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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William E. White Jr., October 29, 2000. Interview R-0147. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

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

You mentioned that you were at Central University before it was incorporated. What was at like being at Central as a white student in those days?
[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?" "Here." "Ashley?" "Here." "David?" "Here." "Trisha?" "Here." "White?" 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 not happy.
Were most of your teachers black as well?
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.