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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 >>

Poor whites end up at desegregated schools, sparking tensions, but many whites support movement

Threatt describes the results of the combination of school desegregation, residential desegregation, and white flight: a concentration of poor whites at desegregated schools. Threatt remembers lots of fights, many of which he participated in as the self-anointed champion of the African American students in the gifted class. But Threatt also remembers some white people who supported the civil rights movement, calling their contribution "one of the greatest untold stories of the civil rights movement."

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:
Do you have memories of walking to school and walking past groups of white kids?
GLENNON THREATT:
Oh yeah, we used to have walk battles with them. There was a line of demarcation which was Graymont Avenue, because there also is a very large housing project that's right across the street from Legion Field called Elyton Village. When I was in fifth grade Elyton Village was all white, so we used to have fights and organize rock battles with the white kids from the projects. It was like a little demilitarized zone, which was like Graymont Avenue almost like in Korea.
KIMBERLY HILL:
Or Israel.
GLENNON THREATT:
Yeah. The whites would stay on their side of Graymont Avenue and we would stay on our side of Graymont Avenue. Then as we started to box them in the private home owners were able to sell their homes, but the white folks who lived in Elyton, because it was public housing, it was a lot more difficult for them to move. What you were left with were the poorest whites who were still going to Elyton, because all of the whites that lived in private homes left. So you had a lot of the children of black families who had tried to get their kids into integrated schools and we were left in a school where most of the white kids lived in a housing project. It was a bad mix of kids and there were lots of fights and lots of racial related incidents in that elementary school.
KIMBERLY HILL:
Would you like to tell me in more detail about some of the incidents?
GLENNON THREATT:
Sure. The first day that I was in Elyton School, one of the white kids in the class called Deidre a nigger and pulled her hair. I got in a fight with him; they suspended me from school. I had to stay home three days. Came back to school, my parents talked to me and said, "Listen, you have got to understand you cannot react that way. You can't respond that way, because it's really important. What they are trying to do is get you put out of school so that they can prove that blacks can't behave properly. You have got to understand that there is some social responsibility and you just have to bite your tongue and not say anything, because it's really important that you stay in that school." That was a very, very difficult thing to do because at the time I was like ten years old. I just didn't do very well with people getting up in my face and spitting at me and stuff like that, I didn't take very well to that at all.
KIMBERLY HILL:
Did your parents talk about it in terms of non-violence or the movement?
GLENNON THREATT:
My father did, my father never told me to let anyone hit me. He never told me to absorb punishment. He said don't hit anyone first. If somebody hits you, you should definitely defend yourself. That's not non-violent. I wouldn't have made it in non-violent protests, and I never participated in any of them. I would not have been able to let someone hit me. The spitting was one thing and that was bad enough, but the hitting I wouldn't have been able to take that. But I really couldn't take it when Deidre was physically attacked and I didn't take that very well. The other guy, Richard Walker was kind of a pudgy kid and he was very withdrawn and soft spoken and I was the more aggressive of the three. Deidre wore glasses and had pig tails and she was a very, very soft spoken girl-which is why it's so ironic that she would end up being a homicide prosecutor. I was really the most aggressive of the three and the more outspoken, and ended up kind of being the spokesperson for the three of us. The other thing that was weird about it is that the other students in the school didn't like us anyway, because they referred to us as the gifted kids with a snide sort of thing. Because we got stuff that they didn't get, we got to go on field trips and we had audio visual aides and stuff like that that the other students in the school didn't have. So there was an animosity between the regular students in the school and our gifted class. The other students passed classes, we didn't. We got to go to the youth gymnasium by ourselves; we didn't have to share it with other students in the school. We had access to the library all day long, and the other students in the school didn't have that. We got to go on field trips and have people from the symphony and stuff like that come down and interact with us. I guess the other students were jealous and reasonably so, because they saw us getting resources that they didn't have available to them.
KIMBERLY HILL:
So, you had the threat of them not liking you anyway and then especially because you are black, it would be double -
GLENNON THREATT:
Sure, sure. Then, because a lot of the white kids in the school were poor. I mean, I remember white kids coming to that school with cardboard in their shoes. It was the first time I had ever seen anybody eat a mayonnaise sandwich. My parents weren't wealthy, but they were both teachers. We owned our own home, we had two cars, we took vacations . . . I didn't think about it at the time, but we had a lot more resources then some of the white students in that school. So, there is always a natural animosity because of that demographic difference. It was very, very strange now that I think back on it. I thought my teacher at the time was a racist and that she didn't like blacks. She was very stern and strict. Later on I found out from talking with her that she had gotten death threats because people told her she should refuse to teach blacks. It just goes to show that perhaps one of the greatest untold stories of the Civil Rights Movement is white people that participated in and did things- because now a lot of the black people who participated in the Civil Rights Movement have been recognized, but many of the whites who gave money and support and stuff like that never got recognized until stuff like the book that Diane McWhorter wrote. Her book really talked a lot about the role of white people in the Civil Rights Movement-Carry Me Home. It's a good book, it's an excellent book, it is the best book. Diane McWhorter is her name; it is absolutely the best book I have read on the Birmingham part of the Civil Rights Movement. Because she was from here and her father was an industrialist who participated in the Citizen's Council that was responsible for maintaining segregation.
KIMBERLY HILL:
Was she working under ground?
GLENNON THREATT:
No she wasn't. She was a teenager at the time and later on she found out about her father's role.