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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Carolyn Rogers, May 22, 2003. Interview K-0656. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Insulation from racism taught Rogers self-value

Rogers describes her relative isolation from whites, socially and culturally. Her parents sheltered her from the pains of segregation. Consequently, Rogers never felt inferior to whites, a sentiment she carried with her professionally. In one example, Rogers discusses how sustained interracial contact with white segregationists could bring about change in their racist beliefs.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Carolyn Rogers, May 22, 2003. Interview K-0656. 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

Carolyn Rogers: ...I came home and got a job at Cary Elementary. I think Aaron Fussell was Superintendent at that time. I interviewed for the job and they sent me to Cary Elementary to Mr. E.B. Comer who was the Principal at Cary Elementary at that time. During the interview he said something quite odd, I thought. He said, "What would you do if someone called you ugly names or someone made some derogatory statements to you. How would you handle that?" And then he looked me directly in my eye and he said, "What would you do and how would you act if someone called you a ‘nigger." It just took me aback because I was not ready for that. I had been insulated from all of that. Robert Smalls was an all-black school, I lived in an all-black neighborhood, went to college at an all-black school, went to an all-black high school, when to an all-black elementary school, so I had just been in this all-black world insulated from without, except for when I was living on the farm. When you live on a farm you live in a person's house because you're tenant farmers. You establish a relationship with them that is kind of cordial, it's a cordial relationship. So I had been insulated from all derogatory remarks. Now my Dad and Mom couldn't say that because they experienced it all. I'm sure they made a pact between themselves that said, our kids will never ever face what we had to face. They will never hear what we heard. They will never be treated the way we were treated. And they did just that. They were arm in arm and we were insulated, we were protected in every way that they could afford. So when he asked me, how would I respond or how would I react, what would I do, I said, "I don't really know what I would do. But I'm not going to let people reduce me to nothing. Because I know what the word means, I'm just going to consider them as being ignorant." He said, "That's exactly what I want you to do. That's exactly what impresses me. So you will begin work immediately." I started Cary Elementary that fall of '69. Had a wonderful experience there. There was one lady across the hall from me, because I was one of three blacks on staff. Leverne Hairston was a P.E. teacher and Arthur Vines was the shop teacher at that time. Then lo and behold they hired this black lady to teach English. This was just the beginning of integration. So I'm on the rough edges of it. So this lady across the hall, Mrs. Violet Pruitt, old farm lady, taught English, lived in Chalybeate Springs which is near Fuquay, came across the hall one day and she said to me, "I want to ask you one question." And I said, "Yes, ma'am." "I want to know why you want to be in my school?" And I looked at her and I said, "Your school?" "Yeah, why do you want to be in my school? We don't want you here, you know that." I said, "Well, I was hired to do a job and I'm going to do that job the best I know how." Do you know, Mrs. Pruitt and I became the best of friends. She invited me to her home, she invited me to her daughter's home. She used to cook chicken and dumpling and bring it to me, and that was one of my favorite dishes. We just became the best of friends. Even when I was at East Cary, when we moved to East Cary, she stayed in contact with me. She would call me sometimes, even when she retired she would still call me in the afternoons and say, "How are you doing, Carolyn? I was just thinking about you. How are you doing?" And sometimes we would go back to that conversation when she asked me that. And she said, "That was just my ignorance, but you taught me differently."
PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
So she was able to talk to you about that day?
CAROLYN ROGERS:
She was able to talk with me about that, yes. Being an older person, she was brought up in that world where the blacks stayed in their place and the whites stayed in their place and never the twain shall meet. For her to be able to see that that's not the way it should be. We should all be together and that we can actually sit down and talk about it just made a big difference in her life and mine too, because as I said, she and I became best friends...