Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James Atwater, February 28, 2001. Interview K-0201. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Atwater interacted with white youth more often before high school

Atwater traces the types of interactions he had with local white youth throughout his childhood. He remembers more games together before he entered high school. Interaction was possible because the segregted neighborhoods were still close to one another. He is not sure whether the interaction between black and white youth decreased because of prejudice.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James Atwater, February 28, 2001. Interview K-0201. 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

JENNIFER NARDONE:
About some of the kinds of the interactions you would have maybe coming to and from school. Did you ever pass white students walking to Chapel Hill school? Did you walk with other Lincoln high-?
JAMES ATWATER:
Very seldom. Very seldom. Because the residential pattern was such that we were all-that area's called Potter's Field. And we were Potter's Field and Sunset. Students came mostly from Potter's Field and Sunset. So, whites were east of Caldwell Street. Some of them were on the eastern edge, eastern end of Caldwell Street. Airport Road. Out in that area. So I did not. Now, some of the students came from an area called Windy Hill, I don't know if you've heard about that. Okay, well, Windy Hill is east of Airport Road, and mostly, they walked from Windy Hill to school. Course they probably walked past our schools on the way to Chapel Hill High. But I did not. I mean, normally, no, we didn't see any.
JENNIFER NARDONE:
Can you think of any kind of interaction that you might have had with the white students at Chapel Hill high?
JAMES ATWATER:
Oh yes. Well we, as I said, whites were living east of Caldwell Street, actually they were a little bit east of Church street, on the eastern side going toward Airport Road. Wasn't quite Airport Road. And there were a couple of time we – cowboys and Indians, we played together. And so, that -sure, we did that occasionally. That's from my personal standpoint, but I know also that one of Ed Caldwell's cousins lived on Main Street, East Franklin-I guess it's really West Franklin. And they were a block away from a number of white families, and they had much closer interaction, I think than we did. They knew some of them, they were really neighbors. They were really living very close. So, there was interaction from that standpoint.
JENNIFER NARDONE:
So when you were younger you would play, with whites. Black and white students, children would play together.
JAMES ATWATER:
Yes.
JENNIFER NARDONE:
And then, can you remember a time maybe when that stopped? Around a certain age, or-.
JAMES ATWATER:
Well, I don't remember specifically, but I think probably by the time we got to high school, we didn't do it very much. I think it was probably-
JENNIFER NARDONE:
And do you think that was a result of just growing awareness of the differences? The racial differences?
JAMES ATWATER:
I would think that it probably was. It probably was. But it's difficult to say that that was conscious. And on our part, we were in a position where we would accept an invitation, but we wouldn't necessarily invite them to play with us. So I think they may have made more of the decision than we did.
JENNIFER NARDONE:
So, what about when you did get to high school. I didn't mean to cut you off.
JAMES ATWATER:
From a standpoint of-
JENNIFER NARDONE:
Well, were there certain events or celebrations or anything that you can remember where the students would come together from the two high schools? Or was it basically completely separated?
JAMES ATWATER:
Well, I don't want to say completely separated, but there are very few things that I can recall we did together. Now, again I go back to the younger days. I know when I was a Cub Scout, as a Cub Scout, one of the churches, one of the white churches, and the church-the pastor of the church was a controversial individual because he-he eventually became a controversial character in Chapel Hill and I'm sure there are things written about him-Charles Jones. And he invited our Cub Scout troop to a Christmas gift exchange between a white- between our Cub Scout pack and a white cub scout pack. And that was fairly unusual, as far as I knew, that wasn't a regular thing. You did that, I think it probably worked out only that we did it at that Christmas party. I don't know if very much came of it after that. But, of course that's at the Cub Scout age, which is pre-twelve, before age twelve. Otherwise, I just don't remember very many organized things. I mean, unorganized, playing basketball somewhere in the neighborhood, and we got together, but formally between the teams, none that I have? You did-the university of course, again, because of the personal connections, the trainer, or you could say, the waterboy, for the university team was an African American, Morris Mason. And he worked out things so that the university helped us with equipment, neighborhood facilities. It's personal, his personal relationship with the coaches at the university and the administration.