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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Sam Holton, March 28, 2001. Interview K-0206. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

School board split over desegregated school construction projects in the late 1960s and early 1970s

Holton explains the tensions among school board members in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Careful to portray the board as non-racist, he discusses how the issue of building an integrated school outside of the black community divided board members. The decision to construct an integrated school outside of the black community for racial balance resulted in a busing burden for black students. Holton explains the importance of maintaining a delicate racial and economic balance of students in order to avoid white flight and therefore preserve quality education for all students.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Sam Holton, March 28, 2001. Interview K-0206. 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

JENNY MATTHEWS:
One of my colleagues in my class is studying the dynamics of the school board through the late sixties and seventies. Could you talk about that at all? About how the decisions were made?
SAM HOUSTON:
Well, most of the decisions were made with split votes. But, I don't remember what they were splitting over. Usually, it may have been just typically an academic, a bunch of academics that had strong opinions about whatever happens to be the issue at hand. But, they-. There was never any degree of disagreement within the board that was likely, for instance to want to fire a superintendent or anything of that sort. There were more issues over, well for instance, the location of the Ephesus Road Elementary School. The school board had bought the land for the school when Mr., Dr. Johnson was superintendent, with the idea that the land would-. And Estes Hills were pretty well filling up, and we were going to need another elementary school, and closing the Northside School was part of that situation. Now, the Northside School was, on the one hand was a, had started off as a private effort on the part of Negro citizens-and that was a term they were using at the time, I'm not reverting -to provide more for their children than was otherwise available for them. And then when, I reckon in the thirties when the state took over all of the school systems-before that, each school district had been somewhat independent, and it had an independent tax. In other words, Chapel Hill would have a school district, and Carrboro would have a school district, and White Cross would have a school district, and that black school would have a school district and that sort of thing. Well, when they, when the state took over in the thirties, and part of it was that most of these school districts were going broke, the depression just wiped them out. So, when the state took over the school systems, things got tightened up a little bit, and I think it was about that stage that the Northside School was essentially taken over as a part of the Chapel Hill School District. Now, I may be wrong. It may have occurred in the twenties instead of the thirties, but it was sometime within the twentieth century and probably in the mid-twenties or mid-thirties. It was built on a very small site, a very hilly site. If you want to see how it would be to try to get an adequate size school building on that site, you can go look at it. But the school board decided that the building was not adequate in size or in location. All right, then when, if we are going to build a new elementary school, are we going to build it on that site? Now, the other problems of that site is that there is only one road into it and that is Church Street off of Franklin Street. You can't turn a school bus around in Church Street. And you couldn't turn more than one bus around on school property and have a string of other buses. In order to get a second entrance, you would have had to have built a bridge across Airport Road. And that didn't seem very feasible. Well, there was one segment of the school board that was bound and determined that we were going to build a school on that site.
JENNY MATTHEWS:
Who were they?
SAM HOUSTON:
I don't want to call names.
JENNY MATTHEWS:
Oh.
SAM HOUSTON:
And
JENNY MATTHEWS:
Was this in the interest of the black community?
SAM HOUSTON:
Well, I don't think it was as much an interest of the black community as it was an interest of the liberal white community, of the very liberal white community. I think of myself as a member of the liberal community, but there was a group that were supers. Well, if we had decided in the desegregation proposition to maintain a black-white ratio that was within 5 percent of each other. All right, now, if we had built a school on the Northside site, and let's say the black population of the time I think was about a quarter. It may have been twenty percent, but it was on that order. You would have had to build a school big enough-you want an elementary school to have five or six hundred children. All right, let's say you would have had to bring in-let's say we use the six hundred figure-and figure well, a quarter of those would have been a 150. You would have been busing white children into the black community, and black children out of the Northside community to go to some other school, and that didn't seem to make sense. So, the vote to build Ephesus Road School was four-three.
JENNY MATTHEWS:
And you voted for that?
SAM HOUSTON:
I voted for it. There wasn't any, there was no logic to building back on the Northside proposition, except just the sentimental concern. Now, what we did do was to arrange that the school buildings, we had one relatively good building there-the other, the older one wasn't even that good-would be used for community purposes. In other words, we weren't bulldozing a school in the middle of the black community. And it became the site of the Senior Center, the first Senior Center, which was largely a black Senior Center. Now, thesome of the welfare offices were there. There were a number of services that were appropriate to that particular neighborhood. But, the idea of trying to build a school on that site, just logistically didn't make sense. Well, nobody remembers it now. They-. When we got ready to work out our attendance districts the questions were raised about which black community would come into this school. Well, the Ephesus Road community was obviously, the whites were likely to be upper middle class. You didn't necessarily, while the closest black students were the housing development off of Estes Drive. They, one of the blacks pointed out, he said, "Look, don't create this disparity by bringing housing development students in on top of an upper middle class community. Let's find some blacks that are middle class to bring in to that situation, and you can have some of the others, but don't load them in to that situation." Well, this made sense, and we worked it out actually. What you ended up doing trying to work out your desegregation-. Your black population lived there at the end of Chapel Hill and the beginning of Carrboro-far end of Rosemary Street going toward Carrboro, the far end of Franklin Street, the area around the railroad siding there, represented most of the black population. Well, what you ended doing was sort of doing a pie shape kind of situation, so you were busing. Now, this was an issue in the black community, and yet, neither we nor the leadership of the black community could figure out really what to do about it. If you are committed to the proposition that you don't want more than 10 or 15 percent of your population to be black, you want a chance to get them integrated. You don't want people, you don't want the whites to begin to move in to the areas where there was a low proportion of blacks. As long as it was 15, 20, 25 percent, the whites could learn, learn to live with it. If it got to be 75 percent.
JENNY MATTHEWS:
White flight?
SAM HOUSTON:
White flight. The elementary school I attended in Durham is now 95 percent black. Now, there is still a lot of white families within walking distance of the school. I say there are a lot, I don't think there are a lot. I think those houses are now occupied essentially by middle-aged people who don't have children in school. But the reason may relate to the population of the elementary school. But we haven't solved that problem yet. But Chapel Hill has been right successful in-. Every time now, it's a concern. Charlotte is having a discussion right now, over just this issue: why do they have to continue to have what looked to them like racial quotas to keep their schools desegregated? And the people on the school board know very well why they have to. Otherwise they are going to revert to a segregation pattern. And, it's a-. So, Chapel Hill is-. A person coming to Chapel Hill can be reasonably satisfied that the instructional programs and the quality of the program, the student population, proportions of the population that represent disproportionate needs for attention. In other words, I think a lot of the people-. You have to think through that you're not saying that you don't want quality programs for the blacks. What you are wanting to say is you want quality programs for the black, and you want them the opportunity to operate in a desegregated, if not yet integrated environment. And that a parent coming to Chapel Hill is-. The Carrboro Schools are no worse or better than Ephesus Road, or Glenwood, or Estes Hills. But it is a fight every time we get ready to desegregate, I mean to-what is the word I was using while ago? To redistrict.