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Oral history interview with Robert A. Clendenin by William Link


Date: November 2, 1988

Interviewee: Robert A. Clendenin

Biographical abstract: Robert Clendenin was a teacher and principal at several Guilford County schools from 1955 through the 1980s.

Interviewer: William Link

Description:

In this transcript of a November 2, 1988, oral history interview conducted by William Link with Robert A. Clendenin, Clendenin recalls Greensboro school desegregation in the early 1970s, including tactics to maintain order, the advantages and disadvantages of desegregation, how equal representation among races in student organizations was effected at Page High School, and the role of exposure to other races for students.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: GreensboroVOICES Collection

Repository: The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Item#: 1.10.503

Rights: It is responsibility of the user to follow the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). Materials are not to be reproduced in published works without written consent, and any use should credit Civil Rights Greensboro and the appropriate repository.



Oral history interview with Robert A. Clendenin by William Link

[Begin Tape 1, Side 1]

WILLIAM LINK:

The date is November 2, 1988, and we're in the office of Robert Clendenin. I wonder if you'd mind saying a little bit about your background, where you born, and where you were educated, and how you came to Greensboro.

ROBERT CLENDENIN:

Okay, I really—this is no shock to you—I was born here in Guilford County. I was raised outside the city limits by about a stones throw, and I went to Bessemer High School. Bessemer High School then was a union school, [grades] one through twelve. And then I went to Appalachian State University and—then it was Appalachian State Teachers College. I had an opportunity to play a little football, and that's how I sort of got through, how I got through that.

My graduating class consisted of fifty students at Bessemer, in 1950. I believe that probably at that time that I was the only one that went on for a higher education. And from there I came back. After I received my degree in 1954, I received also a graduate assistantship, and so I went on back to Appalachian to work on my master's. [I] Graduated in '55 [and] came back to Bessemer to teach—did not, had not planned to go on to teaching. Even though I had a teacher's degree, I'd planned to do something else. And anyway, the principal called and said, “Would you like to come teach for us?” And I said—I hadn't thought about it, but I didn't have a job so I said, “Sure.” So that started my teaching career.

I taught there a year and a half. And interestingly enough, we talk about Vice President [Dan] Quayle taking the National Guard [to avoid Vietnam]. Well, back in those days if you taught school, you'd stay out of the Army. And I said that's a pretty good deal. I stayed out of the Army long as I could. And then the rules were changed. They started drafting us. And they drafted people out of the public schools into the Army. So I went in the Army for a year, a year and a half, and then from there, I went to France. And while I was in France, I taught school in the Army center.

Then I came back to Bessemer—early release to come back and teach, and they would grant that then. Started teaching back at Bessemer in '58, and—it was really early 1957, '58. And then stayed there, and in 1960 I became assistant principal, and was assistant principal in 1961 [when] my principal passed away, and so I became acting principal there. And interestingly enough, it was a school district that had Bessemer High School, Bessemer Elementary School, and Mount Zion. And Mount Zion was like a union school, one through nine.

WL:

Was Bessemer in the county? [unclear]

RC

Yes. It was in the county system. And then I became full-time principal in '61 and stayed there until, in '63—the last class graduated in '63. In '63 the people of the community voted themselves into the city educational zone. So at that point, all the high school youngsters were transferred to Page High School, and I remained there at Bessemer as a junior high school principal. And along about '64, '65—1964, '65, Mount Zion School was closed as a union school, and then it became an elementary school. So we had grades seven, eight, nine, that were transferred to Bessemer. At that point that's when we became integrated, in about 1975-76 year.

WL:

Mount Zion was still in the county or in—

RC

Mount Zion was—the whole district was voted in.

WL:

Oh, okay, so Mount Zion had become part of the city as well.

