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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Coleman Barbour, February 16, 1991. Interview M-0032. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Racism stifles the potential of black students

The biggest challenge of Barbour's job is racism, he believes. Racism has stifled black students' potential, in part by depriving them of successful black role models and in part by devaluing education. Barbour describes his effort to motivate his black students.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Coleman Barbour, February 16, 1991. Interview M-0032. 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

What do you consider your major problem of your principalship?
I think the major problem is not being able to get black kids to understand what school is all about. Black kids have a tendency to not be directed. I understand why. Most black families in this area are directed the way they should be. My responsibility is to direct them and that can cause some problems because the hidden factor is racism. You think it is and it has nothing to do with it. What it has something to do with is being motivated in the right direction and it is difficult for me to motivate them in the right direction. I have a student right now that is good in math and comes from a good family. He wants to drop advanced math so he can work 8 hours. I want him to stay with his math because he is going on to a university and I want him to be successful. He has everything else and he doesn't have to have advanced math but I think he ought to have that. The president said in his speech to the nation that he is going to step up math and science. If he can look at the war, and I said all of this to him, those fellows that are dropping the bombs they know something about computers, math and science and if you don't, you can't be one of those people. And in the world that he is going to go in, he is going to have to do those things and he is going to have to compute quicker in his head and mash quicker and I was trying to get him to understand. Now he saw very few black pilots and this is a major war. I want him to look around and see executives cause he could be a CEO. But right now he's making money he has never made before and he is saving it. But he doesn't need to drop that course. That is my opinion but he may go on and pick up something else with just my talking to him. Just like I didn't see what Mr. Kennedy was doing a long time ago with me. That may be the thing and he might remember it. But my point is, his self direction could start earlier and my problem is directing a lot of kids earlier.
You mentioned that it is considered racial. If you went to some of your black children who you know have potential and said to them, you need to be in such and such course or you stay on them a little bit because you see them goofing off then they say, you are treating me different from the way you are treating the white folks.
The same thing but you can tell a white kid that and you don't have to tell them that but one time--the majority. Some black kids you don't have to tell but one time. Okay Mr. Barbour, I will do it. I talking about maybe five or ten kids. Most of them will do it. Ninety-nine percentile of our kids are going to do exactly what you want because the school is directed that way. But what I say to you is, the problem is getting all of them but you have to work at it.