Gulf between black students and white teachers
Peerman and her fellow students forced the administration at Chapel Hill High School to acknowledge Black History Month and offer a course in black history. Despite this progress, white teachers refused to adjust their racial attitudes, and Peerman recalls one teacher continued to use the term "nigra" instead of "Negro." Black teachers at all-black schools, whom Peerman remembers from elementary school, tended to be more connected to their students and to the community at large.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Joanne Peerman, February 24, 2001. Interview K-0557. 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
JP: Yes, we did. That’s kind of vague, but back then that was Black History Week. They would give us one assembly, one one-hour period where we could display anything that we wanted, any talent that we had in our communities or whatever. We had some talented dancers. We’d work maybe the whole month of January on our Black History Week program. It was nice. That was part of one of the demands of the sit-in, now that this is coming up. I can remember because before that, there was no black history program.
BG: So you didn’t have any black history taught in the schools before that?
JP: There was at the high school, yes. Not everybody took the course, ironically.
BG: So it was a separate course?
JP: Yes, it was elected. It wasn’t for academic credit, you didn’t have to take it, you just signed up for it. And mostly it was black people that signed up for the course.
BG: What about your civics and history class in general? Social studies, did they include black accomplishments or black history?
JP: Rarely. As I say they may have used the month of February to bring out a few names in history. But otherwise it was pretty much what was in the textbooks. I recall vividly having a teacher, Mrs. Abernathy, at Phillips, who could not say “Negro.” She said the “nigras” this and the “nigras” that. I remember correcting her myself and I got applause from the class, white and black. But I just had been hearing it all year and I was tired of hearing her say the “nigras” this or the “nigras” that. I told her to say “Negro” or “black” or “African” or say something, but it’s not “nigras.” She just kind of stared at me. She didn’t apologize or anything but she just turned red. People were clapping and I just continued to sit there and I just felt so relieved. I couldn’t believe she just openly said that word!
BG: So you did go to an all-black school?
JP: Only in elementary.
BG: In elementary. Can you remember back in the difference in teaching styles or differences between going in elementary school to an all-black school versus going to an integrated junior high school—how you were treated, how the teachers dealt with discipline, and so forth?
JP: All-black schools seemed to give you more moral support, more caring, more loving. If you did well on your paper, you might get a hug from your teacher. On Valentine’s Day you might get a Valentine’s card. Each kid would get one of those, you know, “Be my Valentine.” Teachers were very supportive. They often knew your parents. They would call your homes and let parents know how things were going. School activities were a highlight in the black community. PTA meeting were really stressed and really a social activity. Parents would come and the kids would come. Usually we’d have some kind of little song we’d have to sing or play our tonettes or bales or something. This is the kind of activities we had for the black community. It wasn’t like we could go to a restaurant. I mean, there was no integration in that fashion in my elementary years. So it revolved around the school system, going to high school football or basketball games [tape stops].
END OF SIDE A
START OF SIDE B
BG: You want to continue on with what we were just talking about?
JP: Well, it seemed like the black teachers cared about your well-being both academically and morally and self-esteem. They preached excellence and preached etiquette and proper dressing. Always told you that you had to give 110 percent because it was going to be rough out there. That black people always had to try harder because this was a predominantly white society so to get anywhere black people had to try much harder than the norm, much harder than your white counterparts. Just stressed excellence at all times, just do the absolute best you can do.
Educationally, I remember trying to make for well-rounded students. I remember Lincoln providing music lessons for elementary-age kids. Mr. Goldston, who was the band director for Lincoln, who had an excellent band, of course, I remember taking clarinet lessons from him, myself along with maybe fifteen or twenty students. Maybe two times a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, from four to five, maybe one hour, in the basement where Lincoln’s band practiced.