Black determination to weather integration
Despite his anger at integration's effects on the black community, Couch remembers that the first integrated year at Chapel Hill High School (CHHS) went well. The black teachers and administrators who came over from Lincoln were committed to a smooth transition, and the black male students made a pact that they would not tolerate harassment. These students entered CHHS full of pride, and used their pride as a defense against white racism.
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: How did you feel, you spent your last year at Chapel Hill High School.
TC: Very angry when I got there. I had to, I came to make a statement.
RG: What were you angry at?
TC: The fact that they, well with the school down the street, and they had football shoes with no holes in the bottom, and what have we got, we got the hand-down material from whatever somebody gave us at our school. Or that we got the books, we wanted to let them know that hey, we don’t care who y’all are or what y’all, you know, we are as smart and as intelligent as you guys are. But you know what? Claude Piano Docey, Lou Peerman, Scroggs, so many other people who were waiting on the other side to make the transition. So it was, it was unbelievable. We were able to go in there, and the football team met first. It was a day like nothing I’d ever seen before.
RG: So the blacks and the whites got along on the football team.
TC: Fine. School, everywhere. We had a great year.
RG: What about the rest of the blacks and the whites in the school the first year? Did you see dissention, did you see walls being built?
TC: Well we made a pact, you know. We made it publicly known that we weren’t having no mess.
RG: The team?
TC: All the black guys from Lincoln High School. Wanted to let ‘em know they don’t bother any of these young kids, we don’t have no racist calling, no name-calling, none of that stuff. If you do, we’ll wait for you after school, and we’ll turn this baby out.
RG: So you had the leadership ability to stop, what I hear you saying, to stop the name-calling and any fights—
TC: We went there correct. So I just want to say it’s about when you do things that are correct, and I think when you put forth your best foot. I think when you put forth your best foot, and that’s what we did, ‘cause we wanted to go correctly. We wanted to go intelligently , ‘cause that’s what we stressed at our school, at Lincoln. We was going intelligently, we was going righteously, we was going religiously straight. And we got there with them, we wanted to, we weren’t accepting anything less than that. And we’d already learned that everybody put their pants on one leg at a time, that was our motto. Put your leg, put the pants, now if they got three legs, then we got a problem with that. But I’m telling you we got there, I mean there’s so many guys, white guys, I can’t recall, um, Mike Geary, so many different guys that I, that can feel like I’m sure you can feel me now, that can feel the fact that we are righteous when we come.
RG: It’s really fascinating to hear your story of your first year, the first year at Chapel Hill High School, and to me it sounds as though what you’re saying is your leadership, the black students and, was it the white students on the football team too, or did you perceive it just as the black students, who said that we’re going to get along, there won’t be any name-calling, there won’t be any fights?
TC: Well we, we, well first of all, good point. We were the first ones to gather together, the football players. So we, we got together in August, school started in September. And we had already made a vow, plus we had a coach named Peerman, and another coach named Bob Culton, and my hat goes off to Bob Culton who’s very sick right now, and may the good Lord bless him, who was another, who treated me respectfully. Anyway, we had a coach named Peerman, he knew what time it was. He knew what we was about to overtake. And he had been our head coach, and he was there with us so we could bounce off him. But we made the difference in practice. We had a few name-callings, but he was smart enough to say, we heard so-and-so, we’d say, Coach, we heard so-and-so use the “N” word. So that day on special drills, we’d whup him into the ground, whoever he was. Make him a better guy.