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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with J. W. Mask, February 15, 1991. Interview M-0013. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Desegregation affects personnel decisions at Mask's school and elsewhere

Mask describes how desegregation affected personnel decisions at his school and elsewhere. The effort to desegregate scattered teachers around the district without much vetting, but Mask's effort to hire a new secretary attracted the attention of his superintendent, who encouraged him to hire a middle-aged white woman to serve as liaison to the white community. This infuriated Mask—it sounds like he might have wished to hire a young white woman, sparking concerns about interracial sexual contact.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with J. W. Mask, February 15, 1991. Interview M-0013. 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

GOLDIE F. WELLS:
How did the desegregation of schools affect your role as a principal?
J. W. MASK:
Well, probably the most dramatic departure from what had been the custom was the selection of personnel. There were times when somebody would pick up the phone and the superintendent would say, so and so is coming by and has made application for a job and I would like for you to talk to him. I think maybe he would make us a good teacher. There were some instances when teachers were assigned to work in the schools that I hadn't had any contact with at all. These were whites. I would say in the matter of selection of personnel it was a whole new ball game to put it as simply as I can. The whole practice changed--the practice of selection.
GOLDIE F. WELLS:
Did that make a difference in the supervision that you had no dealings with selecting?
J. W. MASK:
No, that didn't present me any problem. I didn't operate that way.
GOLDIE F. WELLS:
Did you see any differences in supervision of blacks and whites?
J. W. MASK:
No, I didn't to be honest, I didn't. I had this experience, when it comes to the selection of personnel, I had a young woman who was my secretary and she also made the financial statement required by the State. She was having marital and domestic problems and she left and didn't complete the financial reports. When they began to go through them in the office they found that there were some errors and they were kicked back on me. When I knew anything, she was gone. When that happened, I had to get another secretary, as a matter of fact I brought somebody in--a commercial education teacher -- to go back and go through them. It was not a matter of embezzlement. She hadn't taken any money. The reports weren't right and the accounts weren't balanced. She had to take all that information and go through and get it all straightened out, but when I had to do that then I had to hire somebody to take that person's place. The man who was the superintendent at that time was a man named William Byrd, who was from Haywood County up in the mountains. Dr. Byrd, I reckon he had just gotten to be a doctor, but he wasn't too bad to work with and he didn't have some of the biases that some from the east have. But there was another man who had been here in the county for quite some time who was the associate superintendent -- and that goes back to another whole story as to why this person who had been a superintendent was associate superintendent and was a person who had brought in a superintendent, the politics and all that you know. Anyway he came up to my office and told me that Dr. Byrd said, now this happened just at the time that we were getting ready to integrate, Dr. Byrd told me to come out and suggest to you that you get a middle age white lady as your secretary. You know, somebody who will be able to meet the parents. I said, you go right back and you tell him I am not about to do that unless he orders me to do so. I said, let me tell you something, I said, we have two schools in this state that are preparing people for clerical work. I said, I did not like the implications of it and you just go back and tell him. He is supposedly bringing me a massage from the superintendent. He said, "Dr. Byrd thinks it would be a good idea. You know you are going to have a lot of white parents coming and that you ought to have a middle age white secretary here." I told him, I just jumped right up out of my seat and I hit the corner of my desk -- which I regretted the manner in which I reacted because it wasn't very professional but it certainly did make the point. We have two schools that are preparing people and they don't get jobs in the businesses but what they do is they have to go to Washington, D. C. to get a job in government but we have just a few places here for this type of work and we train people in our high schools to do the same thing. Now where are they going to go? You tell him that I don't intend to, and I'm not going to do it unless I am ordered to do it, and I never did.
GOLDIE F. WELLS:
Did you ever get a message back from the superintendent?
J. W. MASK:
None. I never got a word back from him because I was so damn mad that day that if he had come in there because you see, that just bothered me no end. That just upset me something awful. It still bothers me--for him to come in and make a statement like that to me. But I didn't do it and I never did. I knew and he knew that they were not about to and they haven't done it yet, hired a white young woman as a secretary in those schools. Now at the high schools they have people who work in the office and do various things. They haven't done it yet and that was in 1968, and this is 1991, and there is not one yet. Now they have had extra people working in the office, but they haven't hired, the number one secretary in the school.