Tensions arise over desegregation
In this excerpt, Robinson remembers discussions about integration beginning in Maxton, North Carolina, around 1967. One white teacher publicly declared that he would not allow his children to go to schools with black children. He died with those children in a car accident, an incident Robinson cites as evidence of the existence of God. Other white Klansmen revealed themselves at a confrontation of some kind with blacks and Native Americans who found out about a Klan rally. Blacks and Native Americans learned to work together from Martin Luther King, who helped remove the wedges placed by white people. (The interviewer points out that the Klan riot that Robinson mentions took place in 1957, not 1967.)
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Willa V. Robinson, January 14, 2004. Interview U-0014. 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: Yeah. Let’s go back a little bit to when the first sort of rumblings, I guess, about having to desegregate the schools began. When was that in Maxton? When did people first talk about it? Do you remember?
WR: The biggest talk about it was like in maybe sixty-seven.
MM: What brought it on?
WR: They started to talk about it. They were having meetings, really, about this. There were, some diehards, prejudice white people in Maxton, that would rather die than see it happen.
It’s a funny thing. A sad story. It’s true, but it’s sad. We had a teacher, a white teacher, Mr.—I won’t give his name—in Maxton that had two children going to school. In a public town meeting he said he’d rather see his kids dead than to see them in school with a nigger. That’s the way he said it. And the sad part about this, when they got out for Christmas holidays, guess what? Both of his kids got killed in an accident, and he was driving the car.
MM: Oh, gosh.
WR: His wife, she just completely lost it, became a mental case. But you have to be real careful what you say out your mouth, because I wouldn’t have wished that on him in no kind of way even though he was saying it against my people. I wouldn’t have wished that on him. But he said it, and this happened, and then people say there’s no God. There is a God. There is a God.
It’s terrible. We had quite a few, I’ll say prominent folk in Maxton, that we didn’t even know or had no thoughts that they were members of Ku Klux Klan until the riot that they had. What was it, in 1957?
WR: That’s when we found out a lot of them, we call them the bigwigs of Maxton, was really Ku Klux Klansmen because they ran so hard they ran right out of their white sheets, and everybody knew who they were.
MM: That’s right. How did African-Americans feel about that?
WR: We loved it. We loved it.
MM: This time I’m just going to say for the tape recorder that we’re talking about the 1957, or eight, rout I guess, of the Klan.
WR: Yeah. It was a Klan rally they was proposing to have, and this prejudiced man, as I said, let them have this area around here, Gaddy’s Mill, and the word got around. They wasn’t out in the open, but a lot of black folk contributed to that clash that went on because they kept the Indian people in Pembroke aware of what was going on, and when it was going on, and how it was planned, and got it all together. And on that big night it exploded, so everybody was happy.
MM: Um-hum. It did seem to benefit everybody, but African-Americans have never gotten credit.
WR: No, but there were a lot of them in the background that really helped with the communications, letting them know what’s going on, and who’s doing what, and where they’re going to be, and what time they’re going to be there, and nobody paid them any attention because they felt like, “Hey, we don’t have to worry about them.”
But, as I told you earlier, up until I’ll say the last thirty years blacks and Indians were together. After Martin Luther King—it’s like I tell a lot of them now—Martin Luther King didn’t just help black folk, he helped all poor folk, Indian and white, whether people want to realize it or not. With the integration that he talked about, it helped them, too, as well as us, and that’s when the white man started putting the wedge between the blacks and the Indians saying, “You don’t deal with them because you are better than them.”
MM: Saying that to the Indians?
WR: Yes. Because they felt like if we stayed together as we were back in the 30s and the 40s we could take over because we’d be so strong. There’s strength in numbers, so what is their motto? Divide and conquer.