RC

At that time, you had a whole district there with three schools. Then it became all, became a part of the Greensboro city schools. And so, principal that we had there—and then we had the Mount Zion youngsters come—it was predominantly black youngsters came in. And so stayed there until 1967. At that time, Bessemer Junior High School was closed, and then we all transferred to Aycock Junior High School, which was located over on Cyprus Street. Stayed there—mostly, about all the kids that were at Bessemer came with us to Aycock, so we were still about 30 percent integrated. [I] Came over to Aycock, stayed there three years, and then transferred to Page, and that was in 1970. And then I have been here ever since.

WL:

Let's talk a little bit more about Bessemer and how desegregation took place there. What sorts of things did you have to do as a principal having new black students come in and—did you have black teachers as well? Were you integrated that was or was it—?

RC

We did not have any black teachers at Bessemer at that time. Integration at that time was just, well, they're here. We didn't make any elaborate plans for integration. We just—in fact we didn't know to. No one told us to, and we didn't know to. I was a very close friend of the principal at Mount Zion, and so fortunately I knew some of the folks there. And so we just sort of integrated without any big fanfare or anything, just integrated. Kids come in, and we'd told our youngsters that they were going to be responsible. And we had a few problems, but they were just so minor.

WL:

How did parents react?

RC

They knew this was inevitable, so it was not any—I did not have any parents, that I can recall now, voice any problems. I did have an interesting thing happen while I was at Bessemer. I—one day, and the facts still may shift a little bit—but anyway, one day I was behind a couple of students that were talking about a club that they had at the junior high school, and I knew we didn't have clubs. So I said, “What kind of club are you talking about?” And they informed me that they were members of the junior [Ku Klux] Klan. Well, in talking to them, we were, this—you can't do this. So it ended up I suspended the youngsters from school for having an illegal club, especially a junior Klan.

And then a short time later, which was hours later, I had a call from the grand dragon of the KKK [Ku Klux Klan]. So we had some words and we exchanged some pleasantries. And I said, “Yes, I can do this, you can't do so-and-so.” And the Grand Dragon said, “Well we're going to send some people to see you.” I said, “Well, I'll tell you one thing, don't burn a cross in my yard.” [laughs]

So immediately I called the police and got great assistance from the police. And the grand dragon said, “We'll be to see you at such-and-such date, at such-and-such time.” But they never showed. Of course the police came out and were well fortified for them, and they didn't show. But I tell you, many a morning I cringed when I would crank that car [laughs]. And, but I had, for several days there we had twenty-four hour surveillance by the police to be sure that no one harassed us. And so that was my first real encounter with the Klan. So I made it very clear I didn't care about them. And as far as I was concerned they could fly a kite, and [I] didn't want to see them around. And I thought it was interesting. I remember that story, I've told it quite often. I probably didn't add as much color today as I usually add to it, but it was pretty interesting.

WL:

Did it—this was kind of exceptional though, unusual, this kind of reaction, obviously. I mean most students and most parents just sort of adapted to it?

RC

Yes, they really did. The thing that was so unique about the minority youngsters that came in, they came in from Mount Zion, which was a predominately black, very poor, but family-oriented neighborhood. The first, perhaps first four or five months of school they were extremely ragged in their appearance, their clothing. But then I noticed a change, that these youngsters started wearing similar clothes as others. And so they adapted so well to our young people. And of course we got them involved in sports. Sports are really a great thing to ease that sort of type pressure.

WL:

Did the sports teams just, you had open, sort of—no problem there?

RC

Oh sure. Yes. No problem at all.

WL:

What about intra-city, inter-city, or intra-city competition? The fact that you had minority members on teams and other schools did it, did that make any difference?

RC

No. Some of the junior highs at the time, such as Gillespie Park, Gillespie Park Junior High School was already integrated. So some of them were. Proximity Junior High was integrated. So it wasn't a big thing for us. Maybe we sort of paved the way for the junior highs of this type integration. It wasn't a big problem.

WL:

The idea behind this kind of integration was neighborhood. What you were doing essentially with Mount Zion was incorporating what was part of the Bess[emer], what used to be the Bessemer district. The students were still a part of the same neighborhood in a sense.

