Enduring memories of segregated Second Ward High School
In this excerpt, Griffin speaks of Second Ward's enduring importance in his memory. Second Ward is an essential part of his history, and "you don’t have any history, you don’t have any future."
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Arthur Griffin, May 7, 1999. Interview K-0168. 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: Do you think about Second Ward a lot?
AG: Do I think about Second Ward a lot? Probably every day, when we talk about schools. I mean, when I come out here, I got to go right to–when I come out of the parking lot, I see the gym where I played basketball every day. So I mean, it’s not something where it’s just–it’s a part of me. I mean, do you think about your husband a lot? Do you think about your–? Well, it’s sort of, it’s a part of you. And when I drive out of the parking lot, I see Second Ward every day. So sure, I think about it, and when I see some of my old classmates, of course we think about it, because I remember them–. I was at the airport–what is this, Friday? I was at the airport Wednesday morning to pick up my wife, and saw a classmate, a high school classmate, there. What did we talk about? She was introducing me to her friends from Philadelphia, “Oh, yeah, this is a high school classmate of mine.” So it’s always a part of you. You never forget Second Ward.
One day, if I stay on the school board long enough, there’ll be another Second Ward one day. Somehow or another. People are talking about buying this property, talking about doing some other things, and this time I’ll have some influence, if I’m on the school board, about what happens if they redevelop this particular piece of property. They wanted to put a shopping center here, a Neiman Marcus shopping center, an upscale place. “So what are you going to do about Second Ward?” They couldn’t figure that out. And they talked about an aquatic center, because they can’t get the civic center, and they want to have it adjacent to Marshall Park, the little pond over here. And there was a suggestion of having an aquatic high school. Well, we can talk about that, [ ]. I don’t have a clue what you do at an aquatic high school, OK? Don’t have a clue. [PG laughing] Are we dealing with fish? Are we dealing with kids swimming? You got the aquatic center. But if you want to have an aquatic high school, name it Second Ward, maybe we can do business, OK? So I’m just saying to you, there continues to be discussions and opportunities, and I’ll try to stay very close, whether I’m on the board of education or not, because if they do something with this site, I certainly want them to do something to remember Second Ward. I don’t want, in twenty years, this is a big brand new tower, the little remainings of Second Ward gone, the education center gone, people coming to the Adam’s Mark Hotel, they look out, they wonder,–it’s like, you know, there’s no sense of a school ever being anywhere on this property. So I will do whatever I can do to make sure that whatever’s here, there is some remembrance of Second Ward High School, of Charlotte’s First Colored High School, as it was originally called before Second Ward.
PG: Why is that memory of history so important, both for Second Ward and in West Charlotte?
AG: Well, it’s a part of you. It’s almost like, if you cut that part off, it’s like cutting your roots. Everyone wants to have roots. I’m getting older, both my parents are deceased, and as you get older, your friends start to die. But fifty years old, a hundred years old, you want to go somewhere and say, “Hey, that’s Second Ward. I went to public schools there.” I want part of my history to be around. I’ve grown up in the era where mostly all of my history’s gone. The community I grew up in is gone, the schools I went to are gone. The neighborhoods I played in are gone. And it sort of leaves you with an empty sense, as if you sort of–have you seen any space movies, where you’re out in space, kind of floating? You know, I don’t want to be floating in life. I want to have some connections to who I am. And every day, we’re losing more and more of that history. I mean, when you told me about this project, this oral history project, I’m saying, “Damn, why didn’t we do that?” When they were coming to do urban renewal, you had almost all the big black churches right here in this little piece of dirt here. Businesses, shops, structures. And folk want to know, now, “Why do black community this and so and so?” Well, when you devastate a community, it takes generations to get it back. The support groups. The family support groups, institutional support groups. Now, a lot of people don’t realize that twenty-five years ago, thirty years ago, this was a thriving area. And to tear up churches, to tear up institutions, it takes a long time to get those back.
And that’s why history is so important, so that we don’t forget the future. I mean, if kids and people start coming in, it’s like, “I don’t have any ties to anything, there is no history,” –if you don’t have any history, you don’t have any future. That’s what I’m trying to say. And my future is linked to my history, with regard to what I’m doing. Even with this trial. Folk have indicated, when my time comes to testify, it’s going to be kind of unique. Here’s a person who’s chairman of the school board who actually went to an all-black everything, here in Charlotte, can talk about how it was when the case was brought up originally, and the inequities today, and give some comparative analysis in terms of, how far have we come? Have we made progress? Is there progress still to go? Are there any vestiges of a dual system? If so, what are those vestiges? And I can kind of give them a response that’s a lot different from other people. But that’s simply because of history. My value in this trial is only based on the fact that I have some history.
So I think that as a community, as individuals, I think there is tremendous value to history. I really do. Particularly–after the American history, we talk about multicultural, and you have to have some roots. I mean, I just read in the newspaper the other day how the German community has a German school. They want to make sure the kids speak German and make sure that the kids understand German culture. What do I tell my kids? “Where did you grow up?” “Well, this little [ ] house in a neighborhood.” “Well, it’s not there, Dad. What school did you go to?” “Well, we used to be called Second Ward.” And that’s why it’s so much importance placed on what happens to West Charlotte. I mean, people don’t even talk about York Road. People don’t even talk about it. But Norm Mitchell got elected to the board of county commissioners. And I always kid him, I say, “Well, at least some of you–“ their mascot was wapitis–“At least some of you folk made something of yourselves over there.” But people don’t even remember. Going to Kennedy, Kennedy Middle School, the white folk in Steel Creek were saying, “We don’t like this mascot. We think–what is this? What is a wapiti?” [ an American elk] And I looked around, I said, “Wow.” I mean, that’s part of my history. They’re saying, “We don’t even know what a wapiti is. We don’t even want this.” And I’m saying, “Well, you know, you got the school in your community, at least leave the mascot there of a historically black school.” And that’s the value of history, in terms of who we are and what we’re all about. I think not knowing your history really puts you in the perils of not having a future.