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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Leroy Miller, June 8, 1998. Interview K-0174. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Black administrator builds a team, enforces discipline

Miller seems to have brought discipline wherever he went. He recalls riots at Charlotte schools when he was at the helm of Carmel Junior High School, and local administrators begged him to take the principalship at the troubled East Mecklenburg High School. In this excerpt Miller recalls his decision to take the job and some of the changes he made upon entering, including selecting a white woman as his secretary. Miller also shares some anecdotes about how he enforced discipline.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Leroy Miller, June 8, 1998. Interview K-0174. 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: You were starting to tell me about Barbara Ledford. LM: I didn’t ask to go to East Mecklenburg. I’d been assigned to Carmel Junior High School, and that year-and-a-half I was out there I enjoyed it. Darrell Sifford and his wife were president of PTSA. On Thursdays and Fridays, one Thursday it would be a riot at South Mecklenburg, and the next one it was a riot to Myers Park. I called Darrell. I said, “Mr. Sifford, this is Pop Miller. When I met with PTSA board I said to you I was going to give you 110 percent. I’m giving you more than 110 percent. It pisses me off. Every time you have a riot at Myers Park the parents come here picking up the sisters and brothers of those kids that are in attendance at those schools, and it’s disrupting my whole academic program.” He said, “Cool it, Pop. Cool it. I’ll see what we can do. I’ve got a scanner.” That following Thursday there was a riot at Myers Park. I never will forget that. I was out in the trailers. When I came out I came around the side, and I guess I saw about fifteen or twenty whites out there. It was Darrel and his wife. As the people were coming up he was stopping them. He said, “Now, education is taking place. Let’s don’t disturb these kids.” He said that to the parents. As the parents would come up he had them out there stopping other parents. And they stopped that. They said, “The man is trying to do a good job.” He had his photographer come out, and take pictures of the students at Carmel, and take pictures of the riots that were being held at the other schools. From that time on they found out ( ) they had good order and education at Carmel Junior High School. They were having problems at East Mecklenburg. I think Brumit Delaine came out and said, “Pop, I was told to tell you to apply for East Mecklenburg.” I wouldn’t apply for nothing. Waddell and John Phillips came out and said, “Did you apply for superintendent?” I said, “You can do anything you want. When I was in high school I wasn’t getting enough. I’m out here, and I’m satisfied. I ain’t going no where.” Then they had a committee, I think it was Gwenn Cunningham, Harold Deal, Sam Haywood and myself. We were supposed to be interviewing people for the principalship of East Mecklenburg. That afternoon we met in Dr. Jones’ office, in his conference room. He sat beside me. He grabbed me by the knee. He said, “Pop, so-and-so said you said so-and-so.” Well, he was telling the truth because I said they could go to hell. I wasn’t interested in going to East Mecklenburg. He said, “Did you say all those things?” And so I looked at him. I was being corny, and I said, “Did you hear me say those things?” He said, “The second item on the agenda, who do you recommend for your replacement at Carmel?” I said, “I’m not going anywhere.” He said, “Nobody is larger than the system. It’s the belief that you’re the only one that can save East Mecklenburg. It’s as simple as that.” So I said to him, “I’m not going any place until I talk to my wife.” So he sent for my wife, and she came down to the office. We were in the conference room, but when she came to the office we went into his office and sat down. We talked for almost forty-five minutes or an hour. I guess it was in November. She said, “The people at Carmel have been real nice to you.” And they were. We’d been to Houston to receive the accreditation. The school board sent me, but the PTSA sent my wife along with me. And she thought—. END OF TAPE ONE, SIDE A. BEGINNING OF TAPE ONE, SIDE B LM: ( ) semester. I say I owe it to the parents and students. I can’t leave them in the middle of a semester. They accepted it. I said I don’t want it announced. Please don’t announce it, because I’ll lose control of the students. They agreed, so over the Thanksgiving holidays and the Christmas holidays, when the semester was over they announced it, during the time of class examinations, that I was the new principal at East Mecklenburg. I went out there. They wouldn’t let me take my secretary. Back then they wouldn’t let you take nothing. You had to start from scratch. It’s not like it is now. I had a curriculum coordinator when I was at Carmel. I started the curriculum coordinator position. It didn’t exist. That was my request. I think they still have them in all of the secondary schools now. When I went there I said I’ll take mine. They said, “No, we aren’t going to let you take her.” Ann Wilson was my curriculum coordinator. I wanted to take Ann. They said no, I had to select one from the staff. I had ten days to select that person, and when you’ve got 160 teachers and about 2,600 students at a place it’s a job. I went around. I was watching them. Of course, being black, I wanted a white. I was looking that all the way. I didn’t ever look black, because being black I wasn’t being prejudice, but I wasn’t going to get no black curriculum coordinator. Not back then. I narrowed it down. I had two people in mind. I didn’t know either one of them. I didn’t know Barbara Ledford and I didn’t know Diana Bagwell, but I’d narrowed it down to those two. After narrowing it down I told John Smith. He sat down and got the personnel files for both of them. Diana Bagwell, that was about her second or third year, but Barbara Ledford had more experience, she was just a model of energy. I’d been watching her, and I called her in. I told her what I was thinking. I grew up in Salisbury. As a boy my mother always said, “It’s bad luck to look at a white woman.” That was instilled in me as a child. Back then they were lynching black men. I said to Barbara, “I know you must think I’m a dirty old black man, but I’m looking for a curriculum coordinator, and I’ve decided that that person is you.” She said, “What are