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Interview with C. Vanessa Baxter

Interviewee: 
Baxter, C. Vanessa
Interviewer: 
Metzger, Mary
Date of Interview: 
2004-12-21
Identifier: 
BBBA0015
Subjects: 
Baxter, C. Vanessa, 1954-2007; England, Kenneth; Crosby, Kathleen, 1925-; Morgan Elementary School (Charlotte, N.C.); Sedgefield Junior High School (Charlotte, N.C.); Harry P. Harding High School (Charlotte, N.C.); Charlotte Mecklenburg Junior Symphony Orchestra; Topeka (Kan.). Board of Education; African American students; Foreign study; Racism in education; Riots; School discipline; Social history; Television journalists; Trials, litigation, etc.; North Carolina--Charlotte; North Carolina--Charlotte--Cherry; Interviews (Sound recordings); Oral histories
Abstract: 
Ms. Baxter describes her experiences as a student in Charlotte Mecklenburg schools during the late 1950s and 1960s, focusing in particular on the impact of integration. Ms. Baxter recalls the success of integration at Sedgefield Junior High School, and also within the Charlotte Mecklenburg Junior Symphony Orchestra, where she played the violin. Ms. Baxter attributes this success in part to the higher socio economic background of the students, and in part to successful leadership within the school. In contrast Ms. Baxter indicates significant and even violent problems with integration at Harding High School, describing how the principal fuelled racial conflict through uneven treatment of students. Baxter returned to Harding to deliver the commencement address ten years after she graduated, and here she describes the significant change in racial relations that had occurred during the interim.
Coverage: 
North Carolina--Charlotte; circa 1950 - 1979
Interview Setting: 
Cherry Community Center Office, North Carolina--Charlotte
Collection: 
Before Brown Collection
Collection Description: 
These interviews were conducted in conjunction with the Levine Museum of the New South’s award winning exhibit, “Courage: the Carolina Story That Changed America,” which was originally mounted in 2004. The interviews focus on the educational experiences of members of the African American community of Charlotte during the era of segregation.
Interview Audio: 
Transcript:
MM (Mary Metzger): We are sitting in 610 Baldwin at the Cherry Community Center office and I am speaking with C. Vanessa Baxter. The day is December 21, 2004 and I am Mary Metzger. And I am here to talk to Ms. Baxter about the experiences she had with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System. And I thought I'd ask-start in chronological order and ask you when you were growing up what was the sense that your parents conveyed to you in terms of their expectations of how you would do in school? What you were expected to do in school?
CB (C. Vanessa Baxter): I was-the expectations were extremely clear. You were to go to school, listen to the teacher, learn and do your lesson, pay attention, be kind to others and not to get into any trouble. You are to get an education because education is what is going to help transform your life into something really, really good. So that was very, very clear. And there was no deviation so if there was any deviation on my part or the part of my sisters and brothers then that was the time-we went to school when corporal punishment was just part of core. So you got spanked at school the teacher might do it then you might get sent to the principal. And then of course they would in turn call your parents and when you got home you knew you were in for another spanking. So if you didn't want all of that you may as well follow those so called golden rules.
MM: And that must've been clear when you went to kindergarten?
CB: Very much so.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: Very, very much so. I went to a Lutheran kindergarten which is now it was located where the current main post office is on McDowell Street. And my kindergarten teacher was Mrs. Sara Stevenson who was my mother's best friend. Mrs. Sara Stevenson became the first African-American woman to be elected to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board.
MM: And she was the kindergarten teacher.
CB: She was my kindergarten teacher and my mother's good-very good friend.
MM: And do you remember the aspects of that year? What was it like? What did you take away with you?
CB: Oh I just adored Mrs. Sara Stevenson  thought she was just beautiful and talented and she was so articulate. And it was a Lutheran kindergarten so in addition to the regular curriculum which kindergarten was not a part of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school curriculum at that time. So in addition to learning how to read and write-the reading, writing and arithmetic we also learned bible verses and learned how to sing and she tells everybody "Vanessa was my little soloist." So it was a wonderful experience and a number of the children from the Cherry community attended the Lutheran kindergarten on McDowell Street and Mrs. Sara Stevenson would line us up and people would look forward they thought they called us their little ducks walking down McDowell Street in a line. So prior to the real ducks that we see now--.
MM: [Laughter]
CB: --the goose and the geese we see now we were the little ducks referred to as little ducks and Mrs. Sara Stevenson was the mamma duck leading her kids down McDowell Street from Cherry from here all the way over to McDowell Street were the current post office is located to go to kindergarten everyday.
MM: Is that about a 15, 20 minute walk?
CB: You would think and our legs were-we had little legs--.
MM: Little legs.
