No real risk of closing West Charlotte during integration
In this long excerpt, Love argues that West Charlotte High School was entirely too vibrant to be shut down during integration. He remembers some racial tensions when he was a student there, but also remembers that those students who had grown up in the area had a special sense of the school's history. Those who had not, did not.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with John Love, February 17, 1999. Interview K-0172. 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: Had you ever at any point during that time prior to going been concerned that the school might be closed by the school board?
JL: No, never. That never entered when I was there as a real concern, because it was entirely too vibrant. There was too much energy in the neighborhood for the school to, too much energy in the school itself. At the time also West Charlotte may have been like the only metropolitan sort of high school in that people from all over the city came to West Charlotte, and that had a lot to do with the open school component as well. And that’s interesting that happens, too, because there were people from very moneyed parts of town that came to West Charlotte, and money talks and bullshit walks. And so, the money thing, yeah.
PG: How did all those different people get along?
JL: For the most part it was pretty good, and then there became sort of class issues and race issues, and sometimes there was overt prejudice or racism from both sides. But people pretty much endured. And I had great relationships there, great intracultural and intercultural relationships.
PG: Was this something that you were actively seeking out at this time in your life?
JL: Actually, we didn’t have to because by this time we had done the whole integration thing ever since third grade, so that wasn’t something that we had to seek out. It was just about seeking out, dealing with the group of people that you liked to deal with. And in high school I was, and I guess all through my educational, primary educational life and secondary educational life, I was always pretty social, popular, that kind of thing. Not because I set out to be, but just because of my personality and how important it is for me to communicate with people openly and honestly and straightforwardly and all of that. So then I found myself being president of the student body my junior year, and president of the senior class my senior year, and all that kind of stuff. There was pride about the school which was one thing, which was shared by everybody that went there, and then there was pride about being African American and going to the school and the neighborhood around the school. They were two different things, but for those of us that were African American we didn’t really take the time to separate them out that much. But we were aware, because then we had the benefit of history and being part of a legacy, and having relatives or having parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, neighbors who had actually gone to West Charlotte long before desegregation.
PG: Do you think that the students that came to West Charlotte from outside that community, to what extent do you think they understood that history?
JL: I think during the time a lot of them had no real understanding of that history, because it’s sort of like, why would they? I think they were consumed with their own—people often times are much more consumed with, obviously, what’s going on at the present and what’s considered just recent or just past history, than they are with the real implications of what they’re stepping into and the real history of any situation or any person or any whatever. This is a little tangential, but I talk to a lot of my friends and they talk about relationships. And I’m the kind of person, I’m pretty inquisitive, and I wouldn’t say that I’m nosy, but in all relationships with people I think that what happens with a lot of people when they get in trouble is that they never asked enough questions so they have all these surprises. And just because you ask questions doesn’t mean that you’re going to get real answers, but people often times just don’t even ask questions because they’re consumed with what the most recent history was, or where they’re coming from, or what they just heard about, or what they’re getting from the situation at the time right then and there. And I think that that’s probably what was going on with a lot of people that came to West Charlotte from outside the community, because the school was also known for some other things that were pretty positive during the time that I was there. Athletics were really good. Academics on a certain level were good. Sometimes they fluctuated. Sometimes, some years they were really good and sometimes I read that they weren’t really good. The racial mix was probably the most even, so that can be exciting if that’s something that you’re interested in. So there were those things that I think people were considering, or consumed by, or excited by, or scared of or whatever. But the history that, or the reality that they were going to be going to a school with people whose parents and possibly grandparents had gone to that school and helped to build that school, I don’t think that was on their minds.
PG: And was there not anything done at the school at the time to attempt to talk about the school’s history or explain this to people? Is that just not something that happened?
JL: I don’t think so. I don’t remember that. I don’t think that that was a real concern for anybody at that time. You know it was really interesting. One of my most favorite teachers was Mertye Rice, and she taught my parents. It’s funny because our, my relationship with her and my sister’s relationship with her was, I mean our friends knew, and some other people knew, but it was kind of one of those unspoken, or unaggrandized pleasures.
PG: So in a sense would you say that those of you who were from the community and those students who were not in some ways were attending different schools even though you were there together? Is that going too far to say that?
JL: It’s not. It might be. It’s close to going too far. It’s like if you take you and Peter. Peter is Pam’s husband, and you take your culture and the way that you grew up and Peter’s, and you both come together and you’ve created something or you’re participating in something, so you’re both participating in this house, or you’re both participating in whatever. Well, on a certain level you all are participating in very different ways because you have these different histories, but then in another way, the way that you all actually participate together is what it is at that time and at that moment. And I think that that’s what happened for us who were at West Charlotte at that time. Those that were from the community certainly came to the school with a different perspective than those outside of the community. But being there, being in there, dealing with each other—well sometimes, not well sometimes—working together, creating history by living in the present, that kind of thing. So that was very real and very shared and very specific and unique to us, which was something that, say, my parents were not necessarily a part of. You see what I’m saying?