such a place. “He has been accepted.” He was accepted, because he told me, “Mama, if you just get me in there I won’t let you down. I won’t let you down.” He even talks about it now because he does a lot of public speaking, how far back in time our schools were from the modern schools of that day because he was in school with kids from all parts of the country, even some came from other countries to this medical school. He said, the things that he had to learn and catch up to in college, they already did it in high school. MM: Wow. WR: They already did it in high school, so while they were out enjoying themselves he was burning the midnight oil trying to keep up. He said it was like he didn’t go to school. But, yet, when he graduated from Robeson County Training School he was an honor student. He was what they call a cum laude something or other. You know what those two things are. He was all A’s, an all A student. He said he went to Howard University and it was like he was the dumbest thing in the world because a lot of things that those children that was there with him had already done in high school, they didn’t even give it to him when he was in high school. MM: Right. WR: They didn’t have, I guess, the tools or the financial facilities. He said he really had to work his butt off just to stay even. He says, “Not ahead of the class, mama, just even.” He said when the other kids had time to go out and party and enjoy themselves on the weekend, he says, “I was burning the midnight oil. I was catching up to make sure because I had promised you if you got me there, I wasn’t going to get throwed out.” So that was another thing to let me know that our schools was below par, that they needed a lot of improvement, because that’s a devastating thing for a child to feel like, “Hey, I’m smart. I’m getting all A’s,” and you go to the next level, and they say, “All A’s for what? Did you do so-and-so, or did you do such-and-such.” “We didn’t do that at our school.” “Well, you gotta get it.” MM: That’s right. Did a number of blacks from Maxton go to college? Was that a common experience? WR: No, not a lot. MM: So people weren’t bringing back—. WR: They wasn’t giving any feedback. MM: Yeah. WR: At least to where I didn’t know about it until my children started going to college. That’s when I got the feedback from what was going on, that our schools wasn’t what I thought they was. Even with my staying out there, practically, at school, and trying to keep up with what was going on, and this, that, and the other, our schools still was below par. They wasn’t up to snuff.