CB: Then and so she had us all lined up in a row and there were no discipline problems. And it was a nice little outing and we'd go out and spend all day and she'd bring us back.
MM: And was it a shocking transition to go from kindergarten to first grade?
CB: No I looked forward to it. I looked forward to it because my siblings were 6, 7 and 8 years older than me.
MM: Right, right.
CB: So they were you know had gone through the Morgan Elementary experience.
MM: Yeah.
CB: And I was dying to go to the school where they had gone. To the big people's school. [Laughter]
MM: [Laughter] Uh-huh and what did you hope to accomplish? Do you remember thinking "When I get to first grade--"?
CB: When I get to first grade I want to be able to really, really read and read out loud and do my work and be a good student. Like my sisters and brothers.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: That become to know be known as good students.
MM: Now one of them must have already finished Morganat the time you started?
CB: At the time that I started--.
MM: Yeah.
CB: --two of them no as a matter of fact all of them my first year there we never attended school together.
MM: Oh OK.
CB: So they had led the way so when I was in first grade my sister next to me was in 7th grade going to high school so all three of them were at in high school which was from 7th to 12th grade.
MM: OK.
CB: And I was the one in 1st grade. So there were no Baxter--other Baxter siblings there.
MM: And going to Morgan from your house must've been short?
CB: Very--all I had to do was cross the street and the school was seated there in the same block. Very short little walk.
MM: And at school do you recall some particularly influential teachers?
CB: Oh pretty much all of them.
MM: Oh wow.
CB: Were influential. But I do remember two-three very vividly. My first grade teacher was Mrs. Harper who is now Dr. Harper and who I ran into this fall voting.
MM: Really?
CB: Yes she was influence she was my first teacher and I thought she was so smart and sharp etc. etc. But when I got to the 4th grade Mrs. Floretta Gunn was my 4th grade teacher and she was so tall and she was beautiful and she dressed so nicely and her hair was so pretty and she smelled so good.
MM: [Laughter]
CB: [Laughter] She was just-she just exemplified what a woman should be. And I said and then on top of that she was so smart. She was smart and she treated us very, very gingerly. She treated us with love and care as if we were her own children but she also would discipline if need be but it seemed like it would hurt her more than it would hurt the student. But she was a loving, caring person and even throughout my adult years I kept in touch with her. She's still living here in Charlotte and even when I was in Mississippi moved to Mississippi--.
MM: Yeah.
CB: She and I would still correspond by mail. So that's the kind of caring that we saw there that was the 4th grade. In the 5th grade Mrs. Towns and I will get you these first names a little later. Mrs. Towns was my 5th grade teacher and she was smart as a whip too. Now she was a different-had a very different style from Mrs. Gunn but it was effective nevertheless. She would try to kind of frighten you into learning.
MM: [Laughter]
CB: She'd call names from time to time. Call your name--. [Laughter] It was different style but she was effective and we knew that she meant business and we knew what it was. And looking back--.
MM: Yeah.
CB: --you can understand what it was that she was trying to do.
MM: Oh yeah.
CB: And then in the 6th grade Mrs. Mildred Alexander, her family lived in the Cherry community, she and her husband did. They were--her husband was a mortician funeral director with the Alexander Funeral Home--.
MM: Right.
CB: --business and the brothers were very, very active in the Civil Rights movement. Two of the brother's homes were firebombed back during the Civil Rights movement so they lived right here in the neighborhood. And that within itself said a whole lot you know these were our teachers but they were-were caring and they cared about us and where they lived and--.
MM: When you were in 1st grade that was-should've been 1959.
CB: Exactly.
MM: OK and by that time the Brown decision had been 5 years gone right? '54 to '59?
CB: Uh-huh.
MM: Could you tell the difference was there an immediate change that you could see?
CB: There was no difference.
MM: Alright.
CB: Absolutely no difference. My school was totally segregated maybe during the 6 years I was there, there may have been about two Caucasian students that attended the school. That's in a 6 year period. But the school for all practical purposes everybody was black. The teachers, the principal, the janitors, the cafeteria workers and the students. When we were scheduled or told that we were getting new books that was always a very, very exciting time because our idea of what new was, was that we were going to be getting brand new books but what that actually in reality ended up meaning the entire time I was in elementary school was that the books that had been used by the children at Myers Park Elementary and at Elizabeth Elementary when the white kids were finished with those books then the kids at Morgan would get them. And those were our new books so I was never, I never had the experience of signing my name as the first name in a book as my book. The book "This book belongs to"?
MM: Yeah.
CB: There were at least 4 or 5 more names ahead of me. And they had come from Myers Park Elementary or Elizabeth Elementary school and that was my new book. But nevertheless our teachers had us cover those books as if they were brand new books and cherish them.
