Sense of community at West Charlotte
Enloe describes the sense of community that was present at West Charlotte and in the African American population of Chapel Hill. At school, teachers listened to their students but expected their students to listen to them. In black neighborhoods, children and adolescents could expect to be disciplined by their neighbors as much as their parents. West Charlotte still commands respect in the community, and its marching band still draws crowds, but Enloe believes that the communal ethic has eroded—kids treat their elders and one another disrespectfully.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Alma Enloe, May 18, 1998. Interview K-0167. 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
PG: Like the school. Tell me a little bit more about him. You were saying that he’d run by the bathroom.
AE: That was Pop Miller who did that. But there wasn’t a teacher that you couldn’t go and sit down and talk to. They took time out for you, and I know that the way the school system is it’s hard for them to do that. I just don’t know what went wrong with the way the kids are today. It was like when we were growing up any parent in the neighborhood could say something to you if you had done something wrong, even spank you, and nothing was said by the parents because they knew if another parent chastised you that way, they knew you had done something wrong. I feel for the kids today. It’s just so much peer pressure. It just wasn’t like that when we were growing up. Nobody was trying to compete with this person or that person. Some of them had their little cliques, but we always came together when it came to supporting West Charlotte. We were together.
PG: Why was that?
AE: I don’t know. I just looked at it as being just one big family. It was a lot of us that came from large families. My sister might know somebody in another family that had sisters and brothers the same age. It was just that we stuck together. If a fight or something broke out that was shocking. There wasn’t no guns. There just wasn’t nothing like that. If someone came up on our campus, we knew if they were a Lion or somebody else. We knew, and we just protected our school that way and took pride in it. It was just great.
PG: When you were in school what did the teachers talk to you about in terms of careers? What were your ambitions? I know everybody had different ones.
AE: Everybody had different ambitions. The teachers were willing to listen to you and steer you in the right direction as far as what you wanted to do. I wanted to be a nurse, but I never did go that way. I ended up working for Bell South. But then the Lord turned it around and put me here caring for my mom Carey, and that was just like nursing so I still didn’t miss my calling. I’m retired from Bell South now. I retired in ’95 and haven’t had my retirement party or nothing because of all of this that’s been going on here. Teachers, if they saw you, you weren’t in class, they knew you weren’t there, “Where are you supposed to be?” “Well, I’m supposed to be so and so.” “All right, get there.” We went. There wasn’t no talking back or nothing like that. And I remember Daddy Townsend, he was a history teacher but he was also in photography. He taught that, too. He used to sit up at his desk with his eyes closed, and we thought he was asleep. He would give us exams, and he said, “You can cheat as long as I don’t catch you.” But see, we thought he had his eyes closed. But he didn’t. I just don’t even really know how to explain it other than being family orientated. We just stuck together and hung in there. Everybody wanted to be a Lion, and I’m proud to have been one.
PG: Do you think that any of that had to do with you all sort of feeling that everybody there was black and you were somehow together that way, or was that something that you thought about?
AE: Some might say, you know how some people are prejudiced. Everybody they say has a little bit in them, but I’ve been around different colors all my life so I think it starts at home with the parents raising you the right way and teaching you the right way. Some might say, well, you know in order for us to have gotten more into being educated they had to integrate because we did go without a lot of things that the white school had and we didn’t. Take, for instance, I was telling you about the school books. I think I can count the times I got a new book, but other than that they were books that so many people had had. And they would be stamped Garinger High School and ( ), or whatever that was on there. But that didn’t stop us. We wanted to be educated. The parents were stronger then. I don’t know what it is now. It seems like to me not with just the black race but all races, it seems the parents are afraid of their children. Our parents coming up then, we didn’t have to do nothing. They gave us the eye, and we knew. Get yourself together. I can’t say really what it is, but I do know in order for us to get the education everybody was getting. Some people would look at us and say when we were just the blacks by ourselves, at least we knew who the enemy was, saying white people. But now, everybody is together and don’t nobody know who’s the enemy or what, so everybody is just fighting everybody. You just can’t say anything to these kids today, and I don’t. I don’t know, I just don’t understand it. It is strange, because, like I say, my mamma, honey, could look at us, give us that eye, and we got ourselves together. It’s sad. That’s the way now. And the only one that I know that can fix it is the Lord, because people got all these different kinds of attitudes about it and instead of trying to work it together, we don’t have that togetherness. Everybody is just pulling apart, and it’ll never work that way. The Lord to me is the only one that’s going to have to fix it.
PG: It seems like it’s gotten bad.
AE: It’s gotten worse.
PG: I ask everybody, and everybody sees it, but it’s so hard to figure out how it came to be.
AE: And you just wonder. I worked with a lady, Pat Vannoy. We were talking one day, and she’s white. She’s a best friend to me. She was the first one that greeted me when I went to Bell South. We were talking about going to school. She brought it up. You wouldn’t have thought that the whites was interested in West Charlotte back then, but she said, “Honey, we went to the parade just to see West Charlotte Marching Band.” She said that when people standing on the square left, she was right behind them too. So it’s always been a great school, and it still is. But the people in it are going to have to keep it going to make it still great. One time they said something about closing it. I said, “Close it! Not West Charlotte!” I hope that doesn’t happen because it’s a landmark. Did you know Northwest used to be West Charlotte?
PG: Right. Yes. Do you remember when they moved?
AE: I was young then, but my mom Carey graduated from West Charlotte. We were living in University Park, and I remember when they started building the new West Charlotte. At lot of people don’t know that though, that Northwest was really the first West Charlotte.
PG: I had talked to someone who had said that they had had a parade from the old school to the new one when they went up to take over the school.
AE: Um hum. Yes, it was really something. And even today, I’ll be fifty-one this year, anything that goes on at West Charlotte, if they’re having homecoming parade, if I’m there, I’m there to watch the parade just to see the band. That’s how everybody did up there. By our staying in University Park, there was so many of us that had big families, we would just all gather and go right up to West Charlotte.
PG: You would go in big groups.
AE: Yeah. If we didn’t go in a group, if you got up there, there was the group. You got over there. We all hung together.