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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Elizabeth Brown, June 17, 2005. Interview U-0019. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Birmingham's ethnic diversity eases integration

The ethnic diversity of Birmingham helped eased the desegregation process, Brown believes. She describes how neighborhood diversity translated into easy intermingling between Italian, Lebanese, and African American students at John Carroll High School.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Elizabeth Brown, June 17, 2005. Interview U-0019. 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

Maybe that's why we went through integration I think a lot easier than some of the public schools because there were so many-. A lot of the Italians had little stores in the city. The little stores were in black neighborhoods, and they had a sympathy for them that some of the people that were the nicest in my class before integration were Italian descent. I think because they, maybe they remembered what a hard time the prejudice of the grandfathers went and the Lebanese too were-. They had the same difficulties and they were succeeding, and they didn't seem to mind that other people wanted to succeed in it. So but I think with all the different, I think in many ways I don't know-. We're the most integrated school in the city. Even before we were totally integrated with the black students because we had every income. We had kids that were so wealthy they could've bought us out. They wore uniforms. You don't know what kind of wealth they have. Then some that were, everything was furnished down to their pencils and their books in those days. So we had all classes, and like I say, a big segment of the Lebanese and the Italians and the other predominantly white groups. They, maybe they were sort of used to getting along. The other thing, many of these community schools, they go from their grade school together to their junior high to their high school. Whereas we attract from about a three county area, and there's a lot of inner city schools that, grade schools that come here. They come from all different parishes. So they might come from a school that maybe they know only five or six freshmen, and they might not be in their class. So they have to learn all the other about the other kids and make friends outside their usual group. They complain that dating's awful hard because one comes from one county and one, they're trying to find, date someone that's forty miles from them and to go on a date the guy has to drive eighty miles in order to get her and take her home. So probably by the time they're a senior they like all that time together. I'm not sure it's for the right reasons. But anyway they, there's no dating in their neighborhood in some instances. So as far as the interracial dating, they, we have had kids, I don't know, maybe after here five or six or seven years that were going together to dances. I think it was more of a friendship than actual interracial dating. There is so many, today here in the South you see so many interracial couples. I don't mean every fifth couple, but you see so much of it. You don't, your head doesn't even turn. You just, you might or may not even notice it. The other thing which is I guess bad, has a good side as well as a bad side, there are so few kids available for adoption. You have an awful lot, not a lot, but enough interracial adoption in this, again that's not that unusual. I don't know of any graduates that a black married a white. But I know that we have parents that sort of I don't know. I wouldn't call it even a surprise. It's definitely not a shock where a black parent comes to see you for a conference, and you say, oh you're so and so's mother. Okay. But there's enough of that that you're not even surprised anymore. It's just when a parent comes I try to look at their face and see if I know them from another generation something like that and match them up, but sometimes there's no matching up. We've had some kids that are, one family we had the boy was white. The girl was black and the second girl was oriental. They adopted all three of them. So now there's enough of that that you're not, you do see a lot of that. I think I mentioned the freshman I think, because maybe their atmosphere in the Catholic grade schools was so restricted or what or they're not used to changing classes. Some of the grade schools are so small they don't have lockers and stuff like that. They're in the same classroom, and the teacher might come in and change but they don't. It seems like they have a competition of how many they can hug because now they can hug, and they, it's indiscriminate. Boys hugging boys. Girls hugging girls. There's no difference between the races. They're always hugging each other. By the time they're seniors they're making fun of the freshmen that do that, and they clutter the halls because they've all got to have these group hugs and so on. You can't get around them and the typical Catholic response is, a phone book between you. The distance of a phone book between you. They look at me like I'm crazy because that's a whole new generation [unclear] . Ah, ah, the distance of a phone book between you and if it gets too long I'll threaten them with what do you call it-. Petty something-there's three initials-
KIMBERLY HILL:
PDA.
ELIZABETH BROWN:
PDA.