RC

They really were. And many of the folks in the predominately white area knew the folks at Mount Zion, and there seemed to be pretty good joining together. So I think that was one really unique thing about it. The two communities knew each other, respected each other, and so the move was not tragic for them.

WL:

Yeah. What's the feeling of the city about this time, the mid-1960s? Or, I guess from your point of view as a school administrator, was there a feeling that things were going to change very much? Did you get a feeling that, that this kind of desegregation is going be enough, or that there was going to be more drastic changes on the horizon?

RC

At that particular time, other than some of the junior high schools, we were more into that freedom of choice on the secondary level. And I think the feeling then was that would probably be sufficient to offset any court actions, which it proved out that was not true.

I believe Page High School at that time probably had 10 percent minority through freedom of choice. And it could have been higher, but I would guess something around 10 percent. When I came to Page in the 1970s, we probably had 20 percent in freedom of choice. Going back to Aycock, when I was at Aycock, we had—that was, if you can recall, and the year may be wrong, because I don't remember either—the great riot on A&T [North Carolina A&T State University] campus.

WL:

Yes, '69.

RC

[Nineteen] sixty-nine. We were right off campus, Aycock was right off campus, within, it seemed like a mile. And we could hear, and being outside we could hear the gunshots, the machine guns. And so I remember speaking to some of our staff. And I said, “Well, I'm sure today we will not have a lot of kids come to school today,” because it was pretty well known this was going on. I felt reasonably comfortable we would not have a large attendance. I believe everyone and their brother came that day. I thought attendance was very high. And I said—it said one of two things: the parents felt very secure and felt very good about what we were doing and let their kids come. And so I felt very good about that, even though at first we could hear the gunshots. We could see the Army National Guard rotating, patrolling the areas in their jeeps. But yet we felt, at a moment, sort of uneasy feeling, but yet when all of the kids came in, we sort of forgot the uneasiness, and said well, everything's fine.

WL:

The security came out of a feeling that the students were—

RC

Yeah, the students all came to school that day. I mean, not—I would say a good 95 percent, other than routine absences.

WL:

Was Aycock—Aycock was a bigger junior—was the transition to Aycock was part of the consolidation—

RC

A little larger. It was a little larger. We encompassed some of the community around Aycock into the junior high. It was also a union school, one through nine. So we had an elementary, one through six, separate from the junior high school. The elementary school was predominately white. The junior high was in the 30 percent category of integration.

WL:

Were—the students in the old Mount Zion School then came with you?

RC

Yes. They were still with us, yes.

WL:

And the, were other black students there as well, from other—

RC

Probably a few. There were some A&T professors, university professors who had their kids there.

WL:

From that neighborhood? So it's—

RC

No, I think they were tuition, probably not from that neighborhood. The neighborhood was then predominately white. I'd just have to say almost white. But those were tuition students that came in from the surrounding areas, maybe outside the county.

WL:

So I guess actually the period of desegregation coincides with a period of reorganization. I mean, there was a lot of changes. For example, Bessemer, yourself, the case of yourself going from Bessemer to Aycock, a lot of schools were being consolidated and then changed around during—is that correct, would you say?

RC

Not—seems like that was the only area that was really affected.

WL:

That's the only one? Okay.

RC

So, the others, I don't think so. I think the area, if I recall, like Gillespie Park Junior High School was in the transition of becoming more and more heavily integrated.

WL:

You became the principal of Page in 1970?

RC

1970, yes.

WL:

And the following year, 1971, is when the court-ordered desegregation began. When you first became principal, did you have much—was there much sense that this was on the horizon? Or did it seem—did you in any way prepare for the eventuality that you might have to deal with a whole new kind of situation—that is, massive busing?

