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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Glennon Threatt, June 16, 2005. Interview U-0023. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Desegregation roils Birmingham

Threatt describes how, as a gifted African American student, he ended up desegregating a white gifted class. The move was part of an effort sparked by a lawsuit, but the legal victory did not ensure his or his fellow students' safety. Desegregation was roiling Birmingham as it started to change neighborhood composition as well as the composition of schools, and some white people responded violently, in one case with a burning cross. Others simply left neighborhoods and black families entered them.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Glennon Threatt, June 16, 2005. Interview U-0023. 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

KIMBERLY HILL:
So, can you tell me a little more about how the decision was made to move you to Elyton?
GLENNON THREATT:
Well, what happened was there was a lawsuit. One of the attorneys who was handling the lawsuit was a guy by the name of Demetrius Newton, who is now the Speaker of the House of Representatives for the state of Alabama. They had filed a lawsuit to force the integration of special education. After we had been placed in the all black enrichment class, because that was the way they had tried to fix the problem. What had happened before was that there was gifted education, but it was for white only, but then under separate but equal when blacks complained about it, they decided that what they would do is set up gifted education for all black classes in the all black schools. So, they came around and IQ tested the kids to qualify them to go into that class, I got placed into that class. Then of course the case was resolved because separate but equal is inherently unequal. So, they then allowed some of us to integrate that white class. I learned later from Dr. Baldwin at one of our reunions that they took the three kids in the all black gifted class that had the highest IQ's. It was myself, a woman by the name of Deidre Newton, who was Demetrius Newton's daughter, and another guy by the name of Richard Walker. Richard is a chemist now and Deidre is a homicide prosecutor in New York, for the Manhattan District Attorney. So they chose the three of us to go to that class and we were placed there in sixth grade.
KIMBERLY HILL:
So the class was twenty-five then.
GLENNON THREATT:
There were three blacks.
KIMBERLY HILL:
Just three in the whole gifted class of twenty-five students. Then the rest of the school was also all white.
GLENNON THREATT:
The rest of the school was all white the first year that I went there. That school also had some children that were physically challenged. Polio, other physical disabilities and you started to see some blacks come in in that area also. By the time I was in eighth grade the school was probably fifteen to twenty percent black because it was sitting in the middle of a black community. I used to have to drive past two all white schools to get to my all black school, because I lived in an all black community. The elementary school Graymont, which is now the JCC headquarters, is a beautiful school. It has been restored, it is a beautiful school, but it was all white. After black people started moving-let me back up and tell you. I lived in an area in Birmingham called Dynamite Hill.
KIMBERLY HILL:
Yeah, I've interviewed a few people from that area.
GLENNON THREATT:
Well, I lived on Dynamite Hill. We were one of the first black families to move on our block. In fact when I moved into that neighborhood there were still white folks there. I remember living there and white people coming in the neighborhood and vandalizing cars, throwing bricks through people's windows, burning a cross in my neighbor's yard when I lived on First Street. So, as the complexion of the neighborhood changed-and interestingly enough, that neighborhood borders Birmingham Southern College which at the time was an all white university. As that neighborhood called College Hills, we referred to it as Dynamite Hill, but it is really now called College Hills, as that neighborhoods' complexion changed then the schools changed too. Because all the white parents that could started taking their kids out of those schools and then [black?] students started replacing them. What would always happen was that once one or two blacks started going to a school then in a few years it became all black, because all the white people who could leave left. That's commonly called white flight. I used to go past two all white schools to get to my black school when I was in fifth grade. One of them was within walking distance of my house. It was sitting right in the middle of an all black neighborhood at that point in time and it was still all white.