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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 >>

A relatively smooth desegregation in an environment still in need of progress on race

White reflects on race relations in Durham, North Carolina. They are "very, very shaky," he thinks, remembering the racist signs posted on the bus route to the newly integrated high school, Southern High (home of the Rebels). While the signs and symbols of racism were present, Southern High did not experience the violence that some other schools did. He thinks a shared agricultural background may have contributed to this smooth transition.

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:
What about just in general in Durham, what were race relations like, do you think?
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
Very, very shaky. I was impressed with that group of rednecks that I went to high school with. We were one of the first schools in Durham to be integrated, to have kids bused. Now, unfortunately for them, there was a family of blacks in the school district that's where they had to go all the time anyway. They were the only three black people in the entire school. It was a little tough, they rode my bus, and sometimes I had to substitute drive the same bus. And I would always lay my books across two seats and reserve them for them because the other kids would make them stand up. They integrated our school. We were the Southern Rebels. The mascot of the wall to the football field was the old rebel. And we didn't have confrontation one. No there was no fighting, I mean it was about as smooth as it could be. The student body got together and agreed to change the mascot to the Spartans. The outsiders wanted us to really go at it. We would, frequently on Monday mornings, you'd drive down Ellis Road to school and there would be KKK placards all over every telephone pole. And it was dumb stupid stuff that I don't know how they could expect anyone to believe. One of them was that every thirteen seconds a white woman is raped by a black man. So we would just turn around and go back and one of us would start walking and just take them all down. And I was more impressed by the fact that the Grand Wizard lived right across the street from the high school and yet we still had no trouble. The other schools were a mess. You heard about fights, and knifings and I don't know what all. But we didn't have any problems at Southern Durham.
ASHLEY CROWE:
Were the kids that were bussed in from the county or were they from the city?
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
I think these were kids were also county kids. Just from different parts of the county, which meant of course they had to be bussed alot farther.
ASHLEY CROWE:
Do you think that's one of the reasons why, do you think there would have been more problems if they had been city kids who were bussed in?
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
Possibly. I think that if nothing else everyone could identify with an agricultural background. Because when it was time to take the tobacco out of the barns and to the market, as many black kids were out of the school as white kids, because they did the same thing.
ASHLEY CROWE:
Right.
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
So yeah, I think that had a lot to do - that helped a lot.
ASHLEY CROWE:
And what do you think of the way race relations work now, in the city? Just because you do have that stand point to compare it to.
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
I still think we've got a long long long long way to go. It's far from equitable. There's a - it's amazing to me that you can drive through any part of Durham you want and if there wasn't a living sole on the sidewalk, nobody you could see, you stop and go, "yeah this is a white neighborhood" - "this is definitely a black neighborhood." And nowadays I think the Hispanics have been forced into the same kind of place the blacks were, and still are to a degree. And I think there needs to be a lot of work done to kind of let everyone meld together, and find out we do have a lot in common. So I'd describe race relations in Durham as fair.