MM: When the integration movement began to gather in Charlotte I think some schools integrated the staff first but as far as you can recall there weren't any white teachers in the years you were at Morgan?
CB: Never.
MM: OK.
CB: No.
MM: So it may have happened maybe in another school maybe another part of the district, but not at all schools that's for sure.
CB: Not at Morgan and I don't really remember that happening at black schools I think it may have been the reverse when integration started taking place perhaps there were and you can check this for verification but I'm pretty sure of this, black teachers moved into white schools but it was not white teachers moving into predominantly black schools.
MM: At the end of 6th grade was the decision made to have all of you go to a junior high?
CB: Yes that was going to be the natural flow of progression.
MM: OK.
CB: However our general flow of progression we would have normally have fed into Second Ward High School which was at the time--.
MM: Oh OK.
CB: --was grade 7th through 12th.
MM: Got it.
CB: But the decision had precluded-well the decision was made during my 6th grade year that Second Ward would no longer have that junior high component. And so there would be no grades 7th through 9th.
MM: OK.
CB: So in the 6th grade our black teachers at Morgan understood that we weren't going to Second Ward so they thought that they had to start preparing us to go to school with the white children.
MM: Right.
CB: So some of them did the right thing. Some of them did the best thing that they knew to do. Well you know based on their experience.
MM: Right.
CB: And I can, I can vividly remember some of them saying "Well you know those white kids are smarter than you so you've got to really, really do your best. You've gotta study twice as hard." Now see I'm forgiving of all of that because the first part don't agree with, didn't agree with, never agreed with. But I did find the second part of what it was that they were saying had some merit that you did have to study twice as hard, be twice as good and in a number of areas in the lives of African-Americans today that still holds true. So you know you take the good with the bad and you flush it out. But you know and they were trying to instill something in us you really, really have to go in there and not shame anybody. Not shame your family not shame your race. And that's-people talked to you like that.
MM: Yeah.
CB: And so that's how it was and when I got there so here is this adult someone whom I respect not just one not two but several saying you know "You know they're smarter than you. You know they're better than you. You've gotta do this, you've gotta do that" and so on and so forth. And I must've been one of the most shocked persons in the world to find out that all white people are not brilliant. Because I thought everybody was brilliant, everybody lived in big, big fine fabulous houses and nobody smelled bad. [Laughter] Nothing.
MM: [Laughter]
CB: Anyway--.
MM: Yeah.
CB: So they were trying to prepare us for this transition because it is-change is always frightening--.
MM: Oh sure.
CB: --nobody knows what to expect and fortunately very, very fortunately the junior high school that fed in-that Morgan fed into was Sedgefield Junior High School. And I must say when I look back on it, it really was overall a very, very good experience. The transition was really without incident. People knew that-everybody knew that this was different and we hadn't interacted but kids got along just fine. And then the parents were not-they did not have any really, really harsh or negative-a negative outlook on this.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: It had to be done and it was the time was now. And I will when I speak later we'll relate that and compare well I'll compare and relate that to my later experience where as this set of parents and these students they came from what might be considered a middle or upper middle class. The Myers Park, the Dilworth, the Park Road, the South Charlotte area.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: And so they had some wealth and it really didn't matter to them. And everybody really got along just fine.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: Later when I went to an integrated setting in the high school area where the white people did not really come from wealth or privilege or have a lot of material things and we had just as much as they did, they were the ones fighting the hardest thinking that we were trying to take something away from them.
MM: Hmm.
CB: And that presented more of a problem and the parents were-the fuelers of the flame of any type of problems that took place.
MM: Sedgefield is still around.
CB: Yes it is.
MM: Yeah. And was it set up to be grades 7, 8 and 9?
CB: Yes.
MM: OK. Do you remember some particular teachers from Sedgefield?
CB: Oh yes I do. I remember Mrs. Ferris who was my art teacher and I like artsy people. [Laughter] I remember Mr.-I believe Mr. Trit for a little while was my orchestra teacher.
MM: Yup.
CB: I played violin.
MM: Uh-huh. Oh you did?
CB: I played violin and as a matter of fact-I'm back stepping-when I was in was it elementary? I was in elementary and it may have been some-4 years so in junior high school I was in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Junior Symphony Orchestra. And so that, that was one of the first big integration experiences.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: Because that had not happened and I was in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Junior Symphony Orchestra and performed before the city at Ovens Auditorium.
MM: And when did you learn how to play the violin?
CB: I learned how to play the violin at Morgan Elementary.
MM: Wow that is not easy to play.
CB: No but I loved it I enjoyed it. And it was so funny [Laughter] it was so funny I said that I was going to-I wanted desperately to play the flute and the principal called my mother and I had put down "flute" on my piece of paper and then everybody all the other girls put down "flute".
