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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Charles Adams, February 18, 2000. Interview K-0646. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Efforts to desegregate Wake County schools and the first steps taken

Adams describes how his father fought for school integration in Cary, North Carolina, as a member of the Wake County school board. Adams emphasizes the opposition his father faced and his dogged pursuit of desegregation, regardless of public opinion. Adams was teaching at Cary High School in the early 1960s when the first African American student integrated Wake County schools. Despite resistance leading up to the desegregation process, Adams describes here how once the decision was made, that initial effort to integrate went smoothly and without incident.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Charles Adams, February 18, 2000. Interview K-0646. 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

But I guess the thing I'm most proud of was that he was so ahead of his time in civil rights and being concerned about separate but quote, so called equal, but not equal schools. He was on the Board of Education both at the local level and saw the Black schools and the White schools, and he knew we had the have-nots and the have's. Then at the Wake County level, he saw it even worse than that. And I think all the things of those days bothered him greatly. I heard him in conversations with my Mom, talking about, you know, it just was not fair. And I think one of his goals was to do everything he could to try to create a more equitable situation. And one of them was to start the integration process and get the Black kids going to Cary. And that was not a popular thing back in those days. There weren't many people who believed that Blacks were equal or that Blacks should have equal opportunity. And I can remember hearing phone calls and hearing my Dad's response and realized somebody on the other end was really unhappy about him pushing to integrate the schools. And I read articles and I heard people talking. In fact, one of my best friends who grew up and lived a lot at my house, and thought my Mom and Dad were just wonderful actually turned against him because of his position on wanting to give the Black children the same opportunities that White children had. And later that person has come back to me and said, I was dead wrong. He said your Dad was right and I was wrong. And he said it upset me so badly that I quit going to see him and wouldn't have anything to do with him. And I said, he had a lot of that, but I said, it never bothered him because he was focused and he thought he was right and think he, deep down, knew he was right. And he was willing to take the flack that came from basically a White community during the days of segregation because he felt so strongly that it was wrong. And I guess that's one of the things I'm most proud of him for because he had tremendous vision. He was a very wise man who looked down that road which most of us are not capable of doing and said, this is wrong and we need to do something about it. And he did. And I happened to have been in Cary coaching and I remember the Principal, Paul Cooper, coming to me one day and saying, your Dad wants to integrate Wake County and he feels like in order to integrate Wake County he's got to do it at his own school first. And he said, I'm totally supportive of him and he said, we'd like to put the first Black kid in your class. I said, great. I said I have no problem with that. So I had the first Black child, who was an Evans girl, back in the early '60's, and we had no problem whatsoever. And things went well. And the rest is history.
Was that Lucille Evans?
I can't think of her first name. Because there were so many Evans kids in Cary. That was a big name of a Black family there. And I had been gone so long. But I did have the first one in Cary, first one in Wake County and it just, it was never the problem everybody thought it was going to be. And each year it just got better. And I think today we can look and see where we did what was right. And I know, I caught some of the same flack. They were getting ready to close Berry O'Kelly school in Raleigh. And I went to my principal and said, you know those kids have got to go to school somewhere. And I said, I'd like to go talk to them and see if they'd like to come to Cary. And I went over and met with a lot of the athletes and they had the choice of going anywhere they wanted to. And ultimately they, most of them chose to go to Ligon which was another predominantly Black school. But the word got out that I was visiting Berry O'Kelly and that I was at some of the basketball games, and I was trying to get some of the basketball players to come to Cary and I got some of the same phone calls and letters and conversations that my Dad did. Cary was just not ready for that. And we looked at them, I guess, as human beings and not by their skin color and felt like it was the thing to do. So I'm pleased about that part of history and the role that my Dad played in that. Because it was not an easy thing to step forward back in the '50's and the '60's and say this is wrong and something needs to be done, and then do it because White North Carolina, White Cary, White United States was not ready for that.