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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Gwendolyn Matthews, December 9, 1999. Interview K-0654. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Comparing teachers in segregated and integrated schools

Matthews draws comparisons between the faculty at Berry O'Kelly, an African American school, and Cary High School. Matthews had attended Berry O'Kelly prior to her involvement in the integration process. According to Matthews, the teachers at Berry O'Kelly were much more supportive, whereas the teachers at Cary High School gave her much less encouragement. Her comments convey a degree of nostalgia for her experiences with segregated education.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Gwendolyn Matthews, December 9, 1999. Interview K-0654. 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

PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
When you were at Berry O'Kelly, how did that educational experience differ from your educational experience at Cary High? Did you see much difference?
GWENDOLYN MATTHEWS:
I think the difference, and one of the reasons I think I personally had an adjustment was, I found the teachers at Berry O'Kelly very nurturing and very encouraging. So that when I got to Cary High and did not have that, it was much more distant and, to me, much more cut and dried. Faculty members at Berry O'Kelly did not become our friends, so I do not mean to say it that way, but they were just very encouraging people. Very, "Gwen, what do you mean, you don't have your homework? You know, I will call your mother and tell her you didn't have your homework." And I'm going, "Oh Mrs., I'll get it, I'll get it." That kind of situation, whereas at Cary, and it simply could have been because of the times, there was much more, "Oh, you don't have your homework. Okay." And it was almost as if they didn't expect me to have my homework if I didn't have it. I always made sure I had it, but yes, there were times I did not have it. Part of it was because I simply didn't understand it and trying to get the help to understand was very, very, to be able to understand, was very difficult.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
Were you given the opportunity to even ask questions?
GWENDOLYN MATTHEWS:
Not that we were… We could ask the questions, but would I get the response was the… no. I would not get the response.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
Did they ignore you?
GWENDOLYN MATTHEWS:
Yes. So I did not have the opportunity to get the answers. And that's where those three individuals became crucial. Because if I was going to get any kind of understanding, those three people were helpful. And again, looking back, and I know people are saying, oh you know, she's just saying that so as not to be so hard on… Looking back, I think I would understand, if I were an instructor, and clearly some of the instructors honestly did not like us. I mean, that was clear. They did not want Blacks there. That was obvious, and so I knew that. But there were others that I thought also, that I could tell, may have wanted to help, but just simply did not know whether they should or could and how would they be thought of if they did among their peers. And so I could tell that there were some who honestly would have wanted to do so, but the environment was not conducive to that.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
Did you feel like you could or would want to approach any of your teachers after class to ask for help or clarify questions you had? None of your teachers?
GWENDOLYN MATTHEWS:
No, none. None that I can recall.
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
That's too sad.
GWENDOLYN MATTHEWS:
It is, but you know. I did make it through and that's all I can say.