Tensions between black students and white teachers
Peerman describes one relatively successful element of Chapel Hill's desegregation plan—the construction of a new school where neither white nor black students would feel obligated to defend their territory. As a result, Peerman does not remember hearing racial slurs, but she did experience some tensions with teachers, one of whom she insulted.
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
BG: Let me ask you another question. I don’t mean this in a bad light, but—and I’ve only had one other person I’ve interviewed speak of this, but I think it’s worth bringing up—did you think of how the whites saw the school change as the blacks entered the school?
JP: Um, not really, because we were entering it together. When integration came, this was the first time for whites to be with us—I mean this was their first time at Phillips, period. So it wasn’t any different. They had never been at Phillips as an all-white school. When we came, it was—we were all forced in there together. Just like at the new high school. That’s why they didn’t use Lincoln or the old high school. They made a brand-new high school so that there couldn’t be any visions of, “Oh, I remember when the halls used to be all-white.” No, they can’t remember that, because this is a brand-new building, a brand-new school. And so that’s how I saw integration at the various places I went. It was new to everyone who came in at that time. I was never in an environment where—and the reason I say this is that it started when I was in sixth grade. We were all forced together in a new school. It was all of us together, so we couldn’t say, “What are they doing here?” because it was their first time here and it was our first time here.
BG: So Guy B. Phillips opened as a new school when integration occurred?
JP: As far as I can recall. That’s how I saw it. I saw it as all being somewhere new for the first time. It was not like we were once an all-black school. The only all-black I remember is elementary years. After that, after integration and busing and forced here and there, you know, everybody was forced together. It’s no memories of anything else other because you were at another school. It seems like they did it at a breaking point. Again specifically, it was very unique for my class to have that sixth-grade class together. That kind of wiped the slate, like “OK, the races are together now in this one school. And from here on, wherever you go, you will be together.” And that was more or less putting a stamp on it. So I was unique, so I can’t speak to that. Other classes, other people, it did hit them at different times. But it hit us all in one grade, all in one school, all in one age group.
BG: When you were in the first classes that were integrated, did you hear racial slurs? Was there physical abuse? Was there fighting in the hallways, in the schoolyard?
BG: None of that? That was junior high school, 196-?
JP: Well, it was really, at Lincoln, the sixth-grade, ’66, was the first integration I had. But previous to that, my fifth-grade teacher was a white teacher and that was the first white teacher I had ever had. And that was very uncomfortable for me.
BG: How so?
JP: Well, I had a problem in that I had the same name as another student in the class, Joanne, so there were two Joannes. And Joanne happens to be my middle name. This particular teacher decided that I should use my first name, that I should use Martha. So she called me Martha the whole school year. And for me to have a first white teacher and for her to change my name, and this “Martha,” which wasn’t familiar to me at all, it just rubbed me wrong. That was just my first experience with a white teacher—tell me what I’m going to be called. It just put a damper on the whole experience.
BG: Did it also have something to do with the fact that white people used to make up other names for blacks, like calling a man “boy,” or calling them by some other name rather than what their real name was to put them down? Did you feel that?
JP: No I didn’t. Because I was only in fifth grade, so that was a little bit deep for me. It was bad enough to have the name that you always had used for ten years--. I mean, not even my parents called me Martha, nobody called me Martha. And because there were two Joannes in the class, I was now Martha all day long. I was just miserable—I’m about to cry just thinking about it. So I had trouble with her. I had big trouble with her.
I got into my first trouble at school behind this white teacher. I called her a black motherfucker. Because of that—I guess it had pent-up hostilities—I was sent to the principal’s office, Mr. Edmunds, who lived up the street here, who was in my mom and dad’s wedding twenty years previous to that. And he in turn called my mom and dad. And my mom and dad and me and Mr. Edmunds were sitting in the principal’s office. He said he wasn’t going to suspend me. The only thing he wanted me to do—and he thought this would be punishment enough—is to repeat what I had called my teacher in front of my parents. So I had to sit there and say . . . those words. I know that my parents could not believe what was coming out of my mouth. And they were just so embarrassed and so hurt. I said it. And I know it rolled off my tongue a few minutes ago. All of this is just coming back to me here.
So when we got home that night, they didn’t whip me or anything, but they kept asking me, “Where did you hear that from?” There was really no profanity here in the house. Daddy would say like, “What in the ham fat are you doing--?” He would just use any other kind of words besides--. Daddy was almost crying, “Where in the world did you hear such language?” Finally I admitted that I had heard it at football practice. A lot of days after school we would go over to Lincoln and watch them practice football because they would push Daddy around on this thing that the coaches ride on and the guys--? And they would have to run up an down hills and he’d fuss and them. So I heard that term from one of his players who was cursing under his breath when he had to do something. So when I told him that, he stopped us from coming to practice because he knew that the guys had foul mouths. You know? When they fall or get tackled or get hit, they might have to do twenty laps for something, they’re cursing under their breath or something.
That was something else. [Speaking to other person there] You remember that? You don’t remember that? That was the first time and really only time—I didn’t like to disappoint my parents. They could easily be hurt by things like that.