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

Demographic change affects success of desegregation

Griffin thinks that West Charlotte's open school component—and its legacy as a black school with white support—explains its high performance relative to other Charlotte schools. But even West Charlotte is suffering from demographic change and an influx of immigrants to the area who are pushing back against desegregation. Griffin still believes in the role of historically black schools in black communities and he is convinced that West Charlotte will never close.

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: Let me just, moving back again for a bit to where you were talking about the problems with expectations and the problems with kids achieving: West Charlotte is, I think, frequently held up as an exception to that. Do you think that it is and that it was an exception? AG: I think it was an exception. It had an open program component. When you start looking at the kids–I don’t know if you know Joe Martin, I don’t know how long you’ve been in Charlotte– PG: I know who he is. AG: OK. His kids went to West Charlotte. So you have a cohort of kids who are coming from--a small cohort, right, and coming from the Eastover area, they go to West Charlotte. You have another group that comes to the open component program. Kids come from around the county, going into West Charlotte. And those kids do very well. We have another component of kids who are sort of the assigned attendance zone; those kids are poorer and poorer. They don’t do as well. So you almost have like a bimodal group at West Charlotte. You have one group that’s just knocking the socks off of it, just doing wonderful things; and another group that are not doing so well. And if our demographics continue the way they are, you’re going to see a larger proportion of the population of poorer kids, as opposed to the kids who are doing well. Because the parents are aging out at Myers Park, that attendance zone. So there’s fewer and fewer white kids going to West Charlotte from that attendance zone, and the open component is shrinking a little bit. It’s not as popular as it was ten, fifteen years ago. What do we need to do to keep it going? We certainly need to help our open component, down at Irwin Open School, at the elementary level, and support those families as they go matriculate through Irwin to Piedmont Open Middle and into West Charlotte. We really have to continue to do that. We’ve had multiple principals at West Charlotte, as opposed to the old days when you had principals there for five years. They’re there now for about two years. So that hurts too. West Charlotte was a model primarily because it’s the last historical black high school that has a lot of white support. So that’s your big model. Plus we didn’t fight in Charlotte like they did in Boston, and a bunch of kids from West Charlotte went up to Boston, to say, “This is how you desegregate, guys.” Now some of those people from Boston are moving to Charlotte, saying, “Well, this is how you resegregate, guys. We’ll show you.” But the kids do well. Parents don’t do quite as well, in this 1999 model of desegregation. But that’s why I think West Charlotte is doing well. Plus, you blend the old with the new. They have a national alumni association of old black folk that’s supportive of the school even when it has white leadership. So you have a blending of the old and the new at West Charlotte. It gives it a different flavor, a different atmosphere, a different persona as relates to, here’s an old school, you’ve got new people there, but you’ve got the old folk embracing the new folk and you’ve got the young folk embracing the old folk to make a family. We have to work on that to make sure we continue that success that we’ve enjoyed over the years at West Charlotte. If we don’t work on it, we’ll lose it. PG: That is one thing that talking to people about West Charlotte has brought home to me, is how much constant work it takes to keep a school going. That’s just something that– AG: It takes tremendous work. It just takes tremendous work. Because our communities are changing. And the values and what people perceive to be the attributes of a great school change over time. And we want to make sure that people see West Charlotte, the total community sees West Charlotte, as providing a comprehensive, quality educational experience for a high-school student. And that goes with clubs, with organizations, as well as the academics. And as you’ve read in the newspaper, four of the last five years they’ve had a Morehead, we’ve had kids go all over the world from out of West Charlotte. We’ve had athletes just excelling at West Charlotte. You have different debate teams or clubs. So you’ve had that kind of wholesome academic environment, where kids can succeed in the classroom and outside of the classroom. And you’ve got the old folks up there supporting them in terms of the history. I don’t know whether Geraldine Powe is still the president of West Charlotte National Alumni, but, you know, they come back and tell you about what they did in the ‘40s and ‘50s and all that stuff. And I think it’s good for kids to know what that school was like forty years ago. And what they’re doing today. They get in the newspaper for really doing great things. PG: As someone who went to Second Ward, what does West Charlotte mean to you now? AG: It’s a school that, on the school board or not on the school board, I would fight to save it. They will never close West Charlotte. Because schools mean so much to communities, and in particular high schools. This is the place you graduated from. Elementary schools, not as much. And it means a lot to Charlotte. It means a tremendous–it’s our last historically black high school. So I think you’d get every African American, at least who grew up in Charlotte, to walk up and down Trade Street if that school was threatened in any way, because it’s like family. It’s like your distant cousin. You still love your distant cousin, you know your cousin’s over there, you haven’t seen her in ten years, but you still love your cousin. West Charlotte is like a distant cousin. Maybe a first cousin that’s across town. But it’s a school that I have very fond memories of, and would want to make sure that those fond memories remain, as an operating, regular, comprehensive high school. Not a warehouse, not a special program, but an operating comprehensive high school here in Charlotte, North Carolina.