RC

If—and I think—if I remember, we'd probably been 15 percent, maybe 20 percent on the freedom of choice when I came here. There was great deal of unrest here. And I really welcomed the fact that we were going to do some total busing, or whatever they would decide to do. We had not done any planning in the past to do any, to my knowledge. Maybe we did and I don't remember. But we did not do a lot of things preparing people for integration. But in dealing, thinking of the massive busing, we spent some weeks in the summer together with community leaders, and we did a lot of things in human relations skills—most helpful. We involved staff members, we involved people, parents, other people in the community, and the leaders, and extensively got to know each other, and felt good about that.

The transition of major busing took place. We had our problems, but it was easier to deal with the parents, because many of them had gone back into their community and—I left out the ministers, a lot of ministers involved in this—had gone back into their community and began to talk with folks about this—the unknown, and what we could do, and how they could do it. And I believe it was done probably the most unique way of dealing with total busing that we went through. And it was a very pleasant experience for me to go—I think we went to Chinqua-Penn. That always rings in my mind, I think we went to the 4-H camp in Chinqua-Penn. And it was a very pleasant experience.

I'm a great believer in using those human skills. I'm a people person. I'm a student-oriented type person. I like to deal with students. And I think this was an exciting time to deal with some parents that I'd never met before. A principal knows his children pretty well, but doesn't know the parents, because he may not see them. And I always enjoy trying to take the kids and place them with the parent—the people I see. And I always get the kids with the wrong parents. I say, “Well, they look like that parent. That's your parent.” But it doesn't work out that way. That part was very exciting. And around about that time, we did begin to establish some things that we wanted to do and some goals and goal setting, which was part of the deal. We started making good progress.

WL:

So you went to Chinqua-Penn and you participated in some of these other conferences, and you came back to Page and you began to set goals—

RC

Yeah, we—

WL:

—or implementing the changes?

RC

Yes. And the good thing, though, we already had 20 percent of the volunteers, as I call it, volunteer students that were already here. And they were a pretty good statement for us. And then we brought in the others. And our, probably our ratio, black to white—or in this case, white to black—we had about 25 percent after all that busing, 25 to 30 percent. It's interesting, throughout the years it's ranged from 30 to 33 percent in minority students and has been pretty consistent over the last seventeen, eighteen years.

WL:

How did Page compare to some of the other high schools before busing? You mentioned they were 20 percent—well, what the figure was—10, 15 percent before? Were there more black students here in Page as compared to say Grimsley or Smith or—

RC

I could not answer that.

WL:

You don't know?

RC

I really have no way of knowing. I do not know.

WL:

Most of them came voluntarily, came simply because they lived close enough?

RC

Yes. In those days we didn't have buses to every community, so most of those folks were more affluent that came in. And if they happened to live in a bused area they would come. Of course the Mount Zion kids came in, too. Now they were—they came in, bused in, because that was a community school, and bused in. Before that time, the Mount Zion kids were bused to Dudley. That goes way back there. But when the schools moved into the city, then they started being bused to Page.

WL:

They were part of the whole district?

RC

The whole district, yes.

WL:

Just came with the same sort of—what about sports teams at Page before, let's say 1970, when you first came to Page? Was there full, open integration?

RC

Yes, we had it. It was open to youngsters who go there, to get involved with athletics.

WL:

And that worked well?

RC

Yes, worked very well.

WL:

How about other organizations that students would participate in?

RC

We—going back when we went through our sessions out there at Chinqua-Penn, then we came back and we started dealing with the areas of getting black youngsters into student council or clubs. And so somewhere along there we started lottery methods of selecting youngsters. We also tried to get cheerleaders and cheerleader selection into some sort of ratios, to get numbers involved, having black youngsters on the cheerleading squad.

And I can't, I'm sorry, I can't remember, but somewhere back in there, in '74, '75, we took the homecoming situation and changed that into an integrated situation. And also we have two queens at homecoming. We have a homecoming queen and have a pirate queen. The pirate queen, as we are pirates, and therefore the pirate queen. I really want the young person, the female person that gets the highest votes, period, will be homecoming [queen]. The next highest of the opposite race will be the other queen, the pirate queen. And it can go back and forth, and has.

