Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Maggie W. Ray, November 9, 2000. Interview K-0825. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Integration leads to comfortable interracial interaction

Ray describes the long term effects of integration: white and black children are totally comfortable with one another. She credits teachers at West Charlotte High School for modeling positive interracial relationships and the student body's diverse socioeconomic composition for minimizing the significance of racial boundaries.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Maggie W. Ray, November 9, 2000. Interview K-0825. 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

I'm interested, one of my interests on these questions is about race and racial interaction at West Charlotte, and I'm interested in how that worked in the classroom. Is that something that you thought about in your classroom when you were teaching?
Nah. Those children had been together so long that they didn't think about color, and I didn't either. It was good. My daughter went to Piedmont in the sixth grade and became friends with Joy Barry, whose father was the chairman of the school boardߞand I think he might have died that year. Anyway, Joy was African-American and they became close friends, and are still close friends. And I loved watching them figure out, like Betsy didn't want Joy to use her hairbrush when Joy would come spend the night, and so instead of making a big deal of it Betsy just said, "I don't want your curly hair in my hairbrush, just use your own please." And so it just passed off. It was something that a grown up would have said, "Oh!", racial things, you know, but it was nothing to twelve-year-olds. They just managed, and it was really cool to see that happening. And they're still good friends. And my son, who came through two years later, still has a really diverse group of friends that they made during those years. They were very proud of the fact that they had done this. That was part of the mystique of those years at West Charlotte, that they took pride in making this thing work. We're actually probably snooty about it with other schools. [Laughter]
You say people took pride in making it work. What did it take to make it work?
I think we modeled, the teachers modeled getting alongߞit was an interesting era, because somehow when you work with people trust comes, and some of my very favorite professional colleagues are across racial lines. We don't think of each other as black or white, we think of each other as teachers who've been through these laughing. We laugh about war stories we went through and how we worked this or that out, and how horrible certain principals were and dah, dah, dah. So I think it was modeled from the top down; the administration was always a black and white pair, usually, orߞI don't know how many assistant principals there were but they worked together well, so the children saw that. We had teachers who were proactive about this, and one person who comes to mind was Gary Wort, who started the SAVE program, helped start that. One of our students was shot and killedߞAlec Orange, I think his name wasߞand out of that came an anti-violence [stock]. I don't know what SAVE stands for, but anywayߞand that was also across racial lines. Nobody thought about that and that effort, everyone was focused on the common horror of this murder and doing something to prevent it. So I would say joint projects made it work, and modeling from the top down did work; and maybe having been together since they were young, the open program in particular, they were able to model for the other people in this school. Another thing that I think was key was that we had such a socio-economic diversity; we had poor, white children and middle-class, white children and rich, white children, and we had poor, black children and middle-class, black children and quite a few debutantes, so we had well-to-do black families involved. And then we had the ESL group which were at that time just newly escaped from horrible violence. These refugees were there, and we had our hippie group there, which was nicely racially mixed; the dramatists and the people who could read tarot cards and all that stuff, so we hadߞanybody you wanted to be you could be, and you could try it out and come back. Anyway, that was good. So we didn't have this terrible divide that you found in some schools, where you had all rich, white children and all poor, black children, which made a very difficult situation, I think.
Can you elaborate on how the differences in class worked to affect the atmosphere?
I think there was a real effort to not put somebody down who was different from you. If you have somebody in the same socioeconomic class with you, if you have a white debutante and a black debutante, they have that in common, and so that makes across racial lines friendships less difficult. We also had a fabulous marching band, which lots of white children wanted to be in and were allowed to be in, and that was also across all socio-economic [lines].