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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Charles Adams, February 18, 2000. Interview K-0646. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Describing desegregation plans and experiments

Adams describes the plan for desegregation of Cary, North Carolina, schools. Ultimately, those involved in the process devised a gradual implementation program that was intended to generate full integration within a few years time. Adams was a teacher and coach at one of the Cary high schools, and later at Garner, during these years and from his perspective, the plan seemed to work. Additionally, Adams describes one experiment at integration where West Cary High School became a single-grade school. His comments here reveal ways in which school administrators experimented to find methods for integration that would be least disruptive to students.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Charles Adams, February 18, 2000. Interview K-0646. 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

Can you describe how the integration process was engineered with the… How the program was designed to work?
CHARLES ADAMS:
My understanding of that was that my Dad, and Mr. Cooper, and two or three of the local advisory people, and a couple of the Wake County people, and the Evans family, and the principal of the Black school sat down and actually developed a game plan of how many students would come the first year, who they would be, where they would come from and obviously the Black community sent some of their best kids forward. And then each year there were supposed to be a geometric progression of the Black kids coming. So they had a really solid game plan that was overseen by the Wake County Board of Education, the Cary Advisory Board and then the key players in it. And they had decided that "X" number would come the first year, they would see how this worked. Quadruple that the next year and then they hoped by the third year full fledged, which it was. By the time I left there, I'm trying to think, I was there from about '62 to maybe '65 or '66, and each year it got bigger and bigger. I started out with one in my homeroom, and then I had several in sociology the next year, and then the following year I had quite a few. And then I went to Garner the next year to get into administration. So they had a good game plan. They just didn't send the entire Black community over and say, we're integrated. There was a great deal of rhyme and reason given to this by the Black community and the White community. Well planned.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
And it paid off.
CHARLES ADAMS:
Yes it did. It was planned so it wouldn't backfire and it wouldn't fail.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
A portion of that plan was to create schools that had only one grade in it for a period of time. For example, West Cary became an all ninth grade school. Could you talk about the… why they did that and if it worked the way they intended?
CHARLES ADAMS:
Yes, I think it did. My recollection on that was that they decided that after they did this nominal, or minimal beginning and just a smaller transition, that the goal would be to work towards a separate campus where there would only be one grade and then everybody would go there. And my Dad's thinking was, this would be less of a volatile situation than having a four year high school program and all of a sudden, boom, everybody's dropped in there. And they thought that in the ninth grade that if they could have this one school over at West Cary and all the Black students went there instead of going up here, and all the White students came over here instead of going up there, that that would give them a year to get to know each other in a less volatile situation. And I think it really worked out well because number one, they got to know each other. And they got to play ball together, they got to study together, they got to be in activities together, and it wasn't where the small number of Blacks got lost into a big White high school which it wouldn't big, but it was big at that time compared to the Black. So I think it was a very wise decision to do a one grade experiment. Because I thought it worked well and was a precursor to then all coming into one high school. That made the next three grades much easier because you and I have been together, we've played on the same team, we've studied in the same library, we've ridden on the same bus, but the Blacks didn't feel as threatened because they weren't outnumbered so badly by all the Whites. It was more of an equitable ratio. And I thought it was a really good way to do it. I had not heard of anybody doing that at one time.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
It was an unusual solution.
CHARLES ADAMS:
It was. To take and say, we're just going to have one grade for everybody, a one grade school.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
Now there were a number of White parents who were very upset when West Cary was first converted to a ninth grade only school, and they actually initiated a law suit.
CHARLES ADAMS:
Yes, I can remember a petition. I can remember a law suit. And I think again, it's the small mindedness of looking at the small picture rather than the big picture. And I knew some of them. I remember when it was going on and they were petitioning the general assembly, and they were petitioning the Town Council. They did not want West Cary to be a one grade school. But I think when the game plan was explained, most people said, well, you know, we don't want to necessarily integrate, but if we're going to, this is a pretty sensible way of trying to do it. And I think sanity had prevailed and most of them were able to look at the big picture and say, here's where we hope to be someday. This single school is a step in getting us up here. So I think more people bought into it than those that were just unhappy about it being shut down and turned into a single grade. And I think again as I experienced it, it was the small minded looking at a lesser versus a big picture and down the road of the wisdom that made sense. Of course, I was prejudiced because I believed very strongly in what my Dad was doing and I was certainly on that side. And at times it really felt like we were really the minority working with the minorities, but as it turned out, I'm not so sure we were. I think there were a lot of good people in Cary who sat back and accepted my Dad's leadership and said, you know, if Henry Adams believes in this and he's leading it, then you know it must be okay. And you don't hear from the good people who are pretty satisfied or will accept it. It's the ones who their comfort zone is being messed with, and that's what this group was.