This school year, 1988, we had a black homecoming queen—beautiful young lady, and [I] just love her to death. She's a fine, fantastic person. And obviously she was voted in by all the kids, because she's such a fine person. And all the kids know her; she's very neat. So we've had two or three homecoming queens over the years. And we've had two or three white pirate queens. It goes back and forth. I think it's pretty unique. I don't know if many schools that do this, but that's what we do.

WL:

That's a good idea. So you make sure there's equal representation.

RC

Yeah, absolutely. Now in running for office, you're on your own. There's no lottery or guarantee, anything.

WL:

No quota system.

RC

No quota. You have to run on your own.

WL:

That's always been the case?

RC

That's always been the case.

WL:

How does that work out?

RC

It works out very well. In fact, we will come up with one or two minority leaders in each, on each grade level. And that's worked out pretty nicely.

WL:

You mentioned earlier that when you first came, there was a lot of unrest, student unrest. What were some of the sources of the unrest?

RC

It was just particular times. I'm sure that some of our folks, students rubbed each other wrong. I'm sure they said the wrong things. I'm sure they were disrespectful of each other.

WL:

That was black, sort of racial unrest?

RC

Black and white, total racial unrest. I call it DMZ [demilitarized zone] sometimes. We used to have—when I first came here we had a ten minute break in the morning between second and third period, which I—totally was DMZ—total hell. As soon as I could, I eliminated that. I didn't take the time away from the kids, I just—we had open campus for lunch, which means all could leave campus if you wanted to. I added the ten minutes on for lunch. They were running maybe a thirty, thirty-five minute lunch period. I gave them ten more minutes for lunch period, which gave them forty, forty-five minutes. I think it was more like forty-five, maybe fifty minutes for lunch, and they liked that. And so I didn't take anything away. I took something away but I gave them something. And we had absolutely not any problems. The break was a very tough time.

It's interesting that in changing classes, we have six minutes to change classes. And kids are busy, they know they gotta change classes. And so back in those days you'd have a few problems, but they must go to classes. And I always remember one of the times—this was in probably '70, 1970 or '71, that one year—I had a confrontation between blacks and whites out in front of the auditorium, and I found myself in the middle, the DMZ zone, along with one of my assistants. And interesting enough, nothing really happened but the bell rung to go to homeroom, and everybody left. That was the unique thing. The bell said, Go to homeroom, and they did. So nothing went wrong.

WL:

They're so used to the bell and then reacting.

RC

So used to bells, responding to the bells. We would, back in those days, if something occurred, we would just hold them in the class until we felt things were calm enough to move and then we'd move them. So we did have some problems, but we sure worked through them. And we tried to have a little committee. We've tried to use our student council as a committee that will help us in making decisions. A lot of decisions were strictly dictatorship. Made no bones about it, either you cooperated—black or white—or you went to jail.

Mr. Wallace and I—Mr. Wallace was the assistant principal at that time—he and I spent so much time in the courts we almost got on a first name basis with everybody down there. In fact, the police department would let me park at the police station, which has since been torn down. I'd go in there and they'd say, “Park there.” The courts were upstairs—the local courts. And through a lot of hard work, a lot of plain judicial force, we made believers out of young people that you're going to have come to school, you're going to have to obey, you're going to have to live responsible lives. And all the time we're talking this to them, to be responsible citizens. And—

WL:

So you would actually prosecute students for—

RC

Oh, absolutely.

WL:

For what kinds of things?

RC

They could be very abusive to one another or would strike one another.

WL:

Assaults.

RC

Assaults, or would be very abusive to the teachers or the principals, and we would take them away.

WL:

So you made it very clear in the beginning—

RC

Very clear, that we meant business.

WL:

—that you would enforce it. Did you have police here on campus?

RC

No, they were not on campus, but they certainly worked with us and gave us a great deal of assistance.

