Mergers and integration damage Native American school
Jones addresses the school mergers of the 1980s in this excerpt. Many Prospect residents strongly resisted the idea because they felt that Prospect was being asked to help other area schools, like Maxton, to no benefit of their own. The merger damaged the sense of community at Prospect, Jones thinks, and racial animosity threatens to erupt into violence at any moment. Jones remembers a simpler, more harmonious time during his tenure at Prospect School.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with James Arthur Jones, November 19, 2003. Interview U-0005. 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
MM: I can understand that. Okay. Well, let’s talk about the 1980s. Were you principal? Let me see, I guess you retired when they merged the high schools?
JJ: No, I retired one year after.
MM: One year after that. Okay. So tell us then about leading up to the merging the high schools. Why was that decision made, and who made it?
JJ: Well, I think the superintendent and some of the board members was instrumental in bringing this about. There had been a study, so I understand, made of the conditions of Pembroke, Prospect, and Maxton. This is the time when we had eliminated all of the city unit. It was all under one big umbrella then, all big umbrella now.
Our superintendent, he was the honcho. So they said, “Well, we’re going to see if we can change things.” One of the issues was that they claimed the Prospect curriculum was not large enough to equip our students and to get our students to the level that they should be to advance their education, going into college and what have you.
Maxton at that time it was a run down school. Their physical plant was so awful. I never did go inside of Maxton school. Never been inside of one of them. One time I went to the principal’s office at the high school there, Mr. Graham, but as far as going in the classrooms, I never visited there. Not that I had anything against them, with the principal, but I just didn’t visit the sites.
They claimed that to rebuild that school would be so expensive they couldn’t do it from a financial standpoint. They said, “Well, let’s put them all together.” Let’s merge, consolidate, whichever term you feel is appropriate.
They had public hearings on them, and when they came to Prospect, the public hearing, there was opposition, strong opposition, of them doing this. James Moore, he would be another one if you wanted to interview him sometime, he was against it. I was against it, and there were a few more folks against it. We spoke up that night. We felt like this is not the best thing. And I told you about how Mr. Swett, and how I felt about Prospect. I shared that with you earlier.
MM: Tell us that again because I didn’t get that on tape last time. You’re talking about Mr. Purnell Swett.
JJ: Mr. Purnell Swett.
MM: The first Indian school superintendent.
JJ: Right. Right. So he came, and he asked me my feelings about it. I was not in favor of it, and I asked him specifically. I said, “Now, Mr. Swett, I want to know how this is going to help Prospect School, individually. Not Pembroke. Not Maxton. How will it help Prospect?” So Mr. Swett, he says, “It won’t help Prospect.” Well, I said, “Mr. Swett,” and we were of good humor, I said, “I’m kind of prejudiced and biased. I want Prospect to come out the best.” And he kind of smiled, but he says, “It won’t.” I said, “You don’t want me to support something that’s not going to help Prospect.” He smiled, and walked away, and that was the end of that.
It finally came, but the big issue, I think, was that Prospect, their curriculum was not enough to justify it, but we had all the goods right there. I said, “Look at the people we’ve got that’s come out of Prospect. We’ve got the lawyers. We’ve got the doctors. We’ve got the plant managers that’s come right out of Prospect School with this little curriculum.”
And I attribute this to the fact that our teachers, most of the teachers knew every parent. And I’m not boasting again on this, and I hope this won’t sound like I’m boasting. But I could walk in the classrooms, and I could name ninety percent of those kids’ parents, because I taught, I taught a lot of their parents. If a problem surfaced, I said, “Do you want me to talk to your mother and daddy about you?” “No, Mr. Jones. No.” That eliminated the discipline right there, and they knew what was expected. Those parents knew, the ones that I taught, they knew what I expected. That was the end of it.
This is the thing, but it seemed that the power was to have a big school, big number. And I’m sorry to say, that it hasn’t gelled in my opinion. It hasn’t gelled. I’m going to die pretty soon, and this would be one of my greatest desires, that it would gel. But I’m afraid, I doubt it. I hope you live to see it. I hope you’ll be able to sit down and talk to Jim. He said it wouldn’t, but he said it has gone on and it has become a reality. I hope it will. I hope it will, but I doubt seriously. And I think, I don’t think I know, it’s left some marks from crossing the lines, from racial issues, that’s not left Prospect community happy.
MM: So it hasn’t benefited Prospect? What do you think has been the impact on the kids that live here and have to go down to Purnell Swett High School?
JJ: Detrimental. They don’t feel like they belong. That’s right.
MM: Is there something you feel like could be done to change that situation?
