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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Glennon Threatt, June 16, 2005. Interview U-0023. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Various forms of white resistance to civil rights

Threatt's effort to remember some positive experiences at his elementary school quickly turns into a recollection of a white student who was attacked for befriending a black student. Whites' negative response to desegregation were mirrored outside of school grounds. While Threatt argues that segregation in the South was legally enforced, rather than enforced with social pressure, he cites examples of whites' responses to desegregation with clear social components, such as white flight or real estate agents refusing to show homes in certain neighborhoods to black buyers.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Glennon Threatt, June 16, 2005. Interview U-0023. 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

KIMBERLY HILL:
Can you think of any good experiences at Elyton that you would like to share?
GLENNON THREATT:
Oh, lots of them. I made some people that I'm friends with. A guy I met in that class named Barry Norris, who I still talk to now. In fact Barry is a nationally recognized organist and teacher, who still lives here in Birmingham. I still consider him to be a personal friend. Some of the other students in that class, in fact three or four of us went to Indian Springs together. Again, the racism that was going on here was governmental and it was being perpetuated by a small part of the white community. A lot of white people didn't agree with it and a lot blacks didn't, but everybody was caught up in it because it was enforced by law. It wasn't just a social compact, it was enforced by law. Also, whites would have been ostracized if they tried to interact with blacks. One of the white girls named Kay Cretcher who went to that school, her father was a liberal. He was one of the first grown men I knew that wore a pony tail. They had a bookstore on the south side here in Birmingham. She was the first girl in the class to befriend Deidre, because at least Richard and I had each other, Deidre was the only black girl. Kay was the first girl in the class to befriend Deidre. I remember the last day of school after the sixth grade, some students grabbed Kay and threw her down on the ground and cut her hair. She had almost waist length hair, and they cut her hair for being Deidre's friend. That was terrible. I still communicate with another guy named Keith Sides who is a Vice President of a local bank who is right across the street from me now, working for AmSouth Bank. I have been in touch with Mrs. Ayers. As a matter of fact I ran into Mrs. Ayers at a shopping mall in 1981, the summer after I graduated law school. I had not seen her, and I recognized her and hugged her and thanked her because she gave us all a tremendous education. She was a marvelous teacher. I told her I was giving the youth sermon at my church, and she told me she would come and she did. She came there and I introduced her to a lot of people at my church and that was a very moving experience for me. I guess that was in June of 1981, which at that time was eleven years after I had gotten out of her class.
KIMBERLY HILL:
I can tell she was a good teacher, everybody went on to a really good career.
GLENNON THREATT:
Oh sure, she had some good students too, but she was also a very, very good teacher. It was something being part of integration, because what integration ultimately did, the black people who really benefited from it were the students whose parents did not have the means to send them to private school or the ability or the will to get them into better black public schools. All the black public schools were not the same. You had some black schools that had very, very good teachers and a very active PTA and the level of instruction and the level of learning was much higher than at some of the other black schools. There's going to be a pecking order in anything. My parents were both graduates of Parker High School, which was probably the best black high school in the state of Alabama. In fact at one time it had more students than any other public high school in the United States. When my mother went to Parker the students went in shifts.
KIMBERLY HILL:
I've heard about that.
GLENNON THREATT:
Two shifts a day. It was called Industrial High School at the time. Both of my parents graduated from Parker. My mother moved to Birmingham because there were no schools beyond the sixth grade for blacks in Sumter County which is where she grew up. My father came in from Sylacauga County for the same reason. So I had some very, very good experiences and I'm not bitter about the relationships that I had with people. I have bitterness because of the institutionalization of the racism, and the fact that from a governmental standpoint we didn't do anything about it sooner. You can't change the way people relate to each other, you can't legislate decency. But you can legislate things like fair spending for public schools, like public accommodations and public transportation. Services like sewer and gutter and trash pick ups were always worse in the black areas than they were in the white areas. The police protection and the fire protection were always worse in the black areas than it was in the white areas. Those are the sorts of things that I am bitter about because the government should have done something about that. That was wrong. My parents worked and they paid taxes, they paid the same taxes that any white person paid that made the same amount of money, and so their access to governmental services should have been the same . . . and it wasn't.
KIMBERLY HILL:
Do you think that the discrepancy was worse in terms of residential or in terms of keeping up the schools?
GLENNON THREATT:
The residential discrepancies changed immediately, because once black people started moving into white neighborhoods the white folks left. A black person would move onto a block and all the white people would have for sale signs in their yard. Before then there were unspoken agreements from real estate agents not to even show houses in certain areas to blacks. So, that was the way that they really controlled it. Or, if you went to a bank for financing they wouldn't finance you if you were trying to buy in a certain area. That was the way that it was controlled. The city of Birmingham was residentially integrated long before it was institutionally integrated. When you look at things like the police department and the fire department and the opportunity for blacks to work as county employees for instance, that lagged way behind the residential integration. In fact now, in many of our institutions like county government for instance, the majority of the employees are white. In city government there is a disproportionate number of whites compared to the population, not that there should be a direct correlation or that I'm saying there should be quotas, but it should be representative and it's not.