Title: Oral History Interview with Gwendolyn Matthews, December 9, 1999. Interview K-0654.
Interviewer: Van Scoyoc, Peggy
Interviewee: Matthews, Gwendolyn
Abstract: Gwendolyn Matthews grew up in Cary, North Carolina, during the 1950s. She was a student at the African American high school Berry O'Kelly until 1962, when she was selected to be one of the first five students (all of which were female) to integrate Cary High School. Matthews was selected, in part, because of her father's active role with the NAACP and their effort to integrate Wake County Schools. Matthews describes in detail what the experience of integration was like, recalling in particular the great degree of hostility with which she and the other African American students were met. As Matthews recalls it, hostility did not come just from white students, but from a number of the white teachers as well. Whereas she had been actively involved in athletics and various school clubs at Berry O'Kelly, Matthews did not become involved in similar activities at Cary High School, largely because she never felt accepted. Overall, Matthews describes the integration process as overwhelming. Nevertheless, because of the support of her family, she emerged with few negative feelings. Instead, she suggests that the experience made her more compassionate towards others. In addition to describing her experiences with school integration, Matthews offers a brief overview of her college education, and her career trajectory. She eventually became an English teacher. Matthews also speaks more broadly of racial discrimination in Cary while she was growing up, as well as her participation in various civil rights activities. Matthews recalls that most of the demonstrations in Cary and Raleigh were nonviolent. She concludes the interview by offering her thoughts on the positive and negative consequences of integration. While she believes that integration was generally beneficial for African Americans in that it opened opportunities in education and employment and raised standards of living, she also laments the loss of community and the emphasis on extended family among African Americans that integration engendered.