Concerns that desegregation will close black schools
McAllister describes her involvement in a civil rights march while she was a junior high school student and some of the black community's motivations for activism. In short, black families were worried that integration was eroding black educational traditions as the process closed black schools. Marchers wanted to draw attention to the black community's rich educational heritage and the deep-seated ties between historically black schools and black communities. McAllister illustrates the longevity of those ties with a story about her father, who on her first day at West Charlotte entrusted her to a teacher he had when he was a student there.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Latrelle McAllister, June 25, 1998. Interview K-0173. 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: But you look forward to returning to West Charlotte, obviously.
LM: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. My husband and I were talking about an article that appeared in the paper, I guess about three weeks ago, about the coaches at West Charlotte recruiting students. There was an issue as to whether or not the coaches were recruiting students for their athletic ability or if students really, naturally, wanted to go there. For me, it was a desire. It was part of a rich heritage in the Charlotte community.
There is an extensive alumni association. People who were my father’s contemporaries were members of it and it’s a very active group. So, people who graduated from West Charlotte thirty years, forty years before I did still get together and socialize and do fund raising.
When I was in junior high school I participated in a march. It was my first civil rights protest. They were considering closing West Charlotte due to integration. We have pictures of us marching up Beatties Ford Road to--. And, it was the whole community that gathered around and the House of Prayer’s church band came, as I believe it. We all gathered around to rally around our neighborhood school. That was very important. It was a very important part of it. And so, that was important. I think that had I not been assigned there I would have sought to go to school there.
PG: I talked to a couple of people who said that there were ways to get to go to West Charlotte even if you weren’t particularly assigned.
PG: Well, I’m interested in this march because that was, I think, a time of a lot of stress and concern for people. Did the question of closing, as you recall it, did it come up very suddenly and people had to respond quickly? Or was it more sort of a growing sense that this might happen?
LM: Well, I think, perhaps for the adults it was a growing sense because a lot of the historically black schools had been closed. But for me, certainly, I wasn’t aware of the politics of it. But, it was important to me to preserve that as an opportunity for me to attend school there. So, I imagine that we--. Many of the schools set in the ward had been closed. Many of the schools, elementary schools that had been--. And, of course, there were older schools. It may have not been a case of a black/white issue.
But those schools perhaps weren’t maintained. The facilities weren’t in as good a shape. As we sought to have equity in the school system, we wanted to have schools that were, certainly, equitable in terms of facilities, as well as teachers and supplies. One of the things, I think, our march helped to do was, perhaps, to call attention to the fact that there is a rich heritage. There is a broad base of support for this institution. And we began to get for the high school, I imagine, more resources to help to keep it growing and keep it viable. That was important to the community.
PG: Did you have a sense that people in the white community really didn’t understand how important a place like West Charlotte was?
LM: I’m not sure about the white community, but I think, certainly our sense was that the school board, the administrators, didn’t understand the value that the school had. I mean, I grew up being able to hear the band practice. I grew up watching the band go away. I grew up seeing the football team come back to the games after the victories. I grew up with people whose parents had been athletes, whose parents had been scholars there. Because my mother was an educator I knew people who taught there. And so, it was just such an integral part of my life that I’m not sure that the administration thought that there was that much attachment to the building. And, perhaps, there wasn’t that much attachment to the building. You remember, West Charlotte—. When my father attended West Charlotte it was where Northwest Middle School is now. So, it probably-. Had they offered to build a brand new school and campus somewhere in that proximity people would have gone with that. But the idea of closing the school down all together certainly wouldn’t be accepted.
PG: No. When you were growing up did your parents and the other graduates of West Charlotte, was that something that was always important in their lives, that they talked about or--?
LM: Well, they did. I think part of what happens anyway in the black community is there is a strong oral history. So, I did get a lot of what happened, their antics, their experiences from my parents and my friends’ parents. Actually from my father. My mother’s not a native Charlottean. But, from my father and his brothers and sisters who attended West Charlotte. So, I did get a strong sense of what when on there, the quality of the education, the quality of care from people.
In fact, I’ll tell you an interesting story. One of the people who had been one of my father’s teachers, Miss Marjorie Belton, was my guidance counselor. It was, I guess, to me a very memorable moment, because as outgoing as I am now, I was a very shy teenager. I had my father walk me to school the first day. He took my hand and placed it in Miss Belton’s hand. That was a very historic moment, but it also--. The symbolism went further than that. She took his gesture of his entrusting me to her very seriously. In fact, helped to mold my academic career there at West Charlotte. That was very important to me, too.