MM: [Laughter]
CB: And she called my mother and she said "I know this girl has been talking to me about playing the flute but I'm not going to let her play the flute because everybody else is going to do what she does" and blah, blah, blah, blah "and she's going to play the violin and that's what it's going to be."
MM: [Laughter]
CB: And my mother says "Well OK." And so I cried I had to play the violin but when I put "violin" down about I don't know how many other kids they all of a sudden switched from "flute" to "violin" and suddenly we had ourselves a little orchestra.
MM: [Laughter] a quartet. Beyond a quartet. [Laughter]
CB: Beyond a quartet. So played the violin and then I moved unto viola.
MM: Ooo wow. Do you still play?
CB: I don't. Well-no I don't. But it was another interesting thing in this neighborhood a number of people this is-Cherry has always been a hard working community a hard working neighborhood. It has a great history where as with the connection with Cherry and Myers Park because Dwelling the Dwelling family--.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: Which was part of the Myers-she might-one of the Myers may have married a Dwelling or something like that.
MM: Yeah, yeah.
CB: And the school Morgan is named after a child from the Dwelling-Myers--.
MM: Got it.
CB: Marriage.
MM: OK.
CB: The Dwellings gave this-no the Myers gave this park out here--.
MM: Oh alright.
CB: To the Cherry community for the children.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: And then there's another little piece down on the other end that Ms. Myers gave that triangle at Cherry and Luther than faces you can see the skyline.
MM: Yeah.
CB: And that's never to be used that's for the children of Cherry.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: So when I was getting ready to play this violin you know my mother's like "A violin? Where we gonna get a violin from?" And my next door neighbor worked for some family over here in Myers Park--.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: That had a violin just sitting in the attic and that became my violin.
MM: Oh my.
CB: [Laughter]
MM: And then you needed lessons.
CB: Yeah but I got the lessons the music teacher came once a week.
MM: Very good.
CB: Once a week to Morgan.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: And Mr. Trick that was his name he was not at Sedgefield he was at Morgan and he had one eye he had a patch over his eye and he was a white guy and he came in to teach us music and we had a wonderful little orchestra. And went on for me becoming in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Junior Symphony Orchestra which was the first time they'd had an integrated orchestra. The city.
MM: And someone came up with the money for that. Someone must've thought you know this is a vehicle.
CB: Well I don't know because just as the Charlotte-Mecklenburg has it's symphony orchestra--.
MM: Right.
CB: We were the junior--.
MM: Yeah.
CB: Component of the symphony orchestra.
MM: I guess I hadn't realized it is it still in existence?
CB: I never hear anything about a Junior Symphony Orchestra but at that time there was a Junior Symphony Orchestra which got to give I'm not sure if it was two or one-might've been one performance could've been two performances a year at Ovens Auditorium to a packed house and we really sounded good. And I mean it was hard work--.
MM: Oh yeah.
CB: Because in addition to other activities I would have to get my little violin and trot or walk over here over to Hawthorne which is now Piedmont-I had to go no I'd go to Piedmont Middle School?
MM: Oh yeah right, right.
CB: Over on Seigle Avenue?
MM: That's right, right.
CB: That's where we would practice. And I would walk from here with my violin and this was after school.
MM: Yeah.
CB: Over there and for my rehearsals.
MM: And how many years were you in the Junior Orchestra?
CB: I believe I was in the Junior Youth Symphony twice. You had to go and audition I mean it was open to everybody in the city.
MM: Wow.
CB: We'll never get through this [Laughter].
MM: But isn't that great I mean we can call up and get it restarted. Now Mrs. Ferris taught art.
CB: Yes.
MM: At Sedgefield.
CB: Yes.
MM: And do you recall your math teacher or your history teacher at Sedgefield?
CB: Mrs. McCaskil was my English teacher.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: Mrs. Greer-no was that in-Mrs. Greer was my French teacher and I loved French and I loved English as well. Mrs. McCaskil. I can't remember math worth a dog-gone and that is probably why I don't [Laughter] can't remember math right now or science or any of that kind of stuff. It'll come to me.
MM: But the French and English teachers they stuck with you?
CB: Uh-huh.
MM: And did you feel that in many ways they were very similar to the teachers you had at Morgan?
CB: Those that I remember?
MM: Yes.
CB: Yes.
MM: Yeah.
CB: I mean they were caring they were open. I did not know what to expect I really expected a lot of antagonism and people playing favorites.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: And people trying to put us down but with those people that did not happen.
MM: The principal I think may have contributed to that do you think?
CB: The principal did indeed and that principal there was a principal change there I think the second year that we were there.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: He was not as friendly but he wasn't as friendly to everybody.
MM: OK. That was just his personality.
CB: That was--yeah.
