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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Barbara Lorie, February 26, 2001. Interview K-0211. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Innovative teaching strategies posed conflicts with school administrators

During the initial desegregation phase, Lorie notes the fears all her students felt. Her creative teaching techniques created an open dialogue which she maintains the school system failed to do. Despite the success of her strategies, Chapel Hill school officials and white parents objected to Lorie's inclusion of black studies course materials into the curriculum. She argues that their opposition reflected the hypocrisy of Chapel Hill liberalism.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Barbara Lorie, February 26, 2001. Interview K-0211. 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

MELISSA FROEMMING:
And are these white or black, or both?
BARBARA LORIE:
This is both. And all of them were scared. "I'm very scared." This black kid, he's only six feet five or something like that, you know, built like a Wahtoosee, scared to death. "I'm scared to come into this school." "I get sick every morning when I wake up." I mean, the tragedy is profound! And we're not talking about it! So I finally said, to hell with this, and I went to Ms. Lewis. I said, "Ms. Lewis, I think that we need to bring in some literature about the black experience. Like American Negro poems and American Negro short stories." "Oh! Now Barbara, I don't want, I don't think we need, we don't need to do that. That's not state-adopted text, and we don't have any money for that, and I just don't think we need to do that. We just follow the curriculum, and I want you to do Julius Caesar, and I want you to do poems, and I want you to do Audin," and you know, blah blah. I said, "Ms. Lewis, if I get the money, and I buy the books, is that okay?" "Well I don't want to know anything about it, I just don't want to know anything about it." So I went, hmm. So I left, and I thought, what does she mean, she doesn't want to know anything about it? That means I can do it, but just don't tell. So I rally around these people that I knew and got some money together. I ordered these books, from Dell Publishing I think it was. I ordered the Autobiography of Malcolm X, I ordered the Invisible Man, which was just one of the most profound novels of the twentieth century. I ordered American Negro Short Stories, American Negro Poetry - anyway I ordered these books and I had them sent to my house so nobody would know, you know? And I brought them in a bookbag, in one by one, and handed them out to everybody. I said, "Let's talk about this. Let's talk about why we're here, what's happened, what does this mean?" It was profound. It was, it was, lots of crying and lots of people, children daring to say things about what their experience, you know, they were scared to touch anybody by mistake in a hallway. Or, scared to be caught sitting next to anybody in the lunchroom, and stuff began to come out. Finally, I did all kinds of exercises that I had created, stuff that I had been reading about. Because there was a lot of stuff that began to come out in literature, not in literature, but in the modern discourse about how do we deal with this? One of them was this incredible exercise in Iowa I read about this teacher who had said to everybody who had blue eyes. Maybe you've heard about this one? You know, the blue eyed, brown-eyed thing. Well I did that, you know, and that just really blew everybody's mind totally. Then there was another one, there was this guy Leonard who was a, I think his name was Leonard. I read about this huge thing about how we have to somehow teach our children that we are one. That we are the spirit, the spirit of life, the spirit that comes through all of us. So I thought, how can I do that? How can I show them that, you know, that we're all the same? So I had this idea, I know what I'll do. I've got this great idea. So I brought in Junior Walker, this is this great guy, Junior Walker, who was a jazz guy. I had this record player in the room. In those days it was a record player. I used to play Junior Walker all the time. I'd play something jazzy for when the kids were coming in to class. To make them feel a little free, and body movement and stuff like that. They all loved it man, they just bugged, you know, everyone is jazzing up, you know? And I said, "Okay, now I got to do a little Julius Caesar. Let's do it, let's get on with Caesar." We'd dance a little bit, you know, with Julius Caesar. Of course I was very young. Physically I was able to move around you know, and jazz it up with them myself. I said, "Okay, we're going to do something; we are going to do something that's really great." They went, mmmm. I said, "What I want you to do tomorrow is bring a blanket. Just bring a blanket, don't ask any questions, just come." So they all came. I said, "Okay, and I want you to put your blanket down in a circle." We moved all the chairs back. "Okay, I want you to lie down with your feet pointing towards the center, and lie down on your blanket. Now, hold hands with the person next to you. I don't want you to say anything. I'm going to turn off the lights. I'm going to put on a record, and we're just going to lie here, and we're gonna just think about what it's like that this energy is going all around this circle. And that we're all the same." So I did that. And we lay there for forty minutes. Finally I turned on the light. They got up. We put the room back. The buzzer rang and they left. One of those kids told me it was the most profound experience he'd had in his entire high school career. Because it was so, he got it. He got it. He understood it. So, of course, the next day, the loudspeaker: "Ms. Lorie, the superintendent would like to see you if it's possible. If you could run down there after school he would really appreciate that." I said, "Well, I'd be glad to." So that was the beginning of my dialogue, which was never a dialogue with the superintendent, Dr. Cody. But he was a white, Anglo Saxon, Protestant male, and he was doing the best he could, and he didn't understand anything. Because he was a victim of public schools in America. He was a victim of being a white, Anglo Saxon Protestant male, and he wasn't enlightened. He wasn't anything. He was just doing his job. So here he had this nutsy teacher who was doing all these creative, wacko things first of all, and she was big! You know, I was a lot bigger than Cody! So I walked in there, "Ms. Lorie, I'm really, good to see you, good, have a seat, have a seat." "Dr. Cody it's really nice to be here. Now what's on your mind?" "Well, you know, I don't presume to question what you're teaching. I just wanted to know what, you know; I'm just hearing things from parents that concern me. So I wanted to know if you could tell me what's going on in your classroom?" So I tried to explain to him the spiritual life, and how important it is. Well, come on, "I certainly appreciate you coming down, but I wonder if you could get back to Julius Caesar?" I said, "Yes, don't you worry, Dr. Cody, we're going to do Julius Caesar! I promise you." You know that was it, that was the routine. I would do these way out wacko things, and then I was constantly being called on either by Ms. Marshbanks in the principal's office, or Dr. Cody's office. It was sort of like, it was a drop in the bucket. Because the prejudice in Chapel Hill was just as bad as it was anywhere in the South. Racism was rampant...