WL:

So any time you needed them they would be here.

RC

Oh, whenever I needed them they were here.

WL:

How long did this kind of—did you—was it necessary to do this?

RC

We had about, I'd say, a good year of unrest. Even though we worked hard at it, we still had some unrest. The second year, in '71-'72, when we started busing, we had peaked, sort of beginning the other side. We were getting responsibility from the standpoint of students. And it's just been reasonably good sailing since then. We made it very clear from the beginning that we were going to have law and order. We made no bones about it. And it didn't matter who you were, you would pay the price. And we made that stick.

WL:

So well before the decision had come—about massive busing had come through in the spring of '71, you already had—

RC

We'd already paid the price.

WL:

Yeah. You paid your dues in a sense.

RC

We had.

WL:

What about busing? I mean, what—busing is considered a symbolic issue for people. Parents, I know especially for elementary students, got very excited about it. Did it affect—did busing worry people at all at the high school level? Was there much concern about that?

RC

Not a great deal of concern about that. They were being, they were bused anyway a pretty good ways, so not a great deal. We tried to recruit minority drivers to go into the minority areas. We felt at that time that was probably a good thing to do; however, we had some white drivers who went in and probably got greater results than the minority drivers. But we tried to, and we felt that was what we should be doing.

WL:

Were the drivers trained in human relations sorts of things?

RC

Absolutely not. They were just trained to drive. And some of them were quote, unquote, “rednecks” from the word go. They generally—we kept them out of the minority areas. We figured they would create more problems for us. Mr. Wallace, the assistant principal, dealt with bus drivers, and he was very good. Mr. Wallace had a lot of human relation skills built into himself anyway. He was a minority. And he was—the bus drivers really adored him, super person. And he did probably a lot of human relations skills with them just talking to them.

WL:

So he'd get a pretty good feel about which drivers were appropriate for which—

RC

Oh yes, he would do that. He understood which ones he better send somewhere. Occasionally, and I do remember sometimes we would send a black driver into the all-white area and get some, a little bit of flack. But generally we would try to pick the minority kid that could go in and handle it very well. But that was very rare.

WL:

How did, how did parents react, white and black? Did you get, would you say a lot of support or—

RC

Great support from the community. I remember now, thinking back, I remember one night at PTA [Parent Teacher Association] meeting, one of our first PTA meetings—large crowd, auditorium was just packed. And I just made a strong plea that we would have law and order, period. And I said that it means it doesn't make any difference who we have to deal with it. It's going to be law and order. I got a standing ovation.

[End Tape 1, Side A—Begin Tape 1, Side B]

WL:

We were talking about desegregation in the 1970s and—here at Page—and you were talking about teachers. I was wondering if you could say a little bit more maybe about how the teachers react, maybe just the responses of teachers to this big change.

RC

I think that our teachers professionally handled it extremely well, I think through the leadership of what we were able to give them. Now we have a lot of massive leadership, staff development. We just didn't have a lot of that in those early years. But we just—Mr. Wallace and I kept saying we've got to take youngsters where they are, and deal with them on that basis, and teach them on that basis and try and bring them up. We, we didn't want to get the connotation we were lowering standards to meet the needs of those youngsters, even though we still get that from time to time. Even this day and time, here we are how many years later, we still get we lowered standards. That's a cop-out from the standpoint of teachers, and I resent it very much, and my staff here knows this.

WL:

So it's something you didn't want teachers to do.

RC

No, we did not want to lower standards. We wanted to help that youngster come up. Now going back, remember I told you about the Mount Zion kids coming to school very ragged, and seeing young people how they were? They started dressing the part, whatever part it was. They started looking like their counterparts. And so this is what I felt would happen in classrooms if we did not say “lower standards.” I don't know what that means anyway. But we kept pretty good standards for young people, and we kept pressing our youngsters to work on their study skills, that we would not have a lowering of standards.

