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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 >>

Desegregation displaces black teachers

Hopkins was thrilled at the court ruling that desegregation must proceed in North Carolina, but her optimism dissipated as she found herself sharing a frigid classroom at the newly desegregated East Mecklenburg, where most black teachers were consigned to teaching vocational courses. Her cold classroom proved an apt metaphor for her experience teaching at an integrated school. She rushed to get pregnant so she could leave her job.

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

What did you think when Judge McMillian said desegregation has to happen? When it was ruled that it was going to have to be full desegregation? What was your reaction?
Alleluia, finally. Free at last, free at last. This is what Martin had said. And it was turmoil. We didn't want Second Ward to close. See we had this vision of this new school that was supposed to be called Metropolitan High School, a comprehensive high school and E.E. Wadell would bring out those plans and we would sit there and plan at staff meetings and we were going to have this conference at high school and look forward to being a part of it and then it closed down. And we were sent out with a little bit of, I guess they'd call it sensitivity training, diversity training, whatever, we did over here at West Charlotte. I went to East Mecklenburg and I equate East Mecklenburg, my first experience there, to the ice box. I shared a room, I was a floater. I had been the star new teacher at Second Ward, worked with Project Opportunity and just really involved. I was helped with the annual and then to go and not have a classroom, my goodness. I floated and I was in one room, two rooms, Barbara Ledford, it's so funny how my life connects to Barbara Ledford who was principal here at West Charlotte, I used her room. We didn't have air conditioning at Second Ward but there was air conditioning at East Mecklenburg and that room was icy cold. I was a teacher interacting with students. They sat, I taught, they left. It was cold. I was the only black person in the room. Those were the regular classes. Then when I went to the skills classes, they were all black. END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A
Okay, so you're saying that you've gone to the skill classes and those, unlike these other classes are all black.
All black. Second year there at East Mecklenburg, and there were the fights, the riots. One I remember this little boy ran into me and he said, "Ms. Hopkins, Ms. Hopkins, this spade hit me." "Spade, what do you mean? Spade is a card. I see what you're talking black, I'm black, I'm not a spade." The first year I hated it, the second year got a little better but I had gotten married and I, like all of my friends, that had worked with and we had been sent to white schools to integrate, we were starting sort of going with let's see how quick you can get pregnant because there was no maternity leave, there was resignation at an early point of your pregnancy. I was so happy to get out of there.
Really? So you got pregnant and that was what . . . .
I got married the first year, the second year I was there it was procreate, let's get out of here. Oh, I never want to teach again, I never want to go in another school that wasn't fun. I couldn't relate to the kids. And you know, I don't remember many of the children, hardly any of the young people I worked with at East Mecklenburg-it was two years-but I can remember kids from Second Ward. I remember kids that I had in my student teaching class but it's like I wiped that out. There's another teacher here at West Charlotte, Bertha Gongay who I drove, she didn't drive, I picked her up. There was another young lady, we were the same size, probably same complexion and about the same age and the principal changed our rooms, did some changing about, but he didn't see us, he didn't know us. And she wore an afro, her hair was styled and he was always getting us confused and that was . . . I said, ‘you don't really see us.’ But anyway, that was not a good experience. There were some good people there I got to know and probably in time, if I had given it a couple of more years I would have settled in and enjoyed the experience and gone through the rough spots, those were the rough years.