Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Fran Jackson, March 23, 2001. Interview K-0208. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Tension between the hope and reality of integrated schools

While Jackson's parents fervently believed in the merits of integration, she lived the practical realities of integrating the public schools. Jackson describes how integration highlighted the economic and racial disparities between poor black students and middle-class white students. She critiques Chapel Hill's liberalism as a mask for maintaining racial and class boundaries.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Fran Jackson, March 23, 2001. Interview K-0208. 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

FRAN JACKSON:
Gee. I think I may have been about twelve or thirteen years of age. And I-. My parents and family, extended family, talked about integration and it was happening in other parts of the country. And I think my parents were convinced, as were many other African American families that an integrated setting would provide greater opportunities for us. So my folks were so intent on us going to the quote "white school" that they even, because bus services were not provided my parents sacrificed and they paid for a taxi to take us to school everyday. It was really several of us that rode the taxi so we kind of pulled together. But still my mother had two girls riding the taxi everyday to school. And there were about a total of maybe about five of us, four or five of us that rode the taxi to school.
CHRISTA BROADNAX:
What was your reaction to integration?
FRAN JACKSON:
To integration? Well it was really culture shock. I knew that white people existed, but I never had much contact with whites. And it was the first time that I really, really understood what racism was about. My family talked about it in so many words, but I never conceptualized what it actually meant until integrating Guy B. Phillips. And it was quite a culture shock. The other point, the other factor I think that played into that not only the racial differences, but the socioeconomic class differences. In my community we were considered reasonably as middle class as anybody. And I guess it is all relative because we had two parents, two parent home, both parents were working. And they provided for us reasonably well. But going to the white school we realized that gee their parents were generally-. Had more-. You know they were from more affluent backgrounds. And particularly here in Chapel Hill because of the University's influence. We were in classes with kids whose parents were physicians, and I don't believe that there were any black physicians or lawyers in Chapel Hill. And I think Chapel Hill is unique too because in Durham, and as a teenager I began to mingle with the kids from Durham, there were black lawyers and black physicians and so forth. But in Chapel Hill there weren't any.
CHRISTA BROADNAX:
Why do you think?
FRAN JACKSON:
I think it's because the university helped to maintain a plantation type environment. They, you know, used African Americans. And that was one of the reasons even today my father is very proud of the fact that he never worked for the university because he knew that he would always have a menial position. And so he always was his own, self-employed contractor and he made it a point not to do that. But the majority of African Americans that was the kind of positions that African Americans had in Chapel Hill.
CHRISTA BROADNAX:
Considering that Chapel Hill was supposedly a liberal area, do you think that that had, that should have played into anything or any part of the work force or-.
FRAN JACKSON:
I think Chapel Hill has a veneer of pseudo-liberalism. I think that a lot of people will talk the liberal talk but in terms of actually examining and looking at things-. For example I know that there was a big issue surrounding the workers who commuted from outlying areas to come to Chapel Hill to clean up the university. And I think that they, those workers have had to fight for everything that they have gotten. And I don't think that, I am not aware of very many faculty or others within the community who stepped in to support them a whole lot. I know that the university did not just offer a great deal of support, and in fact I know that at one time the university had a policy for these workers to come in at strange hours like three o'clock in the morning to clean up so that they would not be visible during the day. So that's my take on it.