Experiences with racism as a black teacher in a desegregated school
While most of her students had no problem with her race, Rogers explains that some parents did. Because of her skin tone however, white parents used covert forms of discrimination to diminish Roger's classroom authority. She credits her religious faith for providing endurance during the difficulties of faculty desegregation.
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
- PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
What grades did you teach?
- CAROLYN ROGERS:
I taught eighth grade and ninth grade, language arts for eighth grade and
English for ninth grade and I taught them at the same time, same year.
All ability groups, and it was just wonderful. I had some challenging
students again but not any who had a dislike for what I looked like on
the outside. If I had any students who disliked me it was because I was
a teacher, not because I was a black teacher. However, the parents were
different. Even at Cary Elementary the parents were different. Because I
had several parents who would… I had one parent who disguised
himself and he came in and quizzed me as if I were in college. Come to
find out he was a professor at State. He wore a pair of old overalls, so
he was definitely in disguise. You never would have thought he was a
professor at State, and he was an English professor at State.
Then I had another parent to come in, because she said that her child
could not understand me. Being a black person you're not
supposed to be able to talk, let alone teach English. Please, give me a
break. So this [Italian] lady came over and she said, "My
daughter cannot understand you and we need to talk about that."
But because her accent was so thick I didn't understand what
she was saying either. I was constantly saying, "Excuse me.
Excuse me. Excuse me." She finally got the message and just
went away. So she decided, I'm sure she decided because we
talked about it later, that her daughter must have been making some
things up because she understood me perfectly. I was having a problem
Then when I went to East Cary I was the only black English teacher on
staff for many years. And there weren't that many black
teachers on staff so to be the only black English teacher
on staff was just like, okay you're standing out
like a sore thumb. You stick out. I had some parents, during open house
I would always have the most parents of any teacher during open house. I
would have standing room only. Naturally, they're coming to
see if I can talk and if I know what I'm doing and if I
deserve to be there. And I knew that because it was very obvious. We
would have to bring in chairs from the other teachers' rooms
into my room in order for my parents to be seated. But it was something
you soon expect, you learn to expect that and you just do your job the
best you know how.
- PEGGY VAN SCOYOC:
Were any white parents ever ugly to you or disrespectful?
- CAROLYN ROGERS:
Oh, they weren't overtly ugly to me because of my complexion.
I'm sure that had a lot to do with it but it
wasn't… they tried to make it as low key as
possible. They would claim things like, "Oh, you
didn't grade this paper correctly." Or, "My
daughter didn't understand what you were talking
about." Or, "My son said this, and this is
wrong." They would double-check everything I did, write little
comments on the papers that this is incorrect and obviously you
don't know what you're doing, those kinds of
comments. But I knew what I was doing and I knew I was right. And sooner
or later they would come back to apologize, and most of them, they would
come back to apologize. I had one parent who sent out in August to give
me a hard time, and she did all year, she did. As a matter of fact, she
sent me a bumper sticker. You know, at the end of the year when the kids
bring teachers presents or flowers, she sent me a bumper sticker that
stated, "War Zone." Oddly enough, her daughter has
graduated, went to Carolina, to become an English teacher. So you always
have a way, you know. Things work out.
I had an illustrious career. Because I had such a great career, because I
was such a strong person, I have strong faith in God and I would always
pray before I went to school because I knew it was going to take that in
order for me to get through what I needed to get through that
day. That it has sustained me, and I had a
terrific career. I was nominated as Teacher of the Year at East Cary and
became one of the fifteen finalists. That within itself just told me
that everything you've been going through, everything that
you did, everybody who put these obstacles in front of you said, this is
worth it. This proves it...