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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Walter Durham, January 19 and 26, 2001. Interview K-0540. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Latent anger over childhood experiences with racism and segregation resurfaces with school integration

Durham discusses the roots of the anger he felt as a high school student in childhood experiences with racism and discrimination. He offers several especially illuminating examples including being harrassed by a police officer while trying to buy new shoes at the local five and dime, being cheated out of his pay for yard work because of a broken rake, and not being allowed to sit at the counter for ice cream. According to Durham, his anger about this kind of racial discrimination remained latent until the Chapel Hill schools were integrated and he began to recognize that white students were favored. Because of this anger, Durham had trouble doing well in school and was branded a "troublemaker."

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Walter Durham, January 19 and 26, 2001. Interview K-0540. 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

With the person that I was, a lot of anger grew up within me also. I remember one time, my mother gave me and my brother three dollars apiece. We went down to the five and dime, I don't know if you remember when the five and dime was down on Main Street or not. And she gave us three dollars to go down there and buy some sneakers. And it was the first time that I ever had a piece of money in my hand to go anywhere. So I had the money very tight in my hand. So when I get to the five and dime and I get into the shoe section, I took and put my money in my pocket. And as I was putting my money in my pocket, a policeman reach and grab me and throws me against the wall and searched me. And I don't know that he thought that I was going to steal something, I don't know why he'd done it. But he reached and grabbed me and threw me against the wall. I was about-I think I was about the third and fourth grade. And it scared me so bad, I didn't get no shoes or nothing. I ran all the way home. We were standing down on Merritt Mill Road and I ran all the way home. If I go into a store today, whatever's in my hand, it stays there. I don't go to my pockets. If my son's in the store with me, don't even play like you're going to your pockets. Little things like that. I remember when we started having marches and things in Chapel Hill. I was still about in the sixth grade. I had on a freedom button. [unclear] I would just go in there a lot when I'm heading home, and buy a little candy or whatever. And I had the freedom button on me. And he snatched it off and cursed me out. I ran home again. You know. Little things growing up like that. Going into the dairy bar. I sit down one day. I was about-[tape ends]. [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A] [TAPE 1, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
BOB GILGOR:
So you were saying that your brother snatched you up when you sat down at the dairy bar?
WALTER DURHAM:
Yes. And the same thing happened across the street from the drug store.
BOB GILGOR:
Colonial Drugs?
WALTER DURHAM:
Yes. I sit down in there one day. We were coming from First Baptist, from church, Sunday school. And I didn't know nothing about the sitting down rules or why we couldn't sit down. So I just sit down-everybody else what sitting down-so while my brother was ordering the ice cream and stuff I sit down. Big John, he was about to say something to me, but before he did my brother snatched me up again. So I pretty much grew up with a lot of anger.
BOB GILGOR:
Towards segregation and white people?
WALTER DURHAM:
Yes, pretty much. Pretty much. Because I saw a lot of things that would happen. Me and my brother were raking the yard one day. And we raked the yard all day long, all day long. I was about in the eighth grade. And the lady promised us a certain amount of money. And then when we finished working, I was using an old rake, the rake belonged to the woman, and the rake broke. So at the end of the day, she wouldn't pay me my money because of the rake. She said I broke the rake. So I had to pay for the rake. You know. Some things back then that you couldn't take it home to your parents. Your parents wasn't going to go to your rescue because they was scared themselves. And I just grew up with all that that stuff balled up inside of me. So when I get to Chapel Hill High School all this stuff started coming back again. And you could see it. You could see the favoritism. People getting dissed because of who they are or what they're about. It's not because that you met that requirement but because of who you were. And they didn't try to hide it. The teachers didn't try to hide it.
BOB GILGOR:
So you saw favoritism toward the white students. Is that fair to say?
WALTER DURHAM:
Oh yes. And they didn't try to hide it. You get up there and you got your hand raised up to answer a question and don't nobody call on you. That's not a coincidence. That's not a coincidence. You get to the point where you don't want to ask a question. You don't want to go to the teacher for anything. Next thing you know you're falling behind in your grades because the communication is not there. I got kicked out of school the first year I went to Chapel Hill High School. I got kicked out in December. I couldn't go back no more the rest of that year. Strictly because I challenged the system and my spirit was broken so bad. I got to the point that I got moved. They classified you when you got there. I was in Class 2 English, you know. My grade was so good that I got moved to English 1, the smart class. The teacher there, we started having problems from the first day, from the first day. And everybody seemed to be having problems with her. But the way that I was-the feeling that I had inside of me came out in more anger. Other people could take it, but I wouldn't. I became branded as a troublemaker in the school system. Then after I had so many problems with so many teachers, then my grades just went down real bad. And I didn't care. I didn't care if I stayed in school or got kicked out of school, or whatever.