JJ: I’ve been asked that question so many times. I don’t know if there is anything that you could put your finger on that would bring an instant change, but I guess if we keep working at it, don’t give up, have hope and faith, keep striving.
One of the big issues right now is our kids. And I don’t know how Prospect compares to others, but I know we got some of them dropping out. The drop out rate is something to think about. I understand they lose four hundred kids over there. That’s sad. That’s sad.
If they could eliminate that, that would be a great asset. And they’re doing, I understand, everything literally possible, if I must use this everyday language, to try to eradicate it. They’ve got after schools, Saturday schools, evening schools, everything to try to motivate them to keep them going. But for some reason they fall by the wayside. That’s one of the issues. If they could eliminate that, and I understand they’re spending big bucks to try to eradicate it, but to no avail. That one of the things.
And then, I hate to say it, but when they went over there—I don’t even want to say that—the races, the Blacks and the girls and the boys band together. That’s not being good to our kids. It’s not being good. And the parents are upset about it, and this kind of thing. They go with it. What did you expect? And there’s animosity just about every day in the halls. The Blacks say the least little thing and it sparks. It’s ready to explode instantly from what I’ve been told. I haven’t been over there. I don’t know. I guess Mr. Wes [the principal] is doing the best he possibly can, but it’s just before happening. A bomb just set to explode. That’s sad. That’s sad.
MM: It feels like especially like after all the work that’s been done.
JJ: That’s right, to try to prevent it. But you live under that pressure. And I’m sure those teachers live there expecting that anything could happen—massive fight in the halls. This kind of thing. I hope it don’t. Teachers don’t have to live every day, every minute of their lives there might be a gun and start shooting in there. This is the kind of thing. But all of what’s happened all around, naturally. That’s in the back [of their minds] right there. They think about it. How many more kids will get upset if you dismiss them from school, and come in there, walk in AK47?
MM: I hope not.
JJ: I hope not, too. That’s the thing. My, my, my, my. It something we never thought of to think of like that. We didn’t have that problem at Prospect. The kids didn’t even have weapons. And I told those boys, the first day of school, I’d tell those kids, high school, “If you bring a weapon to school, by mistake,” being out on the farm those boys have knives and things, I said, “You go to Mr. Can’s office, you give it to him.” And I says, “That after noon he’ll give it back to you. Just don’t bring it.” Now I said, “If you bring it, we’re going to get it, take it, confiscate it.” But I said, “Now, if we catch you during the middle of the day with it, and somebody will tell you’ve got it, we’re going to get it.” And I said, “I’ll keep it. I love to fish. That will be my fishing knife.” And I talked just in that tone. They knew that. That’s the way we operated, and we didn’t have no major problems. Those kids knew. They knew what to expect, and we pre-warned them. I’m telling you the first day. You can’t say, “Well, I didn’t know.”
I’d meet with the whole high school the first day. Everybody knew what was expected at high school. That’s the place you spent more of your time and things could get out of hand. You expected disputes, disruptions and things of that nature, but that’s what it all was. And the little mini-fights we had there, most of the time it was two girls fighting over a boy. [JJ laughs.] Maybe I shouldn’t have even said that. But that’s little things like that. That’s it.
MM: It’s interesting that some people say, “Well, we’ll look at all the ways that children have benefited from greater access and inclusion in the school system,” but then on the other hand there’s this side of it where the kids from Prospect feel like they don’t belong, they’re going to be harmed. Is that your feeling?
JJ: That’s exactly right. That’s right. We’ve got some that’s going on. Someone has said that the better ones is going to progress in spite of it. That’s a statement that’s used quite often. Then you’ve got the upper, the elites. They’re going to go. They’re going to get it somewhere. But then you’ve got a group in there that’s got to deal with it. Then these ones on the bottom, you’ve got to do everything you can to keep them in.
Those kids that came from Oxendine School that came to Prospect, this was my greater absentee area. I knew this, and I worked with this. High school attendance, the kids from Oxendine they’d stay out up there for little frivolous things. I had to prod them on, “I expect you to be in school,” and this kind of thing.
Okay, over there, these teachers they don’t know these parents. They don’t know their parents. Well, I knew your parents, and I could tell somebody else in the class, “I expect you to kind of keep him in school,” and they’d say, “I’ll call their parents.” That’s the percentage you’re losing. That’s the percentage that drop out right there.
And then this other, you’ve got to do what you can with the middle section. These up here, you just keep them motivated, and they’re going to go on. They’re going to go on. But when you start losing four hundred kids, that’s a bunch of kids out of sixteen-plus hundred.