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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 >>

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

What grades did you teach?
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 understanding her. 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.
Were any white parents ever ugly to you or disrespectful?
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...