MM: But it was more difficult to go to Harding High School?
CB: Extremely.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: Extremely.
MM: And did fellow students maybe some students that were a little older let you know what you might be in for when you transferred to Harding High School?
CB: No as a matter of fact-and this got to be made very, very clear. Nobody knew what to expect because the critical thing was I was it was like I was serving time at Sedgefield 7th through 9th--.
MM: Right.
CB: All I've got to do because the 10th grade I am going to Second Ward Senior High School.
MM: Oh that's right.
CB: I'm going to Second Ward. My sisters have gone there my brother has gone there. My mother was active in the PTA and the this and the that. She made all-she and Mrs. Sara Stevensonlater owned a sewing shop. They were constantly they were excellent, proficient seamstress they would turn out these beautiful wedding gowns you know just having everything-so they made the uniforms for the entire Second Ward cheering squad.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: My sister was a cheerleader you know my friend in the community Belinda Tauber who you see there she was a head majorette. That was the one who played Jenny on the Jeffersons.
MM: Yeah.
CB: You know so I knew these people. And you couldn't tell me that I didn't already go to Second Ward I could open up a yearbook at the drop of a hat and tell you who was you know the student council president, student government president and who's this and who's that and who goes with-this boy goes with that girl. And I knew them all so I was just right there you know and my sister is a cheerleader so we would go the games and when Belinda was starring in the play with Defloyd Flynn you know I would be right there watching "The Glass Menagerie or you know one of those Tennessee Williams plays. I mean it was just great I was so entrenched into that Second Ward so I had to have that. That was my life other than you know in addition to the Sedgefield that was truly my other life. And they'd have plays and concerts and there was just so much going on and people had such great school spirit. Doing the right thing but I enjoyed Sedgefield as much as I could and getting acclimated to cultural differences you know we'd have a sock hop and they'd play music and play music and all the black kids sit around and for about 10 songs and then the 11th song they'd play a song that black folks could get up and dance to--.
MM: [Laughter]
CB: And we'd all get up and dance and then we'd all sit back down but you know eventually [Laughter] I mean that's what I remember it was so-but we worked it out, we worked it out. As opposed to at Harding High School when I was there we had a Black Prom and a White Prom.
MM: Oh boy.
CB: So you know you'd think that we're supposed to be progressing in years but we're going backwards.
MM: Yeah, yeah.
CB: And it just was so upsetting but anyway during my 9th grade year it was announced that Second Ward was closing for good. I thought the world had come to an absolute end that was my Armageddon. I said "This is it it's over. It is over."
MM: Yeah.
CB: So most of the students who were going-who would've normally been assigned to Second Ward the majority of them either went to Harding High School or West Charlotte and some to West Mecklenburg. So all of a sudden Harding High School which was a predominantly white school in a-a non-upper class neighborhood or whatever--.
MM: Yeah.
CB: Is getting about--suddenly goes from I don't know let's say 15% with African-American student body then to a student body about 50/50. Just as many of us as it is of them I don't care whose side you're on or whatever.
MM: Yeah.
CB: It's about you know evenly split.
MM: Yeah.
CB: And it was not a warm reception. It was not a warm reception because people thought that the African-American students coming in there taking their this-you know being in charge, taking their positions. Captains of this or heads of this or presidents of this. Because the way that the school board the Board of Education if you were if you had been selected a cheerleader at Second Ward High School you certainly had to be given that privledge at Harding High School.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: And so you had at the first couple football games you've got the Harding High School the cheerleaders who had been selected from Harding High School in the previous year for the upcoming year you go they're in the real uniforms and the girls from Second Ward who had come from Second Ward who are cheerleaders as well--.
MM: Yeah.
CB: They're in whatever was left over.
MM: Not the same uniform?
CB: No.
MM: Oh lord.
CB: And you're supposed to be a team a unit from the same school.
MM: Right.
CB: You don't even-you know it wasn't like that at all so it started out on that foot and it continued on that foot. The other thing that was my plight was when I was going to school at Sedgefield I was going, attending school out of my district. So when I got to Harding High School with all of these new rules and new configurations and stuff I knew three people.
MM: Only three.
CB: And those three had come from Sedgefield.
MM: Yeah.
CB: Everybody else was speeding in from other schools because I was going to school out of my district.
MM: Right.
CB: And so just three people went over to Harding High School and we were just as lost as we could be so for the very first year I sat it out I didn't want to be there I hated everyday I hated every minute I didn't know anybody. And that very first year my brother was killed by a car and it was just a horrible 10th grade for me.
MM: Uh-huh yeah.
