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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Madge Hopkins, October 17, 2000. Interview K-0481. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Different approaches to activism among different generations of African Americans

Memories mingle for Hopkins in this excerpt as she remembers the sense of possibility she and her African American peers at West Charlotte shared. It seems that John F. Kennedy's election contributed to this sense of hopefulness: Hopkins recalls that her godmother forced her to listen to Kennedy's inauguration in 1961. But by the mid-1960s, when Hopkins was a student teacher at Second Ward, African American students had grown more militant. Hopkins shared this sense of militancy, but did not participate in it.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Madge Hopkins, October 17, 2000. Interview K-0481. 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

PAMELA GRUNDY:
Did you have a sense when you were, you say you really had an expanded world and you were thinking beyond the South and beyond these kinds of things; did you have a sense that these were new opportunities for African-Americans? That this was something that hadn't been able to be done before? Were you thinking in that way at all at that time?
MADGE HOPKINS:
It was instilled in us that anything was possible, that we could do anything we wanted to. Charles Jones was-the civil rights movement was beginning so fresh in our minds, and we had come up from Northwest and Dorothy Counts had tried to desegregated Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools, or Charlotte schools; it had not worked but we had a sense we could do whatever we wanted to do. That we could go beyond what was feared; because, as you know, there were not opportunities for graduate school for our teachers here in the South and that they were going North into larger universities, I think it was, was it Spangler, no it wasn't Spangler, I can't remember his name, the superintendent who was making that possible. It wasn't Spangler, I can't think of his name, making it possible for the teachers and the administration to do that and so we had that sense and that awareness. Same time going on across the street were the Alexanders and the bombings were taking place, we were during those times even though, that's when I think I was, that was occurring when I was doing student teaching and finishing up college. And then we had [John F.] Kennedy . . . I was a student at West Charlotte, Kennedy's inauguration. My godmother had been my mother's teacher in that four room school I talked to you about. And she had worked in Pennsylvania and had moved back to Charlotte and had spent a lot of time, because her house is around the corner, and spent a lot of time with Ms. Cooper and she made sure-and when Kennedy was inaugurated I had to sit and I had to listen. I watch "How to Become a Millionaire" and one trivia question was, "the Frost poem . . . "that was at Kennedy's inauguration and I think they listed, I don't remember the other two but The Gift Outright. You know, you never forget, I will always have in my mind that image of Robert Frost because I was told I had to sit and listen. This you will do, this is important. You will sit and you will listen. And I wanted to do it too but to go through that whole inauguration, that whole day. No, you're not going to go out and . . . I think it was because of snow we were not, that might have been the year we had the Wednesday snows, I don't remember.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
The Wednesday snows?
MADGE HOPKINS:
Hm-hm. I remember that poem, I remember him reading it. So a lot was beginning to happen in the late '50s and '60s. Then as a student teacher in here it was a little different, things were becoming militant.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
When did you come back as a student teacher?
MADGE HOPKINS:
'65.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
When you say militant was this true in Charlotte and at West Charlotte as well?
MADGE HOPKINS:
Well, I saw a different crowd of student. It started to develop when I was a senior and the ninth grade class came up, it was added on for awhile. And out of that class we always described them as, I don't know, they were displaced but they were the most militant of all the students at that time. Some of them became involved in some very volatile and national things I don't want to mention.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
What was your reaction to that? To this sort of new tone that things were taking?
MADGE HOPKINS:
I admired them and wished I had the courage to do what they doing but we were still, we were just at the end of the tradition, traditional people in my class. We were go to college, get your education, get married, get an avocado refrigerator and stove and a shag rug, you know. [laughter]
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Right, right.
MADGE HOPKINS:
The music, and I'm listening, the music started to change and it became different. You began to see more people experimenting with drugs and I started with college spending my time in New York, seeing a different kind of scene. But I viewed that from the outside and remained traditional, admired those people who could do it but I couldn't. I read their stories but I didn't participate. I saw in Brooklyn the burnings but I didn't participate. I marched on the fringe. Never got arrested, marched on the fringe. We went to Washington and I like my parents and grandparents used to make my children sit there every time it was black history and Martin Luther King's "I had a dream" speech was on, "Sit down." That's me right over there. I'm there.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
So you were there.
MADGE HOPKINS:
Yeah. I'm there. But it was on the fringe. Not really an actor. And maybe that's what I regret. There's probably still that militancy in me that needs to come out and I haven't let it explode yet.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
And you say you had a sense that that was kind of also your generation, that you were very tempted in that regard, that you were all sort of there watching in.
MADGE HOPKINS:
We wore suits, the ones who came after us put on dashikis. I didn't wear an afro, I might put on an afro wig, might wear one for a week. We weren't quite there.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
And did you see when you came back the whole school being more and more militant?
MADGE HOPKINS:
Hm-hm.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Then the whooe, it was just everybody in there had been more transformed. That's very interesting.
MADGE HOPKINS:
It was time for it. We were educated and lived in a segregated world and the world was changing for those who were coming a few years after us.
PAMELA GRUNDY:
Well, and then, of course, the Judge McMillian and the Swan case, the [Swan]case is filed and goes through the courts and then finally Charlotte schools actually are going to become desegregated.
MADGE HOPKINS:
And I'm teaching then.