Teachers and parents heal wounds of integration
In this excerpt, Hamlin remembers how badly he felt when violence broke out during the integration process. Attendance at West Charlotte's football games dropped because people worried that a fight might break out. Tensions dissipated by the 1970s, though, as teachers and parents worked together to make integration work. School activities like sports and clubs found new life as the community grew willing to commit resources and energy to rebuilding West Charlotte's reputation. This excerpt offers a look at how integration affected day-to-day life in schools and the strength of athletic competition as a galvanizing force despite the presence of racial tensions.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with William Hamlin, May 29, 1998. Interview K-0169. 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: What did you think when ( ) started happening in Charlotte? And then sort of later on being in the ‘60s--. You were back living here?
WH: I was back living here. I was really glad to see it happen. I was really hurt to see all of the daily riots that were happening in the school. That was really hurtful from two standpoints because I thought that the opportunity was there for us to really embrace one another. But, I was so hurt that people were not willing to step up to the plate even though the city officials, board of education said, “This is a Supreme Court order of the day.” But that activity sort of showed that there was a silent rejection of what was going on. And that was being played out in the minds and eyes of the children who were in school at that day. Regardless as to what the Supreme Court says, “We don’t want to be here and we’re going to show that things are not going to work.” That was really hurtful to me.
PG: Were you connected with West Charlotte at that time? Were you going to the games and--?
WH: Yes. I was still going to the games and during that period of time the participation dropped off. I think that there was a general fear in the community that, “We don’t want to be in an environment that’s going to put the races together in masses and may cause something”, so attendance was not really well. Then, the competition level wasn’t that great because there was a lot of shuffling in schools. You went through a period--. Are you familiar with the debate that’s going on about recruiting now in high schools? Well, that happened back then, big time. Some of the star athletes were born to the integrated schools--. What that causes is the athletic level in a lot of the black schools to be lower. So, I guess it’s in the media now, but it’s something that’s been occurring for a long, long time. It also is a mirror of what our society calls for on the college level, in the pros. If you’ve got the wherewithall on a college level to recruit the best player you’re going to get it. If you’ve got the wherewithall on the professional level to get the best player, you’re going to get it. I think it just, sort of, mirrored itself all the way through.
PG: I’ve heard other people say that surprisingly it was the best athletes who got accepted to go to the white schools in the early--. That that was--.
WH: That’s true. That’s exactly right. It was the black, the better black athletes who went to those schools. I think that that was not only just in Charlotte. I think it went right over the nation. I’m really surprised about that.
PG: Then did the situation change? There was a period of real turmoil.
WH: And then, I think, in the later ‘70s things began to start mellowing out. There was an initiative throughout the whole community that, “We want to make this situation work.” In talking with children of affluent parents, at the time, their parents really made a sacrifice. They said, “Look. If I’m going be a leader in Charlotte/Mecklenburg, I’m going to lead not only in the white community but I’m going to lead on social issues. And they derived in a way mechanisms by which their children would be bussed just like any other kid and they were going to be going to those schools. And, I think that’s when it began to turn the corner. Because it showed whether you were at the top or the bottom, everybody was going to be affected by integration. I think the mood began to change even though there was some other resistance in other quarters of the community. I think, at that point, we began to turn the corner.
PG: And, it seemed like--. I mean, West Charlotte became a symbol of that.
WH: It did. It really did. I think it had--. There are two ingredients. Number one, West Charlotte was known to have a superb staff. Unfortunately, just as we began to integrate many of those persons in that superb staff were also shifted to other schools which caused for a revamping of the staff at West Charlotte. I missed my thought.
PG: You were talking about revamping the staff of the schools.
WH: Right. So, we went through this period where a lot of the veteran staff was gone and now you’re dealing with a nucleus that you’re trying to blend together along with parents who really, really want it to work. West Charlotte was sort of made to be the model from the administrative standpoint to say, “Oh, yes, it can work.” The resources began to be placed at West Charlotte to make it work. To make it attractive to students from whatever economic rim they came from to say that, “I can send my child to this school and get a quality education just as well as I would sending them to Myers Park or some other high school.” As a result of that then other resources came in. Not only do we want our children to compete academically, we want to bring back the athletic competition level that was in days of old. So booster clubs and the band and all these other activities began to get a new shot of energy. Specifically, new uniforms, new instruments and whatever to say, “What you were in the past we’re going to recreate that.” The pride in the school started coming back at that point.