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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with George Miller, January 19, 1991. Interview M-0015. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Early challenges as a black principal in the early 1960s

Miller describes the advantages and challenges he faced as principal of a low-income, rural, black high school. He also illuminates the growing necessity for white school officials to visit black schools by the 1960s.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with George Miller, January 19, 1991. Interview M-0015. 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

GEORGE MILLER:
Well, there were two principals in one there. It should tell you something about myself. I finished my under-graduate work in 1941, although I finished high school in 1940, stayed out and worked 15 months and I finished from A & T College, it's a state university now, with a Bachelor's degree and a double major in English and French. I came back to my hometown and started teaching. Then I took some courses and I had done extra work in drama while I was in college and I went off to school at Penn State for a couple of summers and studied journalism. Those were the four areas that I concentrated on in high school. I stayed at Highland for 20 years, 1941-1961. In 1961, I took my first principalship. Let me say this. I wasn't certified to be a principal but I had worked 12 summers with the principal at Highland and I had learned about every area of principalship except the cafeteria. I had done every kind of report, scheduling, book reports, supplies, statement of receipts and disbursements, financial reports. I had helped him with that. Therefore, I had had the experience, not the certification and when the job came open there were eight of us who applied and I was the only one that didn't have a Master's degree or a principal's certificate. But this was in Cleveland County in 1961, and they had a system that went along with the county schools then. They had Black committemen and I went before them and then the Superintendent decided that I wasn't the one because I didn't have the degree but they didn't want anyone but me. So he condescended someway and called me and said, I don't know what it is you've got but they won't accept anybody but you. So I came in on a provisional principal's certificate and went right to work on my principal's certificate. I had started on two different occasions working on a Master's at Penn State in English and I had gone there for two summers and then I went to the University of Cincinnati and was going to do it in French. But when this came up I had to stop all of that and start again so it wasn't that I was not doing anything I took extension courses in between. This was a rural school. I had six children that walked to school. Everybody else came by bus. I had about 630 students grades 1-12. During that time we were totally segregated and the only thing I got paid extra for, we had no supplements, $6 for bus per year which meant I got $60 extra at the end of the year. There were ten buses but I found a way to work with the principals, the maintenance people, with everyone and I started getting some things done. I just wasn't satisfied. The one thing that struck me most during that time was that all the years in that county, the superintendent who is deceased now, Mr. J.H. Gray, they said that he had never appeared at a program at any Black school. The second year that I was there he came and spoke at an assembly. So that was a first. I worked for him for two years and they changed superintendents, a Mr. Phoenix, and he came to my school for his first meeting. We became friends although I worked with him one year there, he was my boss two other times after I came back to Gaston County--Mr. Lee Phoenix from Asheboro. I stayed there from 1961-64. We didn't have but one sport, basketball but that was generally on Friday and we would play and get through around 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. and get home around 11:30-12:00 and then you would take off and go to the A & P the next morning for that 9:00 class from Kings Mountain. Wednesday night was always a study night. My wife and my daughter were so good. They never bothered me. Every Wednesday was my study night. My thesis work in my Master's was French and I was doing a thesis along elementary faminics, not phonetics, faminics. None had been done for high school and the irony of it was that after I got my degree and went to take the NTE they gave me an English one. Therefore, although I had prepared and done everything in French about my thesis in French I had to take the English test. So the unique thing was I came out with more certification than I thought. I had the principalship, elementary and secondary administration supervision, supervisor's certificate, Master's in English and Master's in French. That came about because I worked through the summer. As long as you got straight A's you got a job. I worked in the Dean's office while going to graduate school and I learned what subjects would be good more than one area. That was the reason I was able to qualify in some of the others. In my French classe, two of the three classes I had, I was the only pupil and in the other class there were three of us. So you can imagine being with your teacher for three hours and you were the only pupil.