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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Thurman Couch, February 12, 2001. Interview K-0537. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

White teachers treat black students poorly

Upon integrating Chapel Hill High School, Couch and many of his fellow African American schools entered into an adversarial relationship with white teachers. The white teachers, Couch remembers, were racist, and at best did not understand their black students. Black students like Couch were confident in their academic competence and determined to assert themselves in class. Tensions were inevitable, and Couch thinks the situation has continued to deteriorate to the present day.

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 were treated by the white teachers? TC: Oh God. The worst thing this, the teachers. They had never seen us, first of all. They had never seen more than three blacks in a class. They maybe had seen one every now and then, and now here they are, sitting up with all blacks. Some of them were racist, you know. They couldn’t not be racist, it was born and bred in their heart. They don’t understand our lingo. They don’t even understand the way we dress or the way we look. And then having to look at us every day made a lot of people angry, I’m sure. RG: Did they, if you raised your hand in class, did you feel as though you had the same right to be, that you were just as likely to be called on as a white person? TC: Well, you gotta remember this. Us, we knew we were smart. When we went there, we went with our group, we weren’t worried about having to compete with them. That was, we had a guidance counselor, we had already took care of our own schools. We knew what grades we had. We had come to integrate the schools for real, and let them know that this was not going to be a white school. We weren’t worried about them academically. We weren’t. We were academically well enough to handle ourselves at Chapel Hill High School. We didn’t have to fight a war with the teachers. We knew there were white teachers and we took it easy, we knew how to act. RG: That’s interesting, but that wasn’t the issue I was getting at. The issue I was getting at is, did they look you in the eye, did they call on you the same as they called on the white students? TC: Of course not. Of course not. I ain’t gotta tell you, of course not. Of course not. Never. You never saw any camaraderie. That’s the first place we learned that we knew that we were different. You know that, over at Lincoln teachers would say, hold on a minute Thurman, I want to talk to you about that last quiz you took. Come here for a second, you know, you went down a little bit in your grades in your algebra class. Let’s just talk about that, son, what’s going on? You think they said anything to you? Think they said anything to you in the hall? You think they said anything to you at any other time, in the cafeteria? Come on. Never. It was, it was over and dead then, the war was on. We were surviving. We had ourselves though, we were all camaraderie. We checked on each other. We know who the worst racists was. It was a big move. Lincoln High School was a dream. It was inadequate, but we did the best we could with what we had. Did the best that we could with what we had. The love had always been, you know, it ain’t me that’s the guys that got shafted, it ain’t my group that’s been shafted. It’s the ones afterwards. It’s getting worse as it goes now. They don’t even let the blacks in Chapel Hill do nothing now, the education system in Chapel Hill for the black students from the ghetto and the places in there, is gone. And guys like us, we ain’t never going back. My wife wants to live in my hometown, and I tell her, I couldn’t take it. You understand, I could not handle it. I couldn’t take it. I have, you know, we come to Durham. I really see, my son’s in law school now, my oldest son. I’d rather for him to walk through the walls at Hillside where there’s something still real that hasn’t been diluted. RG: Is Hillside mostly black? TC: Yeah, it was an all-black school.