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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Arthur Griffin, May 7, 1999. Interview K-0168. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Desegregation results in closing of black school

Griffin remembers feeling devastated when he learned that Second Ward would be closed. The school was a casualty of desegregation, Griffin believes—white parents refused to send their children to an older school "not in great repair." A compliant city government sent wealthier students to West Charlotte. Although Griffin ended up in West Charlotte's district, he continued to attend Second Ward.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Arthur Griffin, May 7, 1999. Interview K-0168. 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

PG: Do you remember when you first heard that Second Ward had been closed? AG: I remember. We thought that it was the utmost in betrayal, because no one had indicated at any time that the school was going to be closed. The best news we had received was that the students were having contests, trying to decide what’s the name of the school. What was the new name going to be? And I’ve even looked through school board minutes, back in the late ‘60s, where students came before the board of education and suggested that the school be called Metropolitan High School. So even up to the very last moment, students, families in the community felt, and were promised, that the school would continue. And not until many many years later, and even now, going back, reading the case, the Swann desegregation lawsuit, it became a casualty of the lawsuit. And this is an opinion, although it’s not written anywhere, but certainly a lot of older people who were around at the time have shared the same opinion, when we were talking about school desegregation, which were the closest schools to desegregate with Second Ward? I don’t know if you–are you familiar with Charlotte at all? PG: I wouldn’t be familiar enough to know which would be the closest. AG: The closest school is Myers Park. Myers Park would have been desegregated, so you’d have white students from Myers Park coming to Second Ward, and students from Second Ward going to Myers Park. And I think, like in many other decisions back then, folks just said, “No, we’re not going to a school that looks like this.” Because a school was not in great repair, didn’t have nearly the things that Myers Park High School had. And I just believe that economics decided that, no, this one’s going to close, our kids, if they go anywhere, might go to West Charlotte. And that’s what happened, ultimately. The kids around the east, over in the Myers Park area, were assigned to West Charlotte High School as opposed to Second Ward. Whereas it would have been a shorter trip and a whole lot of other things had they been paired with Second Ward. But the politics just didn’t make it. I think we just were on a losing end. As I said to you earlier, Second Ward didn’t have all the affluent African Americans, and a lot of the African Americans that were somewhat affluent were being urban removed to the west side. And it left, generally, the lower-income African Americans around Second Ward, around First Ward, and around Brooklyn, to the very, very end. Because ultimately they started to urban renew First Ward, and they moved my family from First Ward to Fairview Homes, so that tells you about the economic level of Arthur Griffin’s family as opposed to moving into a new home somewhere on the west side. So it was a sense of betrayal. We had–Dr. Grigsby was the principal for a very long time, then Dr. Spencer Durant was the principal for a long time. When I started in 7th grade, Dr. Durant was the principal. And up until about the 10th grade, I believe, 10th or 11th grade, he left, and Dr. E. E. Waddell became the principal. So there’s always been a sense that something must have been said, because Dr. E. E. Waddell’s brother–he has a twin brother–was Vernon Sawyer’s deputy director, or deputy whatever it is, of the whole urban renewal program. So it’s always in the back of my head that perhaps he knew something about what was going to occur to that area of the city. But I’m not real sure if he knew. But it’s just in the back of my head: this guy’s twin brother’s working for the city’s arms that’s going for the entire black community, wiping it out, then maybe they could have talked. But I don’t really know if that occurred. Just a sense of betrayal and loss, because that’s all I’ve ever thought about. When we were urban removed, for example, over to Fairview Homes, the public housing community, off of Oaklawn Avenue, that was West Charlotte’s attendance area. But I continued to want to go to Second Ward, despite being in West Charlotte’s attendance area, and I paid my ten cents every morning to ride the [ ] buses back across town and go to Second Ward.