Documenting the American South Logo
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Joanne Peerman, February 24, 2001. Interview K-0557. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Tensions between black students and white teachers

The efforts of certain teachers, like guidance counselor Mrs. Edmunds, compensated for the lack of interest on the part of most teachers at Chapel Hill High School. Black students asserted themselves in class, however, and forced white teachers to engage them. But the atmosphere that was present in all-black schools was gone, and even black teachers did not interact with black students in the same way. This excerpt also briefly mentions intra-school resegregation: black and white students mingled rarely.

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: Did you see racism at the school from the teachers? JP: Not really. It was just like some were more cold that others. It was like they had learned to hide their feelings. None of them showed any love or caring. A teacher was just a different being. The white teachers, anyway. We never thought that they really cared about us. They were just there to earn their paycheck, to convey information. Some of them really stressed excellence, but not many. They weren’t trying to prepare us for anything after high school—they didn’t want to make doctors and lawyers out of us or anything. The guidance counselors—luckily we had Mrs. Edmunds, who was the wife of this principal up here who was also in the wedding—so she was my guidance counselor. I don’t know if I was lucky or she—I think she kind of chose the black kids, pushed them in the direction once she saw various scores and transcripts and whatnot and she felt like they had the potential to do something different. She advised people on vocations and all that. Of course she helped me fill out my college applications and encouraged me to take classes so I’d have enough to get into the colleges that I had an interest in. But racism at the high school, it really wasn’t that bad. Because we still kind of stayed separate. We had some friends that were white. Most of my white friends came from my junior high school years because this was my first time being around white people and realizing that they were nice. And I would go spend the night and I had a little friend down on Lakeshore. I’d go spend the night with her and she’d come over here—Lilly, Lilly Shipman. But the newness of it wore off after a while. By high school we weren’t even friends anymore. I don’t know what happened. It went back to the blacks staying with the blacks and the whites staying with the whites. You know, you go to classes together, you go to other functions together. But eating lunches, you know--. BG: You stayed with the black community. JP: Yes. Right. BG: Did you feel that the white teachers didn’t give you the same attention as they gave the white students? If you raised your hand to answer a question, were you called on as frequently as the white students were called on? JP: We didn’t have a problem with that. If we did, we would speak up and say, “I’ve had my hand up and you’re going to listen to me.” We were outspoken. We were, like you said, angry. If we wanted something, we took it. If we wanted to give the answer, we wouldn’t wait to be called on, we would just raise our hand and shout it out or whatever. BG: Would you do that in the black schools? JP: No. BG: So the discipline that was there at the black schools wasn’t there at the white schools is what you’re saying, is that fair to say? JP: Absolutely. BG: What about the black teachers? Would the black teachers tolerate that? JP: No. Not for the most part. It was mostly the white teachers that were run over if they did not treat us fairly. As I say, I think teachers just became numb or cold and just going through the motions. They tried not to show favoritism either way. I didn’t really see a lot of favoritism. And if I did, as I say, we would speak up and say, “You saw my hand up. Why you not calling on me, because I’m black?” We just challenged them right there. We just put them right there on the spot. Because that’s what we saw on TV—Mr. Kotter, like I said earlier, that’s the kind of stuff that was going on and we would just bring it right to the front. [Imitating frail woman’s voice] “Of course not, excuse me a minute.” And she’d go outside or whatever and come back. So we tried to be as intimidating as we could, because that was the only kind of thing that got through. But they had their ways of getting back at us by either giving lower grades or whatever. It was subtle. We may have thought we were getting over but they had the last laugh, more or less. Because they had the power. They were the teachers. So if we didn’t have the grades to back up something, or the papers, whatever. I remember one course in particular—I was up above average, I wasn’t an A student, but I was definitely an A-B student—and one course I had particular course with was chemistry. And that man was the most cold, distant person. And I think that’s why I did poorly in there, because he put nothing of himself in his teaching. It was “read the first three chapters and we’ll talk about them tomorrow.” It may have been the subject matter. It may have been a poor subject for me. But that was one of my worst grades. I think I got a D in there one semester and I think I brought it up to a C—it ended up being a C average in that class. That was very disappointing to me because I wasn’t used to those kinds of grades. BG: In our discussions you have mentioned that when you had gone to the all-black schools that some of the teachers would hug you and that meant a lot to you. Did you see any of this at the integrated school, of either white or black teachers hugging students? The feeling of caring, I guess, is what you received from this--. JP: Right. But since we’re talking about it and since it’s coming to light, it may have been due to the age group. Maybe high school kids aren’t as huggy-feely as elementary kids. Maybe elementary kids do need more nurturing and hugging and praise and reward for doing well. So I don’t want to put it all on the race thing. It might be that we were maturing and we were supposed to get a different kind of praise—a star on our test paper or whatever—or maybe it was a different kind of praise that we were receiving. There was definitely not a lot of hugging going on at the high school between students and teachers.