Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Thurman Couch, February 12, 2001. Interview K-0537. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Deep ties between students and teachers

Here, Couch describes the dynamics of Chapel Hill's segregated black schools: the teachers there devoted themselves to their students, although they sometimes kept order with a blow from a ruler. Couch remembers parents and teachers working together to nurture students, an effort that made Couch and others deeply proud of their schools. The unspoken contrast between the support given to black students at all-black schools and the neglect they experienced after integration is palpable.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Thurman Couch, February 12, 2001. Interview K-0537. 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

RG: What were your teachers like at Northside? TC: An extension of your home. It was like leaving home and going to a second home. They cared about you and loved you. They loved you. I mean, they took the time to tell you what you needed to do. It wasn’t always ABC’s, it was life and what you needed to do. Today you needed to talk about hygiene. Or you need to talk about the guy who sits back there who doesn’t say a word, how you have to help him. You know, it was always something good. As well as the paddle. You know, there was discipline. You knew better than to act up in Miss Hargraves, you knew not to act up in the cafeteria if Miss Hargraves saw you, she’d put that ruler across your head, no matter whose class you was in. So there was respect. We, it was a happy time. Everybody walked down the line, everybody kept a straight line. We all grouped around, we all was serious about our studies. Everybody wanted to excel. And those that didn’t, who might have been slow, we all helped along. RG: Did the teachers help them? TC: Oh sure. RG: Teachers and students. TC: Oh, all the time. It was a family affair, getting you ready for the next stage. It was always getting you ready for what’s out there in the world, and in order to be prepared, you must have knowledge. Every day. RG: Did your parents stress education to you? TC: Well there’s one thing you better do, you better not come home with no bad grades. You could talk and say a few bad words, but grades was very important in my house, and it is important in my house today, I tell my children the same thing. I send you to school to learn. Not to talk, or not to cross the teacher, but to get the information that’s being given out. And if someone’s getting the information sitting next to you, my mother wanted to know why I wasn’t getting it. Pretty good student, never had a problem with academics. RG: Did they expect you to go to college? TC: Well, um, they never talked about college to me. I learned about college from my guidance counselor, Mrs. Edmunds, who still lives and runs the newspaper over here in Durham. Thank God for Mrs. Edmunds, and I’m sure there are a lot of other guys out there who are thanking God for her too. She’s the one that talked to me about college, getting me ready and putting me on a college prep level of education and what we had to have. So we, at Lincoln High School, after being at Northside and getting to Lincoln, there was some great advising going on there for some of us guys, who wanted to make a difference. Mrs. Edmunds was probably the prime player, the prime player in my classmates and those below me’s lives, I can tell you that. She talked to us about college and SAT’s, and we had never known about those things, and how we had to prepare. RG: Did she teach, or was she simply an advisor? TC: She was the guidance counselor. RG: Guidance counselor. TC: She has the paper here in Durham and I still hug her and kiss her when I see her. Without her I don’t go to college, I wouldn’t have known what to take. She’s the one that set up my curriculum. She sets your curriculum for you, she’d bring you in there and talk to you and fix it up so that you could go to college, if you wanted to. If you wanted to. And Mr. McDougle, he, hey, the pride that you heard, every morning when he came over there, a cliché about life and what you should do, when you heard that you wanted to be something. He made you feel like you wanted to be somebody. Every morning. Every morning I walked into Lincoln High School I walked in there proud. I looked forward to hearing what Mr. McDougle had. If you was late, he would say, you are too late for today and too early for tomorrow. Get on out of here. You know, that type of thing. Or, come on in here Couch, let me talk to you, and you’re a good boy, that type of thing. And he’d give you a lecture on what you needed to do. RG: So he was stern. TC: Very. RG: But did you feel love from him? TC: The real ( ). For sure. We felt love from everybody. Peerman stands in the hallway as you’re coming in in the morning, make sure there’s no problems. Beautiful stature of a man standing there, the epitome of what life is supposed to be. Hey, there was so much pride. And on Fridays you dressed up in your school colors, or your team colors, when you got a chance to wear that blue and that gray. What’s more important than that? Or you when you made that football team, with the winningest football team in the whole state of North Carolina. Pride. Tiger Power.