CB: Horrible. So that summer I was able to go away for the summer spent the entire summer in New Jersey at my sister's. I could look out her window and see the statue of liberty and I was like you know something has gotta give something's gotta change I gotta do something because I can't go through the rest of my school days like this. So I made a conscious effort to be more involved to be more assessable to do something to just get into the swing of things and I became very, very active and stuck out like a sore thumb. And that drew the attention of the principal.
MM: What was his name?
CB: His name was Mr. or Dr. did he become a doctor later? Dr. Kenneth England.
MM: Spelled like with an "A"? ENGA-ENGLA--.
CB: England.
MM: OK.
CB: And Mr. Kenneth Englanddidn't like me very much he thought that I was smart and I did not deny that. [Laughter] but I don't think he'd ever met any one of my hue and with my school of thinking and with my age all of that combined was a bit too much for his small mind. So we battled but I always had to re-as difficult as it was maintain my respect for this man not necessarily for the man but for the position. He was the principal and I was the student. He was constantly saying very, very negative things to African-American students to intentionally rile them up so to speak because he has the power of suspension. And he found that you know African-American students young, very emotional you can push a button and you know certain things probably would happen and he knew how to push those buttons and often times unfortunately my young brothers and sisters would fall into the trap and then they would be suspended. They would be at home for three days. He could push my buttons all day long and I wouldn't fall into his trap I would come back at him with some of his 5 dollar words and he didn't-he couldn't handle that it was just amazing to him so one day he gave in and told me he couldn't help the way that he was because his mother was a racist and his father was a racist and that's just who he was. I said "OK well Mr. Kenneth EnglandI just happen to have here the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education manual and I'm looking here and it says in paragraph 1 section 3 number A that a principal should possess these-the following skills dotta dotta dot including fairness and it sounds like what you just told me that maybe you don't have the-you don't possess the skills to do this job so you might want to switch." You know--.
MM: [Laughter]
CB: I would come at him with the foolishness-he would come at me with some foolish stuff but with the intent to kick me out of school.
MM: Right.
CB: I would come back at him and said "Now you run down there and tell that" you know you go tell the truth about this span--.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: And see who's going to get kicked out. You understand-you following me?
MM: So what did he say?
CB: He would just get red sometimes and just beep and walk away. But he wasn't really what I would call a redneck he was what I-I coined the phrase he was a maroon neck.
MM: Hmm.
CB: I've never met anybody who walked around with so much hatred and anger against you know a fellow human being and a child a 16, 15 year old child just because their skin was different--.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: From their.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: And he just looked at you on sight and just hated you.
MM: Did you form relationships with other African-American fellow students and did they report having similar spans with him?
CB: Everybody in the school knew what was going on. The white teachers knew what was going on.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: It was you know you'd have to be Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles sitting there--.
MM: [Laughter]
CB: To not-they wouldn't have not sensed it they would've known what was going on it was clear. And see then his behavior just as we're seeing in this community today his behavior validated the behavior of some of the folks who felt like them--.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: But couldn't wear their sheets to school. So you know you knew who you could go who you could talk to who you could trust but you knew you could only go so far with so many people including African-American teachers because that was their jobs. And they wanted to protect you but they couldn't protect you to such-you know to such a degree.
MM: Yeah.
CB: So it was very, very interesting. And I did tell you I don't know if you want-but our span from last time--.
MM: Yeah.
CB: Are those things that you're incorporating or is this going to be the transcript here?
MM: This is it.
CB: OK because I do want to share and give you an example as to the type the types of things we had to face at Harding High School.
MM: OK.
CB: Two examples. One was the example of the Honors Society.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: My best friend in high school was Melvin Walton.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: Melvin I met Melvinthat first year there we became fast and quick buddies. And Melvin's brother was a college student at the time and he had political aspirations so we learned a lot from him.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: Melvin's brother later went on to become Mecklenburg-a member of the Mecklenburg County commission and consistently the highest vote getter in any election that was Bob Walton.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: But Melvinand I became good friends and Melvinwas very, very smart. We shared some of similar interests and competitive and a sense of do the right thing. And we knew that this maroon neck principal he didn't care for either one of us and Melvinwas much, much more a good student than I was ever gonna be.
MM: [Laughter]
CB: But we would outwit him quite often but we could tell you at any given moment at the drop of a hat--.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: Our grade point averages because we knew why we were in school. It wasn't just to socialize although we understood that was all a part of the socialization experience and stuff but we knew why we were there and what we needed to take care of--.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: And that people couldn't get in our way of doing that you know our parents just like from elementary school.
MM: Right.
CB: You go to school-Melvin's experience he went to Isabella Wyche an African-American elementary school over in Third Ward. You know he had this he went to school with the same basis intent that I did. You go to school, learn your lessons, do your own work, don't talk back at the teacher, get your education. Same thing.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: We get to Harding High School and they're gonna you know try to flip the intent on us and now we gotta fight everyday about stuff that's gonna get us off track so Melvinand I knew what our grade point average was and we were in the 11th grade and they were having the tapping in of new Honors Society members.
