Title: Oral History Interview with Rebecca Clayton, December 8, 1988. Interview K-0132.
Interviewer: Hornsby, Angela
Interviewee: Clayton, Rebecca
Abstract: Rebecca Clayton grew up in Madison County, Virginia, during the 1940s and 1950s in a family that greatly valued education. After offering her brief reflections on her family background and her childhood experiences, Clayton shifts her attention to a discussion of her career as a teacher. Clayton earned her degree in education from Longwood College (1958-1960) in Prince Edward County, Virginia. During her years there, Clayton witnessed upheaval within the community as the public schools closed in opposition to mounting pressure to desegregate. For Clayton, a young teacher in training, the tensions she witnessed during those years were especially formative for her developing belief that racial tolerance, particularly when it came to education, was imperative. During the 1960s, Clayton relocated to Durham, North Carolina, and worked briefly in the library at Duke University. In 1970, she returned to teaching, initially working as a substitute teacher in the Durham school district. Clayton's return to teaching coincided with the integration of Durham schools. That same year, a long-term substitute job became a five-year position at North Durham Elementary School. According to Clayton, the newly desegregated school was characterized by chaos and tension between students when she first arrived, although she emphasizes the efforts of teachers and school officials to promote understanding and to foster a sense of pride in the students. Clayton suggests that tensions were diminishing when she left North Durham to teach at Fayetteville Street Elementary School in 1975. She also notes, though, that white flight to the suburbs was beginning to drastically impact the racial composition of Durham public schools. As a result, Clayton had taught significantly more African American students than white students by the time of the interview in 1998. Clayton devotes the final thirty minutes of the interview to a discussion of her work at Eastway Elementary school during the mid-1990s. During those years, the Latino population had begun to grow at a rapid rate. Clayton discusses how that affected student interactions and school curriculum. In particular, Clayton focuses on the challenges of teaching students whose first language was not English and describes various ways in which the school sought to build bridges to the broader community. Although she laments the fact that the growing emphasis on test scores inhibited teachers' efforts to focus on cultural learning, she argues that the students were not dissuaded by cultural barriers when it came to forming friendships or helping one another learn. She concludes the interview by arguing that her thirty years of experience in Durham were mostly positive.