Reflections on the utility of integration
Here, McAllister reflects on the utility of integration. While she believes in the importance of what might be called multiculturalism, she does not think that racial composition is particularly significant. In short, she thinks that cultural differences are more significant than racial differences and wonders if maintaining a village feeling is more important than sending students out of their communities to maintain racial integration. She also worries about the mechanics of maintaining integration, such as overly long bus rides.
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
LM: Well, you know, part of--. From an adult’s perspective, from a person who grew up in a predominantly black elementary school where the teachers that I still see and interact with still come up to me and hug me and call me “Precious” and tell me I’m beautiful. Even thirty-five years later they still see their role as affirming me and nurturing me. They still have that role. I don’t know that my son will have that at school.
There is probably in the black community, and certainly in our household, an ongoing debate about the degree to which integration helps our children or hurts our children. We don’t know. I think that as long as there’s some mechanism for keeping the resources, the resources equitable, then the make-up, the racial make-up of the school really isn’t as important. However, one of the things that I think is important, though, is that students do have the opportunity to exposure to cultures outside their own. That’s--.
I work in human resources and a lot of the issues that I see in my job come from cultural clashes. Not necessarily racial clashes, but cultural clashes. I was brought up differently from you and so I see things differently than you. I approach problems differently. I communicate differently. I think that integrated situations are beneficial to African-American children because it gives them the opportunity to develop those skills that they need as they work and live in the society at large. So, I think there’s some benefits to integration, although, I’m not sure--.
My husband and I have chosen not to put our child on the bus. We take him to school. But there are children who have to get up as early as 5:15 to do that. And for those parents who aren’t able to get their children to school in any other way, I imagine that is a concern for them. So, from a humanistic standpoint I really don’t advocate children having to get up that early and have maybe three, four hours of their day spent on a bus. I think that there are a lot of bright minds in the education community and I think there are some ways to come together and partner to solve those problems. I think those problems are those that are easily attacked. But, like I said, I just don’t know. There’s still some debate about the benefits of it.
For instance, if in school, especially elementary school, if I got in trouble--. If I got in trouble on the way home, or if I got in trouble in the community at large, I could be sure that my mother would know about it or my father would know about it and that something would be done about it. There’s not that type of support. There’s not that village that we talk about that’s important in raising and nurturing and shaping young minds. Perhaps a part of the movement away from bussing is the movement toward establishing those villages where we can nurture our children. That’s probably not a bad approach. But, I do think that there’s value in exposure to other cultures.
PG: Another thing people talk about is—granted, it’s sort of a pro- or potential advantage of this bussing and integrated schools—that the sort of village that you talk about, this ( ) community. The idea that by integrating schools you could expand people’s sense of what their village was or what their community was to a more citywide community rather than a neighborhood community. Do you think that that happened with your experience with integration, in general? Do you think that is a dream that really is impossible or do you think that could happen?
LM: Oh, no. I’m certain it gave me a broader exposure. I’m certain that it did. I think that was beneficial for me because I had been in a situation where I was sheltered from a lot of things. So, I certainly think that was an excellent growth experience for me in terms of being exposed to--. Even, just people from different neighborhoods or different socioeconomic status. That was important. All of that I think is very important in building, not only appreciation for people’s differences, but tolerance for those differences. When you look at our society a lot of the problems a lot of times—not just our society, but the world at large—a lot of the problems that exist come because people haven’t developed tolerance or appreciation for the differences. Really, actually, pass that valuing the differences that other people bring.
PG: How did you learn to do that at West Charlotte? How did you learn the value differences?
LM: Well, I guess, because we had--. It was such a melting pot of Charlotte. We had people from all levels; I guess, socioeconomic levels. We had students with all types of interests and orientations. We had some of the brightest students in the city and we had some of those students who had been identified as, actually, failing. We were all together in some form or fashion.
We had times when our school was showcased for the positive things that it did and that was the time that we had the opportunity to come together and have a sense of pride. So we had a shared vision and, maybe, some--. And we were really, to some extent, stake holders, because we were there because we wanted to go there.
So one of the things we wanted to do was make the university, the university, the high school look good so that it would continue to survive. I do think that students had some ownership there. That helped us to come together around a lot of different issues, I think. I did learn to value that.
That was a lesson taught by the teachers. It was not only taught in terms of your interpersonal relationships, but in terms of the material that you were exposed to. If you were--. I didn’t take drama, but especially in English and literature, we were given an exposure to a broad range of literature with the understanding that maybe it wasn’t something that we liked personally, but that it is something that we should learn to appreciate. And, learn why others, perhaps, appreciate it and why we should value it as part of our culture.
So, it was in the curriculum. It was emphasized by the faculty there at West Charlotte. It came, probably, as part of our experiences because we were such a diverse group of students. It was a large group. I think we had probably about fifteen hundred students all together. My high school class started out with five hundred and sixty-five students, I think. And, I think, we graduated five thirty-five, or something like that.