I really believe—and I've heard this often, and I'm quick to disagree with it—that this is a feeling that lots of folks had, that public schools lowered their standards. I don't agree with them. I think that's totally inappropriate. I think it's irresponsible statements on the part of individuals. I think we learn a lot from the black culture and the minority youngsters, and I'm sure they learn a lot from us. And I think it's been such a rewarding experience.

I would not—obviously I've been here too long—but I would not want to go back to the old segregated ways. I think that our kids here at Page High School, Greensboro, North Carolina, USA, are learning such a great lesson. These kids go on to college. When they come out of college, they're going to be salesmen or whatever it is, and they've got to learn to get along with all people. Our kids know how to do it. I'm appreciative of their hard work, and appreciative of the background of the parents and what they're doing.

WL:

Well, that brings me to another, I guess, important question. Since you've been at Page since 1970 and here it is 1988, you obviously, you think the thing has worked, the desegregation has been a positive thing. What do you think have been the advantages and disadvantages—if you could just think about things that have been good about it, and some of the things that have been bad about it?

RC

The Page High School community, the Page High School school community in its early stages was a believer's school. We do pull from Irving Park, and New Irving Park—that wasn't there then—but we also had a group that came from what we call the mill section, which we don't have it anymore, but the mill section. And if you would think about it, you—I, you stereotype people, but the mill folks probably were blue-collar people, and the Irving Park crowd was obviously the white-collared bunch. So it brought in [unclear] itself, in the early days, brought in two groups, integrated blue collar and white collar together, and they learned from each other. Then bringing in a third group in later on, the minorities, I think it's just giving a youngster a well-balanced social aspect of what happens today in their community.

And it has the socio-economic connotation. The more fortunate youngsters can now look at others and say, “Well, they're less fortunate than we are,” and have some empathy for them and all, but yet still expect them to [unclear], which I think's been a great success to—especially here in Greensboro, and I'm sure throughout the South.

The only bad connotation I think has come from busing, since it has a tendency to move the whites out. And I'm sorry that happens. I don't suppose the judges and the judicial system thought that would happen, but it did. Fortunately in our school it didn't happen. We still maintain our level of racial balance. I think that it's given our young people opportunity to work real hard, both minority and white, to work harder to strive. And I'm sure we've had youngsters who haven't done what I thought they should have done.

But anyway, overall I think it's given them a little more depth, in-depth into their studies and attempts. The young black athlete, for instance, has greater opportunity because they have greater skills. And I think they've had an opportunity to go on to other areas for higher education through athletics. I think that abilities come in real strange ways. I think you're academically talented or you're gifted in athletics, you're gifted in corporal arts, and you're gifted in so many ways. And I'm very pleased when I see this.

One of the most tragic thing, and I'm blaming your university system, is that the greater requirements coming down now from the greater university system has put a damper on a lot of things. I think I'm seeing more and more youngsters having to concentrate on things that will prepare them in essence to make the requirements to get into the university system. And we're losing the touch of cultural arts. We have less youngsters getting involved with the music programs, the choral program, the arts program. There are certain demands on them by the university system. And I'm very disturbed that the state Board of Education didn't stand up and say wait a minute. But they didn't. I think that it's going to be a, it's a positive thing, yet there is a definite—

WL:

[It] limits the choices.

RC

Limits, and we're getting a decline in areas that would be good for the youngsters. I just believe, you're talking about academically talented, there are kids so talented in art. They may not be as talented all around in academic areas. The same thing with athletics and the same thing with whatever programs. And I feel very strongly this was a bad decision on the greater university.

