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Oral History Interview with Gwendolyn Matthews, December 9, 1999. Interview K-0654. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).
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  • 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.
  • Experience as one of first African American students to integrate Cary schools
  • Pressure to cross boundaries and importance of family support
  • Comparing teachers in segregated and integrated schools
  • Decision to go back to college
  • Remembrances of Jim Crow segregation while growing up
  • Recollections of both peaceful and violent civil rights demonstrations
  • Benefits and consequences of integration
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  • The Southern Oral History Program transcripts presented here on Documenting the American South undergo an editorial process to remove transcription errors. Texts may differ from the original transcripts held by the Southern Historical Collection.

    Funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this title.