Violence erupts over integration
Norwood credits his rebelliousness as a child for his willingness to forcefully resist racism as a high schooler. But he did not retaliate when a white motorcycle gang called The Stormtroopers killed a friend. Charges against the gang were dismissed in court and Northside Elementary was bombed, not by Norwood despite plans he and his friends made.
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: Looking back on what you did at the high school with getting people to look at the issues that were bothering the black students—would you say that your being a rebellious, troublesome child helped you with that?
RN: I really think so. This is something that I grew up with, that I was not afraid to do. I didn’t mind stepping forward, doing something, taking on a violent act. It’s something that ( ). I’m glad that it didn’t go any further because, also, we had made plans to firebomb the school. We wanted to get deep. What we did, we considered a ( ) of what we had planned. We sit there and we were really--. ( ). We listened. We listened to Mr. Smith. We listened to Miss Clemens. We listened to Mr. McDougle. But if something don’t happen, that was our next step. And thank god that we didn’t have to go there, because we would’ve went, we would’ve taken it to another level. The only thing we took to the level ( ) school hours. But I really believe deep down then that, if we were pushed, we would’ve went there.
Because I remember this other firebombing that was going on when one of my friends got killed on campus by this motorcycle group called The Stormtroopers. They went to court and the charges were dismissed. And we ( ) burning Chapel Hill. They thought that my group, that we were doing the burning. But it wasn’t us, we were quieting the people down. Because Northside school got burned. We were sitting in this little restaurant right on the corner of Rosemary and Church Street. We saw people throwing firebombs in the little pharmacy building across the street. And Northside, we go down to the fire, and when we arrived, first thing, they thought that we did it. I mean, we had some blacks cheering us when we came up. And we explained that, “No. It’s not our work. Why we want to burn our own neighborhood? It’s not proving anything.” But a lot of people thought that we did.
BG: Can you talk a little more about the firebombing at Northside? You say that a motorcycle gang killed a friend. What were they circumstances around that?
RN: OK, what happened, they were having an all-night dance on campus at the student union. A group of my friends, we went down on campus to the dance. For some reason I left early—oh, I was chasing this little girl, that’s what it was—so I went on home. That morning, my mom woke me and said James Cates, which was a friend, got killed. I said, “No, he was with me. I just left him.” I’m thinking, it’s just like an hour or something. ( ). Then it came on the news, it made big news on the radio and stuff. ( ). Because James Cates was just ( ) gold. Everybody loved the guy. So we got highly tee’d off. We got together. This was the first time a group that large of blacks was getting together. And we were going to do something.
We waited until trial. They went to trial. Like I said, the charges were dismissed. Blacks were mad now. Some people were having nice peaceful meetings, having marches. It wasn’t enough. A lot of younger guys, younger than us, decided to take on a role, “OK, it’s time to burn and stuff.” They started burning. Chapel Hill was going up in smoke. So we were able to quiet it down, the guys that were with me in high school, we were able to talk to a lot of young guys. ( ). When they went to court, they got active time. I’m not sitting here saying two wrongs make a right, but we were beginning to see how the justice system really works.
But we had leaders. Howard Lee was the mayor. He came forth and he talked to us. But really their hands were tied, there was nothing they could do. They could just protest. But really there was no going to court or ( ).
BG: I take it that was a white motorcycle gang.
BG: Do you remember the year that that happened?
RN: I’m taking a shot at it, but I believe it was around ’72 or ’73. I had to get with some of my classmates.