Documenting the American South Logo
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William Hamlin, May 29, 1998. Interview K-0169. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Integration's failure to affect mindset, threat of eroding identity

This excerpt reveals the complex and sometimes contradictory responses to racism and efforts to eradicate it. Hamlin believes in the mission of integration but also that its success is uncertain and its effects are not always positive. While Hamlin believes that integration largely served its purpose, he does not think it managed to erode Americans' "segregated mentality." This mentality has continued to deny his children educational opportunities and drives some people to continue to resist full integration. Hamlin may be joining that number: he says he increasingly understands that racially, culturally, or religiously homogenous environments are safe environments where students, for example, are not distracted by discrimination.

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: Oh, I was saying--. Asking the question, if you think integrated schools in Charlotte fulfilled the hopes that people had and the expectations? WH: I think there was a false sense of hope and achievement that integration could bring. I think that it served as a good vehicle and the best vehicle for bringing the races together. So, I think it really served that purpose. But, a segregated mentality is so engrained in our society, the American society and the world in general, that I don’t think that we’re ever going to be fully integrated and maybe we shouldn’t. I think the respect of another’s beliefs, another’s culture background and the acceptance of people, in general, may be more important than integration. Obviously, we are going to have a multi-cultural society somewhere in the future. But, if you look at history there are cultures of people that have never integrated themselves. Cultures of people who share the same skin color who never integrated. Persons who share the same kind of religious beliefs who have never been integrated. So, I think “full” integration, I don’t think that’s ever going to occur. I think that the most important thing is that we respect another’s culture, belief, and them, in general, as an individual, respecting the difference from us is way more important. PG: Is this something that you’ve always thought or is this a thought that you’ve come to over the years? WH: It’s a thought that I’ve come to. I know that I was a part of this belief that if we could all integrate that there was just going to be a natural exchange of knowledge and resources and that sort of thing. But, our society is very witty. And, as new demands come upon us for changing we find new ways to entrench ourselves in the old. So, my hopes--. I evolved to that point. I know that I was caught up in thinking, “All we got to do is integrate and everything will be equal.” It’s not so. And, I don’t think it will be so. PG: Is there any sort of one big thing that happened that you observed that helped you change or has it been just a gradual sort of observing of many things? WH: I think the thing that heightened me to it--. My oldest child was a part of the academically gifted program in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school, and I saw her being alienated out of some opportunities. Even though there are some rules that say that there’s going to be equal access to all. Individuals have a way that they can eliminate you if they want to. And it can’t be blamed upon “racialness” or whatever. And, I know that she competed academically just as well as others, but I know that there were some opportunities that weren’t made available to her. I’m not bitter about that, but that’s; those kinds of events are what made me understand that we were not going to ever have full integration, full diversity. We’re not going to ever have that fullness because there are going to be some people who are going to cleave to the past. And they are going to do everything in their power and they’re going to use as much wit as they can to keep it from occurring. And what that’s going to do is delay it. And then you’re always going to have someone else who is going to pick up the banner and is going to run with it. So, that’s what sort of changed my mind. PG: Did you have travel opportunities, scholarship opportunities or classes? WH: Yeah. I think that, in general, my son was not strong in academics, but my daughters, oldest to youngest, were. And there were a lot of opportunities that they were involved with, but those activities they never were dismissed from anything like that. What I saw was attitudes in individuals. That’s what I saw and that’s where I saw the institutionalism being heavily entrenched. And that’s what made me know, “There’s going to be some people that’s going to hold on.” And, then there’s going to be some people on both races that are going to hold on. My statement is not made one-sidedly. I began to understand that there are going to be people who just don’t want to change. They just want it the way it used to be and they hold onto it. And, then another thing, too. I didn’t begin to really understand the desires of individuals to have their children go to private, church related schools, or schools that dealt, basically, with a given culture, and I began to understand that. In some regards I think that the reason for it is in error. But, by the same token within our society, I think we have a right to educate our children in the way that we feel is best. Now saying that, when my children went away to college, all three of them have gone to all black colleges. And why did I make that choice? All three of them could have gone to some of the greater universities if they wanted to. But I made that choice because of this. I felt that in the environment and in the culture in which you are in you increase and heighten your learning opportunity when you don’t have to deal with other peripheral items such as racism. That’s what I began to understand some parents chose to send their kids to private schools or Jewish schools or religious schools or whatever. Some of it has a racism basis, but our society demands that we have a right to educate our children the way we see fit if we can afford it. I chose for them to go to--. Well, I didn’t chose. All of them had the opportunity and visited colleges. But, I know that the basis of a lot of their decisions was based upon what their parents wanted them to do. I accept the responsibility for that. PG: That must have been hard for that to happen to your children at your school, at West Charlotte. WH: Hard for me to accept that? PG: Yes, well, maybe not. WH: No, it wasn’t. Because, I knew--. When you’ve been a victim of racism. When you have been discriminated against subtlely and you don’t have any recourse, you begin to expect this as a standard. And, if you’re a wise parent, you prepare your children to deal with that. Not taking away from them their ambition, but helping them to understand that there are some persons who are dealing with things that may negatively affect you. And, you’re going to have to develop within yourself the where with all to overshadow their desires to pull you back. So, that was a part of my indoctrination in them. So, it didn’t surprise me. PG: How did you reconcile these things happening with your support for West Charlotte? WH: You learn to take the bitter with the sweet. You know that in a situation there’s going to be some winners and there’s going to be some losers. But you look at the situation, "Is it for the greater good? Is the support that we’re trying to get for the greater good?” That’s the summation of what I found. Even though, at some point, I may have realized that my child was not treated fairly in this particular situation, I have to draw back from it and say, “What’s the greater good? Me taking it personal and saying, ‘Because my child didn’t get xyz, I’m not going to do xyz?’ Or am I going to be an example to them and say, “In spite of you not being given this opportunity we still are going to support. And, I guarantee you, in the end, we’ll all be better off.” So, that’s the attitude I had to take and that’s the attitude I still have today.