Title: Oral History Interview with Willie Mae Lee Crews, June 16, 2005. Interview U-0020.
Interviewer: Hill, Kimberly
Interviewee: Crews, Willie Mae Lee
Subjects: Teachers--Alabama--Birmingham. School integration--Alabama--Birmingham. Schools--Alabama--History--20th century.
Abstract: Willie Mae Lee Crews was born into a sharecropping family in Marion, Alabama, during the 1930s. She describes her childhood as impoverished, but stresses that she was instilled with a strong work ethic by her close-knit family. During the 1950s, Crews attended Dillard University in New Orleans on scholarship and then continued her education at the graduate level at Fisk University in Nashville. As a graduate student in sociology, Crews was sent to Montgomery, Alabama, to interview participants in the bus boycott. By the early 1960s, Crews had become a teacher. She describes her work at Hayes High School, an African American school in Birmingham, during the 1960s and 1970s. Crews first started teaching at Hayes in 1963; she describes it as an excellent segregated school with strong leadership and high standards for its students. Crews was still teaching at Hayes in 1970-1971 when Birmingham schools were desegregated. Here, she focuses more on efforts to integrate faculty rather than on efforts to integrate students. She describes how the school district transferred teachers in a way that favored white teachers and schools to the detriment of students at schools like Hayes. Crews also discusses the role of segregated housing in creating what she calls a "projects mentality." Social trends such as this, along with ineffective policies and the influx of poorly trained teachers, were to blame for the deterioration of integrated schools. In particular, she laments the disappearance of teaching philosophies that had stressed teaching students integrity, social responsibility, and self-confidence that had characterized Hayes High School prior to desegregation.