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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Elizabeth Brown, June 17, 2005. Interview U-0019. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

White students resist desegregation and the politicians who oversee it

Illustrating the difference in mindset between students at black and white schools, Brown recalls differing responses to John F. Kennedy's assassination: students at white schools celebrated while students at black schools mourned. She remembers that students at one white school responded so raucously to desegregation that one teacher recruited football players to act as bodyguards for black students.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Elizabeth Brown, June 17, 2005. Interview U-0019. 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

But I think from the very beginning the integration was very peaceful. From what I understand in some of the schools they had four football players escorting each kid to class, two in front and two behind. The coach told them they'd better not have any incident of anyone interfering with them, but I suspect the football players probably didn't like that, but they were told to do it and they did do it.
KIMBERLY HILL:
I've never heard that story.
ELIZABETH BROWN:
Um hmm. That was at West End. I had a friend that taught at West End, and that's why I knew that. This has nothing to do with integration, but it's so typical of how the South was in those days. When Kennedy was killed, this, they had a huge celebration at West End. They were in their classes whooping and hollering led by the teachers because one of the teachers that was my friend was Catholic, and she was horrified at it. Then I had another friend later on in life who graduated from one of the-I guess Ramsey at the time was considered a premier white school. It wasn't a magnet school, but it drew from an area where there were a lot of wealthy people on the southside. They were whooping and hollering and everything [about the Kennedy assassination]. I think Carroll and probably the black schools were the only ones that were mourning. He said later when he went home and saw the TV coverage, he was mortified at the way they celebrated. He and his friends also, another friend who was in another school, another area. I'm not exactly sure, but they were all celebrating.
KIMBERLY HILL:
Was this President John Kennedy [as opposed to Robert Kennedy]?
ELIZABETH BROWN:
President Kennedy in Dallas.
KIMBERLY HILL:
Wow.
ELIZABETH BROWN:
They thought it was wonderful. So that was the attitude. So I don't know if it was because of the integration part or he was a northerner or he was a Catholic or what. I just knew that this was-
KIMBERLY HILL:
I did talk with a doctor who integrated Ramsey High back in '63. He said he remembers students telling him the day Kennedy was killed, yeah, you're next. You're next.
ELIZABETH BROWN:
Really. Well, that's where my friend graduated [from]. I had two friends who were sort of contemporaries of mine. I'm not sure where the other one went to school. It wasn't at Ramsey. They were also celebrating, but West End went totally wild from what I understand. No more classes that day. We had an old teacher, golly, she was-she retired from the public school system, and they say she ran any school she was in. The principal, she had more power than any principal. Then she went to work in a Catholic grade school as a librarian, and then they were getting better and better, and they felt like they needed a real librarian. So she lived right near the old school. In fact all she had to do was cross one street to get to it. She asked if she could work there, or work for us. I don't know what they paid her, almost nothing. She thought it was wonderful she could eat in the cafeteria free. She was quite wealthy. I think some of the parents who she taught at Phillips said that she had the same clothes that she wore at Phillips. She doesn't believe in spending a lot of money. But one of the students and one of the teachers had a writing class and had to talk about someone so she interviewed her at Phillips. What she did at Phillips-she said all these people at West End when they were integrating, they were out whooping and hollering, their cars and riding on the top of the cars and all that sort of stuff, just utter chaos. No schooling, no classes were going on. They came to Phillips to get their kids to come out and join them, and the principal was so nervous he came to this lady, can't think of her name right now, and they said, what can I do? I don't know what to do. Our kids are about ready to walk out of school, and she says "get me the student council president and all the football players." So they all met and she said, "Are we going to let the West End people tell us what to do?" She said so, they went out and got the kids that had left Phillips to come back in, march back in, and the newspapers wanted to interview her and the principal protected her. All the newspapers said is this little old gray-haired lady and a bunch of big boys got the kids to come back into the school at the same time. So she sort of saved Phillips' reputation by appealing to the rivalry between the two big public schools. So that was sort of the situation at Phillips. I don't know if they integrated, but West End was the typical hot spot, the one that took it the worst. I don't know how long they were out running around in cars and so on. It was just like I said no schooling going on at that time. But I don't know how long that lasted.