MM: National Honors Society.
CB: The National Honors Society.
MM: Right uh-huh.
CB: So you don't make it in the 10th grade you're building your grade point average so that when you're in the 11th grade that's when you get tapped in to the National Honors Society. And it's a ceremonial process where they bring the entire student body into the gym-gymnasium and they walk around, the current members walk around the audience and they go all up and down through the bleachers. It's kind of a mystery thing.
MM: Yeah.
CB: And then when they finally get toward the person they tap them on the shoulder and that is the beginning of that person's induction into the honor society. Well Melvinand I were seated in the audience and with our finest on because we knew we were going to be tapped that day. And they started tapping and they tapped and they got inducted the seniors who ended up at the end of the year with grade point average at the end of their 11th grade year but had not made it at the early part of 11th.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: So the current seniors were inducted first so now it's the opportunity for the juniors the current juniors. We're sitting there and we notice-I'm noticing they're going alphabetically.
MM: Right.
CB: So I'm Baxter. Melvinis Walton. So I'll be up there at the beginning and he'll be pulling up the rear. So they go and they do Adams and Allen and Anderson da-da-da-da-da so I know Baxter is next. Ahh but they went to Blackwell hmm alright and now they're at Chism? And now Dinton? Well maybe they're just doing that to throw us off. Then they get all the way before I know it they're at Xylophone [Laughter]. And Melvinand I are still seated. I said "Something is wrong with this picture" when I looked down there and all stretched out across the floor were all these white faces.
MM: Oh.
CB: I said "Something is wrong with this picture." So at the completion of the program of course Melvinand I connected and we-he asked for permission and I asked for permission from our you know homeroom teachers because you just can't up and disappear.
MM: That's right. Right.
CB: We're going to the office something is wrong and we want to see what it is. So we go to the office and you know the principal is expecting us anyway and he doesn't have time to see us right then. So we said we would wait and we waited and we waited and we waited. And he kept sending word "Tell them to go because I don't have time to see them." And we said that "We will see you when you have the time and we're going to wait." So eventually since we out waited him he finally came out and then when we told him that we felt that there had been a serious and grievous error and that this needed to be checked because we knew for a fact that we should have been inducted into the Honor's Society. Well he calls over the person who was doing all of the calculations and so on and so forth and after they put their heads together they came back out and told us that the computer had made an error and I responded that "Well that's very interesting I'm taking computer classes this year from this lady and she's the same person who has told me all semester that what you put into the computer is what you get out. So if you don't put anything in you aren't going to get anything out. If you put garbage in you're gonna get garbage back. So should I be taking a class from her or what?"
MM: [Laughter] There must've been a moment of silence.
CB: [Laughter] There was a moment of silence. But that pause gave them an opportunity to come up with a-
MM: It's December 21st continuing my span with Vanessa Baxter and the principal had recognized the error and had to rectify the omission of Vanessa and her friend MelvinWalton who had qualified for the National Honor's Society.
CB: They indeed decided that there had been an error-this is after several hours they would-first they said they would go back and look at it and then call us back and let us know. So when that was done and we were called back they-we were told that it had indeed been an error and that we had indeed qualified to become members of the National Honors Society and that I don't think-I don't ever recall hearing the words "apologize" or "sorry" but they did he did the principal did offer to in the afternoon announcements to include the mention that Melvinand I were official Honors Society Members announcing that along with the afternoon announcements.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: And I proceeded to tell the good principal "I know that you are a fair man and I know that you want to do the right thing to be on-you know-to do what is fair. Would you agree with me that in as much as Becky Sue and Judy had an opportunity to be inducted into the National Honors Society in front of the entire student body and then you all made a special invitation to their parents--.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: --to come and witness this momentous occasion. Would you not say that it would only be the fair thing to do is to call my parents and Melvin's parents and give them a special invitation and bring that entire student body back into that gymnasium and have another National Honors Society program."
MM: And did he say "Yes you're right"?
CB: He turned maroon once again however we did find a compromise and we were approaching. We couldn't-I don't think he could really envision doing that and since the reply was taking some time I think later I went back to him and proposed that well in as much as the student body is going to be gathered for Black History Month program why don't we just get inducted during that program. And I happened to be president of the African-American Culture Society at the time which is what the club was called.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: And he said "OK" because he couldn't keep putting this off.
MM: Yeah.
CB: And I said "And you call my parents and call Melvin's parents and let them know this is when the National Honors Society program is going to be conducted that will proceed the African-American I mean Black History month program."
MM: Right.
CB: What a wonderful compromise. He didn't know what was going to-you know he couldn't say you know what could the man say?
