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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Nate Davis, February 6, 2001. Interview K-0538. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Racist harassment plagues black student

Davis does not think the racial slurs he endured in junior high school have stopped. He remembers a cruel history teacher who called black students "nigras." Physical encounters took place as well as verbal abuse, but sympathetic white students sometimes intervened. Davis's membership on sports teams increased the harassment he faced when he took the court with or against white players. According to Davis, integration only increased the difficulties that black Americans faced whenever they crossed the boundaries that segregation put in place. Integration brought those boundaries to school, where black students were always on the wrong side of them.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Nate Davis, February 6, 2001. Interview K-0538. 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: And when did it end, this verbal abuse? ND: When does it end? RG: When did it end? ND: When does it end? (laughs) RG: When does it end, maybe it’s still going on. ND: Probably not as much, but I’m pretty sure there’s still some things that are still being said. People may not be using the same language, and you know, but I’m pretty sure that some things are still being said about different races, whether it’s white or black, you know. I’m not saying that all the whites and all the teachers were like that. We had some, I think one thing that helped me survive up on Franklin Street at Chapel Hill Junior High School was some of the white friends we had, male and female. You know, I remember I used to be sitting there in class, be crying and, you know, and I don’t remember the name, there were these two white girls that used to just kind of, you know, just talk to me, and this was mainly in my math class. And I think the main reason I cried in that class was because I had just left my history class and we had a very, very mean history teacher, you know, and she wouldn’t say “Negro,” she said “niggras.” RG: With an “i” instead of an “e”. ND: Yeah, uh-huh, I remember her. RG: Were there, was there any physical abuse? ND: There were fights, yes. There was. RG: So you got into fights? ND: Uh, some, yeah. But like I said I had this real close friend, a guy named Reedy Hilton. His father was the track coach at Carolina for a long time. So, and I think Reed still lives here in Chapel Hill, lives out in Chatham County now. He was a close friend and he would always stop us from fighting. RG: He was a white student? ND: Yeah, uh-huh. And this other guy named Kenny Rogers—I don’t know where Kenny’s at now—Kenny used to be a Chapel Hill police officer here in Chapel Hill, and I haven’t seen him in a while, but um, you’d have people like that that would kind of intervene, and help out. RG: So you saw the best and the worst of what went on. You had students who taunted you and got into a fight with you, but then you had students who helped stand up for you, did you feel? ND: Yeah, I was an athlete, so kind of, you know, if you were an athlete you had a little bit of advantage. I didn’t play much sports in junior high school up on Franklin Street, but once I got out to Guy B. Phillips I played basketball, ran track. RG: So you think being an athlete helped in your being integrated into this mixed-- ND: I think it helped, yeah, uh-huh. It didn’t help overall because when you went to another school to play, you know, and sometimes being the only black athlete out there on the basketball court, you get called all kind of names. And I think it had a real lasting effect on me because after that I was always nervous when I went out on the court, you know to play football, basketball, something like that. It didn’t bother me when I was running track, but other sports it did, and it followed me through high school, and I was always nervous when I went out there. RG: This taunting stayed-- ND: It stayed with me. RG: Even into Chapel Hill High School. ND: Yes, it did. Uh-huh, until I stopped playing sports. RG: You must have felt angry about this. ND: Sometimes I would get angry, yeah. RG: How do you get over that anger, of those experiences? ND: I think you get over it by protecting the ones you love and making sure that’s not going to happen to them. That’s where I get over it. RG: Yet from what I hear from you, you still think some of it’s going on. ND: I would say so, yeah, maybe not in the same way, but yeah. RG: Maybe less? ND: Yeah. And it didn’t just happen in the schools, it was in the community back then. So you know, a lot of people look at integration and say the blacks had all these problems, but you know, we had those problems before we went into the school system, you know, when you left Lincoln you had problems. When you left y our community you had problems. When we left Merritt Mill Road, when we left Northside area, you know, and went downtown into the community, you know, you had those problems. So it was just not in the school system. RG: When you say you had problems, you’re talking about segregation? ND: Yes. RG: Verbal abuse? ND: Yes. RG: Fear? ND: Yes, uh-huh. RG: How did your parents teach you to deal with that? ND: I think back then the parents, you know, wanted us to stay in our place, you know, stay in your community.