WL:

What do you think the, what are the most important areas that black students and white students have found, in what areas have they found the most sense of unity at school, school unity here at Page in the last—

RC

I think that they have a sense of pride in Page High School. I've watched—after they graduate and the ten years they come around for reunions, and I see the black youngster and the white youngster together, and they say, hey, we're going to have the greatest reunion we've ever had. And they get so excited about it. That's something fantastic actually, that's down the road a piece. Here at school they're being taught to live with each other, understand each other, hopefully. And they do a pretty good job with this and learn from each other. We learn a great deal. We do have some interracial dating, which is perfectly all right with me. Whatever flops your mop, I like to say. But we do have some of that. The young people feel very comfortable here with that. And then they can go out in community, and whatever that takes. But they feel very comfortable with that closeness, and feeling good about each other and associating with each other.

We—our student council is, you're elected into the council, you're also elected into the representatives. And they go out and they do the ropes course at Guilford College. There again, you've got minorities in there, and it's a close family. I really sense now, thinking back over the years, our community, our school community is a very close-knit bunch of young men, young ladies. They have respect for each other. They like each other. And athletics has played a great part of this.

And one area which has been—we sort of bend the rule a little bit—but the Greensboro public schools does not permit pep rallies, which I always thought a great melting pot. I never abused it, but we do occasionally—

WL:

Why would they not have pep rallies?

RC

Under the BEP, Basic Education Plan, that will be fully implemented in 1992, it does say there's, this is state law.

WL:

Part of the conditioning of state agency?

RC

That you will not have pep rallies. I don't know who, I don't know what old fogey made that rule, but he's an old fogey. This is the greatest melting pot for young people to get together, see friends, to see a youngster they don't know out there.

I always, in the last few years, some of the—Danny Manning went here. Had not having Danny Manning here and a pep rally to see Danny Manning, a great athlete, or the Welborn [?] guy, the one out at the University of Michigan; Todd Ellis at the University of South Carolina; the Michael Brooks; those guys? But having a pep rally, those—as a young person, I identified with Todd Ellis, and I identified with Danny Manning. We don't, I'm not able to do that as much as we would like to do it, even though we wouldn't want to abuse it. Some old fogey, I'll just lay it right on, some old fogey thought it was a bad idea, horrible idea. And—

WL:

Of course, you still have the athletic events themselves.

RC

You still have the athletic events, but see, you don't get close to them. You're at a distance. But as a ninth grader here at Page High School, I could see Danny Manning and go out and say, “I know Danny Manning. I go to school with Danny Manning. I walk down the hall and I can touch him.” And our athletes enjoyed this because it puts them in the sense of headlight, in the spotlight and responsibility.

WL:

What do you think the, as a school administrator, what do you think the challenges are ahead for maintaining this kind of unity between blacks and whites?

RC

I think that probably, that in, I think I would say in the twenty-first century, it's going to be a, just a great, great opportunity for administrators to even grow on what's been happening here in the past and live this thing. I think we'll see—at least I'm told this, and my research indicates this—that we'll see a sort of change, and maybe not in Greensboro, North Carolina, I don't know. But anyway, I think we'll see Hispanics become a major part into school integration.

But I think it's a great challenge. But I think it's something that—the ground work has been laid by a lot of folks, and I think it will continue right on to the twenty-first century. And I don't think I'll last that long. I'm in my thirty-fourth year; I don't know how much longer I'll go. But I really think it's such a great opportunity for young people by the twenty-first century. I sometimes kid people that I'll stay until the twenty-first century. That's a long time. It's going to be just such a great opportunity, and the technology that's going to come into the operations. And in dealing with technology, they don't care if you're black and white as long as you know what you're doing. And I think this is going to be a great part of even a closer-knit family. And we have seventeen hundred students here now. Probably by the end, if we're still around, probably it will still be about seventeen hundred students, and very close-knit.

Now, interesting thing on the horizon. I don't know when this will take place, this merger of the three school systems. I think, and I would say if it does ever occur, that they need the power. When I say “they” I'm talking about the board of education. [They] need to do what we did back in 1971, 72—communities get together, parents get together, leaders get together, and do some of those human relation skills that we used back then.

WL:

So that might serve as a model?

RC

Oh yes, absolutely. It would be great, and they should do it. And if I'm still around I'll mention it.

[End of Interview]