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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Louise Young, February 14, 1972. Interview G-0066. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Isolated incident of racial tension at the Hampton Institute

Young describes the only racial conflict she witnessed during her years teaching at Hampton Institute in Norfolk, Virginia. The incident in question occurred when Miss Clark, a white teacher from the North, disciplined a female student for dress code violation. According to Young, the situation resulted in tensions between students and the faculty, with the students demanding that Miss Clark be fired. Young describes how she helped to mediate the situation. Overall, Young argues there was little racial tension between black students and white faculty; however, she attributes this particular dispute to a sense of superiority on the part of white teachers from the North and their "latent racism."

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Louise Young, February 14, 1972. Interview G-0066. 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

One conflict we had there, the only conflict we had during my years there, the girls waited on tables in the big student dining room, took turns at it and were paid for it you know. And it was the days when your waistline was . . . coming down here the style was to have . . . I forget what we call them, just a long waistline to your hips you see. And the aprons that the girls wore were all regular waistlines. And so this little girl waited on tables in the student's dining room, put her apron on in this stylish way. And the matron, a New England matron who was looking after Miss Clark told her to put her apron up where it belonged because of the way it was cut. She didn't do it. She told her to again. She didn't do it. And so, according to rules, Miss Clark told her to go up and just report to the office. So she went over to take off her apron and wash her hands and go up to the office, and right next to her was one of the few, right next to the spot where she was washing her hands was one of the few boy's tables. Most of the tables were mixed boys and girls but there weren't enough girls to go around. So this would be the boys' table. And the boys thought that it was a great reflection on them to be put at the boy's table instead of with the girls. And maybe they were a little more rambunctious boys I don't know. But Miss Clark went over to hurry her to go on upstairs. You see, she was seeing to the meal and she must have touched her. I don't know what she did to her. But the boys rose as a group to defend this colored girl against this teacher that was pushing her or slapping her or something, I don't recall what they said, but I can't conceive of Miss Clark doing any of those things. But that's the way the boys started. So I had a call pretty soon that this girl had been mistreated and so on and so forth. I called them into our office, including her brother, and he was defending his sister he assured me and had telephoned his parents to come and continue the protection of his sister. I had miss Clark in, the matron, and we talked it all over and they decided that nothing was really meant. There was no harm to it. So he agreed to telephone his parents not to come and everything was settled. And then, lo and behold, they would blow up again. I'd call the boy in, the brother in, and he would say, well Miss YOung, when I'm here talking with you it's alright. But when I go out there the boys say, I'm not protecting my sister. So they . . . my rooms were right over the entrance to the huge dining room and ordinarily as they came into breakfast, at that time I was dressing, they would sing. It was delightful for me to hear it. Good voices you know, seven hundred boys marching into breakfast. And their favorite song was, Yes We Have No Bananas. I don't think you go back far enough to have ever heard it. It was very delightful. But during this troubled times they would come in silence and it was very striking to me, very striking to me. So I knew things were still bad and the president of theStudent Council persuaded everybody to hold tight until time for student council and then we would settle it there. So student council time came and I expected the students to bring it up and they didn't. And we went on through student council and it was dismissed. And after it was over I asked Mr. Lassiter, the President, I thought the students were going to bring this up. Miss Young they thought you were going to bring it up. So I said, well, lets call the student council back together tomorrow and I will bring it up. So I put it all before them and said, now Miss Clark has been here a long time. I've talked with her and I've talked with the girl and would you really like me to dismiss Miss Clark? Do you think she should be dismissed? She said she was sorry, and everybody is sorry, what would you like me to do about it? What do you think I should do? And I said, now I think this . . . some people would say this is just a teacher-student mess, but I said, I think it has racial overtones and everybody that comes here to Hampton knows they're coming to a mixed racial situation and I think we're all under obligation not to let the racial factor touch us. But I think it has in this case and do you really think that I should fire Miss Clark? She has already said she's sorry. What else would you like her to do? And they faced up to it and said they didn't really want Miss Clark fired. And they felt the best thing to do was to forget it and it not only was forgotten but we were in a campaign at the time and the students were asked to respond, you know, making their pledges. And I'm not telling you how faithful they paid them up. I don't know, but they responded in pledges very generously which was counted a wonderful test of their general morale and they began to sing as they came to breakfast, every morning. But that's the only racial conflict I ever had a part in in the six years I taught in Negro colleges.
Do you think the fact that they did respond so much was because there were other incidents going on and this just happened to be one that was very clear? Or do you think it was a really unique situation?
I really think that . . . people say now don't they that a teacher should not put their hands on a pupil. That it's always subject to misinterpretation as to whether . . . and I'm sure that the teacher was annoyed and that she pushed, you see. And of course I'm not saying that these . . . I think in that day and time anyway there was obliged to have been race consciousness between the teachers and the students. Especially since the teachers were northern teachers, and they really came down much in a attitude of superiority. I mean they came from New England to help the poor Negroes. And it was accepted as grateful and all that sort of thing, but by 1925 which was when this happened, Negroes were more and more independent and after all some of these were college men. And they, I'm sure that there was a latent racism in them. And I'm also sure that Miss Clark was an old-fashioned teacher attitude and the child wouldn't obey her you see, so . . . but that really was the only racial flare-up.