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Oral History Interview with James Atwater, February 28, 2001. Interview K-0201. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).
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  • Abstract
    James Atwater discusses life in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, from the 1930s to the 1950s. Atwater grew up in Chapel Hill, as did his parents and grandparents. In this interview, he discusses how neighbors in the black community interacted in various social, religious, and academic activities. He also talks about the impact of segregation on this community and on the schools. White supremacy in Chapel Hill was easily maintained by the community's reliance on the University of North Carolina. Atwater's parents worked for UNC, as did many other black residents, so they were directly dependent on white university officials for their finances. Much of his consciousness about segregation in Chapel Hill came from comparing it to places such as Durham, Carrboro, and Philadelphia. He left Chapel Hill in the 1950s.
    Excerpts
  • Atwater's childhood in segregated Chapel Hill
  • Atwater's parents worked in various positions at UNC
  • Segregation promoted sense of community among black residents of Chapel Hill
  • Black North Carolina youth could either attend a black college or an integrated college out of state
  • Common experiences and family knowledge linked Atwater's father to some Chapel Hill leaders
  • Atwater interacted with white youth more often before high school
  • Black and white high schools in Chapel Hill did not interact or share resources
  • Black community fears closing of black schools after the Brown decision
  • Atwater found Chapel Hill segregation paternal and relatively easy to navigate
  • Black domestic servants tended to know more about the white community than white residents knew about them
  • The black community of Chapel Hill showed high interest in student welfare
  • A visit to Philadelphia helped Atwater realize how segregation limited his life in Chapel Hill
  • Atwater sees fewer overt signs of racial prejudice in Chapel Hill
  • Learn More
  • Finding aid to the Southern Oral History Program Collection
  • Database of all Southern Oral History Program Collection interviews
  • Subjects
  • African Americans--North Carolina--Chapel Hill
  • Atwater, James, 1932-
  • Lincoln High School (Chapel Hill, N.C.)
  • Segregation in education--North Carolina--Chapel Hill
  • Chapel Hill (N.C.)--Race relations--20th century
  • The Southern Oral History Program transcripts presented here on Documenting the American South undergo an editorial process to remove transcription errors. Texts may differ from the original transcripts held by the Southern Historical Collection.

    Funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this title.