the duties?” I said, “Before I say anything to you, I’d like for you to talk to Ann Wilson. Miss Wilson was my curriculum coordinator at Carmel. She did one hell of a job. I’m going to have a sub come in your place and let you go talk to Miss Wilson.” So she talked to Ann Wilson. PG: Is she white, too, Ann Wilson? LM: Yes. Back then you couldn’t take secretaries and curriculum coordinators and things like they’re allowing them to do now. Barbara talked to Ann, and then she came back. I gave her all the exposure that I knew how. She came through with flying colors because she’d come in and say something, and I’d say, “You can’t do that. What about so-and-so.” I threw her to the wolves, and I threw her there gradually. I didn’t throw her there all at once. She’d always come out shining at whatever task I gave her. I needed an assistant principal. I said to John Phillips and them, “Listen, I’ve got one male assistant principal. I need a female assistant principal that can go into the girl’s bathroom like me and the other one can go into the boy’s bathroom.” I knew as far as curriculum was concerned Barbara was tops. But now that I needed an assistant principal I needed somebody to go into those girl’s bathrooms besides the maids. Maids would go in there but they had no authority. Barbara accepted the job as assistant principal. We’d get to school at the same time and go in there and inspect the bathrooms. We’d get there about six o’clock and go in the girl’s bathroom and the boys. Barbara would say, “Oh.” She got on the intercom and said, “In inspecting the plant this morning ladies, if I can call you ladies, when I go in the boy’s bathroom they are so nice and clean. No writing, no nothing. But when I go into so-and-so, she gave a ( ).” She said, “We’re going to be ladies. We’re not going to let the men do so-and-so.” She did a heck of a job. Of course Barbara could have been principal that next year, but I could never get Barbara to leave. She stayed there. I know Dr. Carlin. I’d say, “She’s just as ready as ( ).” She’d say, “I’m not going to leave until you leave.” I said to Barbara, “Miss Ledford, I’ve worked under three principals. The first two were nice. I would have been satisfied to retire under either one of those, but that last one, I didn’t enjoy working for him.” I left there in ’83 and I think in ’84 she was the principal, because I recall she came over here one day about one o’clock. School wasn’t out. She was so upset. She said, “You know what we did for ten years? This so-and-so says we can’t do so-and-so.” I see all of these guns and all of this crap that they’re having in schools. Once you get kids involved in disciplining themselves, I think that’s the answer. When I went to East Mecklenburg we had a committee of students, a student congress, and the president of the student congress came in and said to me, “Mr. Miller we’re talking now. The student congress says we’d like to have a break during the morning.” And I said to him, “Yeah. I’ll give you a break if you’ll govern yourself, but I’m not going to ask the teachers to govern you twice a day. I’ve got teachers that are on duty during the lunch period at twelve o’clock. I’ll give you a fifteen minute break after the second period class in the morning if that’s what you want, but you’re going to have to do it yourself. I’ll see Miss Feeney in the library, and she’ll provide snacks for you at that time.” They agreed. I remember one day at the break I called the president of the student body in and I said, “You go in the cafeteria. If you’re going to leave it like that you’re not accepting your responsibility.” He said, “Can I use your intercom” I said, “Yeah, you have my permission to use it.” He got on the intercom, and he said, “If the cafeteria is left like it was left this morning again, I’m asking Mr. Miller to take the break away from us.” I think he spoke to them maybe once or twice during the year. Students can govern themselves if they want something. And the same thing with pep rallies. We were having a pep rally. I was down at the gym. When I looked up half the downtown office had come down to the gym, because they’d called up school and wanted to speak to me, and Miss Litaker told them, “Mr. Miller is down at the gym having a pep rally.” They were scared. They thought the kids were going to riot. When they came out there they were standing around the wall looking, and I was standing in the door. They came to me, and I said, “Everything is all right.” They stood there and watched. I guess it was about ten minutes to eleven, I’d said to the president of the student body, “You’re responsible for everything up until such-and-such a time. At that time, you give it back to me.” He watched the time very religiously. He said, “At this time I’m going to turn it over to Pop. Let’s give Pop a hand.” And the kids yelled. I told them, “You leave here.” I told them where to go. I gave them instructions, and they left. We had football games, and after every home game they wanted to have a dance. We’d have a dance. I’d say to the parents, “Listen, we’ll have a dance after the game, but everything will be over at twelve o’clock. Nothing will go beyond twelve o’clock.” I think we had one incident. We had a couple of kids from one of the private schools. They started some stuff. The two assistant principals were inside. I’d always leave them inside the building along with a policeman, and I’d stay on the outside with a policeman because when you allow kids to come and park on the campus, and sit out in cars, and drink beer and do stuff like that, you’re asking for trouble. I’d always take a policeman and patrol the campus. I had my spotlight. I’ve still got it out there. If I’d catch them in the car and they had something to drink, I’d pull it out and send them home. I remember that night a boy from Country Day was there. He started some stuff. Before the police could get to him the kids had him and carried him in the office. I went in the office and called his parents. I told them, “You can come and get him, but the next time I’m going to put him in jail. We don’t tolerate that foolishness.” My high school days were the happiest days of my life. PG: Was this in Salisbury? LM: Yeah. I had a mother. I had a father. I was happy. I didn’t have a care in the world. I always wanted the same thing for all of the students. High school is the time when you start looking at girls. You start dancing and doing the things that you enjoy out of life. I think you prepare for life. I think every youngster should have that experience. I really enjoyed it.