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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Raney Norwood, January 9, 2001. Interview K-0556. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Black students riot at CHHS

In this excerpt, Norwood further explains his involvement in a riot at the new, integrated Chapel Hill High School. "I felt that we had been lied to," he says, recalling that black students and parents had no input in how the desegregation process proceeded. This frustration led him and others to the Black Panthers and to start a riot, lashing out at the physical structure of the new high school. Their outburst got results, and Chapel Hill High School adopted the mascot and colors of Lincoln. The sports trophies could not be recovered.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Raney Norwood, January 9, 2001. Interview K-0556. 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

BG: So tell me some more about some of the things that were bothering you that sparked this riot off. RN: Well, for me personally, I felt that we had been lied to. They told us that our parents had signed these papers for this merger at the school. They told all the black students there. See, there was this government program on campus called Upward Bound. A lot of the black students coming from a low-income family, this program was designed to teach us to enter into college ( ). We sat there, me and a group of guys, talking, “When we leave here we got to go to Chapel Hill High School. They’re taking Lincoln away from us.” I’m tee’d off with my parents because they should’ve asked us, you know. Back then it was hard to question your parents about something. Because they were the word. You didn’t ask why or anything. But I got brave and I decided to ask my parents. They did not receive any kind of paper or form or anything talking about the merger. They said it got dumped in their lap, that there would no longer be a Lincoln High School. Chapel Hill and Lincoln would merge in one school located out in the country, we called it. I said “OK, there go the white people, lying to us.” This started building up. Then, back in the ‘60s, like I said, people were marching on campus. Preston ( ), which was one of the Civil Rights leaders—there were probably a few others on campus. What really caught my attention was, a group of Black Panthers came in from High Point. And they weren’t really recruiting at the time. What they were trying to do was help. So ( ), and another friend of mine named ( ), we decided to just hang out with them, just see what it’s all about. When we were just hanging out with them, they taught us a lot. It was not hatred. They were teaching us what was really going on. What I mean by that, they were showing how our black younger kids were being sent to school with no breakfast. They were sitting there with not half of the books they need. So then ( ) and I and ( ) we started selling newspapers for the Panthers. So we became more and more interested. We decided to join up. And the thing about it back then, when you became a Panther and you came back into the black neighborhood, it was hard for them to accept you because they was afraid. We might have been troublemakers, we might have been the type to kill police officers. I remember my father said, “Son, you’re going to get killed.” I said, “Dad, I feel like I’m dead already.” But this was after the high school thing. Going back to what made it spark is, like I said, taking Lincoln away from us. Putting us in an environment that was not friendly. We did not have full support. We saw the coach go down. We saw the principal, Mr. McDougle, which was a strong figure at Lincoln High School, took on the role of being a coffee maker. I don’t care how they try to justify, Mr. McDougle was a coffee maker. We went to visit him in his office. His office was way back in a little corner. ( ). It took a lot out of him. ( ). I mean, Mr. McDougle was a strong force for the blacks at the time because we really looked up to him down at Lincoln. You better not be late for class. If you played hooky from school, he going to send someone after you. Looking at that, I guess that;s what sparked--. And as I mentioned, with the assassination of Martin Luther King, it seemed like everything around us was crumbling. BG: I heard a story from Gloria Register and I think from—that a group of African-American students went to talk to the principal on the day that the protest occurred. They went with a list of things that they wanted changed. And they felt, when they walked out, that none of the changes were going to be made. And she said it was like wildfire spread from there. That’s the day that the riot occurred. Do you remember any of that? RN: It’s coming back to me. I remember someone going back to the--. These were the politician-students we called them. We were like the army that go in the back. Like I said, I sit there, talk to ( ) and talk to ( ), some people that were actively involved. We couldn’t remember exactly what it was. But now that you mention it, it could have been that. It probably got back to us on the tail end of it—you know, we’re off somewhere, breaking into somebody’s locker or doing something we weren’t supposed to when we heard. That’s probably when we took charge. Like I said, we were the ones that really instigated it, the ones that really pushed it. A lot of the black students’ ideas were non-violent. They tried to go and negotiate and go through the proper channels and stuff. We always, we didn’t want to be the one to wait. If we don’t get it, we’ll do something. BG: But what did you do when the doors were locked? Did you break chairs, windows? RN: We broke chairs. We turned over—the lockers were built into the wall but we damaged those. The doors, kicking them in and stuff. The comrades—I called them—that were outside, we were cutting ( ), mostly doing a lot of disturbing things to the building. BG: Break windows? RN: I can’t recall breaking windows because there was a huge window and we knew if we get caught there—see, I used to have to wash those windows when I got in trouble. I can’t remember the windows being broken. It could have been, but we were mostly just inside doing things. As I said, some students did get beaten, but not bad to where we put them in the hospital. The main thing was just getting people’s attention. BG: What happened after the riots? Did you get suspended? Did people get suspended? And did you make changes in the things that you wanted changed? RN: Changes were made. We did not get suspended because it was a ( ), “Hey, this is just a little bit. We can do more if you start suspending students.” We did not make those threats. But I guess the people felt—Miss Marshbanks was the principal. We now had backing from the other black student body. We got backing from the white student body. OK. Now it’s time we sit down with Gloria and them and the rest of the people ( ) what they did, I do not know. ( ) OK, we’re going to take on the Chapel Hill Tigers .We’re going to take on the school colors. But they couldn’t bring in the trophies because ( ) got throwed in the dumpster. And that really hurt us, when we found that out, how they would destroy it. Because it was a trophy going to a lot of homes. A lot of memories behind it. And then, like I said, we met with Mr. Smith, with Miss Clemens.