Discomfort as a white student at a black university
White remembers being a member of the white minority at the historically black North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina. He remembers his discomfort and some unpleasant exchanges with teachers and students, but also that tensions relaxed after a few months.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with William E. White Jr., October 29, 2000. Interview R-0147. 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
- ASHLEY CROWE:
You mentioned that you were at Central University before it was
incorporated. What was at like being at Central as a white student in
- WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
[pause] Intimidating. Fortunately I
didn't have any classes after dark, it means I
didn't have to go on campus at night. I think the best
example was, in my Hygiene class, which was a required course your first
year. I finally can no longer remember her name - the instructor would
call the role and she would go down and say, "Kent?"
It was like, oh [sighs]. So I finally went to her about halfway through
the year. I said, "Look I think we better both admit that we
are both a little bit prejudiced and we need to deal with
that." that." She looked back at
me and said, "You know, let's try it." It
was like, "Good." From there on out my name was Bill.
And during that period of time my siblings and I were still under the
court order with the divorce that we had to spend every other holiday
with Dad. I don't remember if it was Christmas or
Thanksgiving, I think it was Christmas, and it was the year we had to go
to Florida. And the only exam that would mess up was my Hygiene exam. So
I went to Mrs. Whatever-her-name-was and said that and she said,
"Well, here these are the directions to my house, come over
Tuesday night and we'll talk about it." I said,
"Oh. Okay." So I go to her house and she said,
"Look I need to move this heavy piece of furniture will you
help me?" I said, "Sure." So we moved this
piece of furniture from one room to the other. And I said, "Now
about my exam -." She said, "You just took it, I was
going to give you a B anyway." And that was all there was. So
it went from very scary to very comfortable.
The only time I really had any honest trouble was when the legislature
was going to incorporate all the schools under one head, and most of the
students left to go to that rally, but they gave me hell before they
left. Things like put your books down to go to the bathroom, come back
and your books are gone. Finally look around enough to find that they
were in the trash can. I was like, "That's it,
I'm out of here for today. Thank you." But like I
said, after about two or three months things kind of settled down. I got
used to things.
I can't remember my Speech teacher either but she always - and
I hope it was just because of the alphabet, school role, class role -
she always put me after this kid that no matter what the subject matter
was he always incorporated it into the Black Panther
movement. It's like, "Oh jeez." Um, oh
she embarrassed me so badly the first few days. We all had to go around
and tell our name, what rank we were, and where we were from. So it came
my turn and I said, [pronouncing all the consonants fully] "Hi,
I'm Bill White. I'm from Durham, North Carolina;
and I'm a sophomore." And I sat down - oh god,
Mills, it was Mrs. Mills - She said, "Mr. White, would you
stand up and do that again?" Oh god do I have to? So I went all
through it again and I sat down. She said, "Now class,
that's the way it's to be said." And then
she went and tore down everything everyone else in the class had said,
the way they'd pronounced it, and left me as the ideal. I was
- ASHLEY CROWE:
Were most of your teachers black as well?
- WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
All the teachers I had were black. Um, and they were actually quite god.
My Biology class was just one of the joys of my life. My art class was
just amazing, with a local artist named Willie [Davis] - I knew I
shouldn't have try the name. He was just amazing. He still
exhibits at Centerfest. I can't think of his name. Anyway. He
was extremely good. I learned a lot from him. So, yeah, it was, it was
unnerving but good.