MM: I think "OK" is just about all he can [Laughter].
CB: So and then him saying "OK" it nearly killed-it killed him but what, what, what could you know what was the other option what was the option. So you know he loved me dearly loved me. So anyway we did have the program my mother and my sister came. Melvin's parents came and some of his older siblings came to witness us being inducted into the National Honors Society which we had worked hard for--.
MM: Yeah.
CB: --this is not a joke, this is not a joke we had worked hard for that. And following that as president of the African-American Culture Society or the club after that program I took over as to conduct the-preside over that Black History month program so the entire student body was there. It was a beautiful program people got into it, it was enjoyable, it was informative, it was educational. I had written the entire program and I had it was told in narrative form with music for everything-the beginning of slavery the story of the beginning of slavery was told and how you know the slaves were taken out of Africa and so on and so forth and then I had a choir set up and then they might come in and start singing the music "Go Down Moses Way Down in Egypt Land, Tell the Pharaoh to Let Our People Go". And I was the narrator so after they would finish that song and then I had dramatic activity you know people acting out these parts as I was narrating. It was just gorgeous. [Laughter]
MM: [Laughter]
CB: Absolutely gorgeous I mean a choir the actors my voice--.
MM: [Laughter]
CB: You know and the beautiful writing the scripting of it all it was fantas-it could've won an emmy for all I know.
MM: [Laughter]
CB: But it was really, really good and it was-you know but it wasn't just entertaining it was educational which was another point and I was doing this and my mom got ( sheeky gog ).
MM: [Laughter]
CB: All of my turban and my National Honors Society sash that had just been you know bestowed upon me and at the end of the program I asked everyone to stand and sing "Lift Every Voice and Sing" which is considered the Negro national anthem. So everybody rose and the librarian at the-near the end of the song or whatever she walked out but she now-you know in retrospect she said she was going to open up the library. But for some reason or another that was taken as some kind of signal to leave the auditor-I mean the gymnasium to disrespect what was going on. And when we finished singing the song there was nothing but black people left in the gym. All the white kids had walked out and when we walked outside these kids were lined up from one end to the other with belts and chains and whatever and then all of a sudden it was a maylay. People running this way that way. Faces getting smashed into cement, teeth flying, blood flying. Helicopters hovering over the police it was just crazy people were fighting it just was indeed a riot. It was clearly a riot. The principal manages to find me while all this is going on and my mother is right beside me--.
MM: Yup.
CB: Because she has come for the National Honors Society from-she wasn't coming for all of this.
MM: Right.
CB: My sister's with me trying to figure out how we are going to get out of this. And the principal finds me and he comes up to me and he says "Vanessa can't you stop this?" and I looked at him and I said "You know Mr. Kenneth Englandyou started it why don't you stop it?" At that time my mother grabbed me and said "Come on you're getting out of here." And I don't know how many days the school was closed after that.
MM: Wow.
CB: Crazy.
MM: Amazing.
CB: Amazing, amazing but even with that that wasn't enough for the man-because people got injured you know.
MM: Yeah, yeah.
CB: People got injured and I mean they were going to hurt us and because it happened on the spur of the moment most of the African-American kids well all of us we rode a bus into that neighborhood.
MM: Right, right.
CB: There were no buses sitting out there waiting on us because this is in the morning. This program is in the morning before lunch even had even taken place. But there were no buses so we had to get out of there the best way that we could. Black kids were running through the woods to get over to-to get to the number 2 Ashley-Row public transportation bus. Don't ask me how but there were cops in the woods taking potshots at students.
MM: Oh my gosh.
CB: Trying to get to the bus. Because helicopters snoopy as it was called then--.
MM: Yeah.
CB: I don't know if it's still called you know. I mean--police, helicopters hovering and the police circling all the parameters and stuff.
MM: Right.
CB: It was a very, very bad scene but that wasn't enough for Mr. Kenneth Englandthere was nothing about I mean we after then there were a number of-what did they used to call them? Talk-in-it wasn't talk-ins-sit-ins not sit-ins it was something like where a person like a Dr. Kit Crosby would come to your school and sit two groups down and try to talk and mediate and resolve conflict and there was a buzz word back in the day for that kind of thing I can't remember that but they would bring you and you know sit down and try to resolve your, your-try to resolve conflict. And to try to show you also that you have more-you have more things alike than you do--.
MM: Yeah.
CB: Then you have dis-alike.
MM: And I'm continuing my span with Vanessa Baxter at the point where Kathleen Crosby was asked to come to Harding High School in the wake of a riot that had broken out after the Martin-Black History month celebration in February.
CB: That is true and at the time I believe Dr. Crosby either an area Superintendent with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools. I know she had been at the previous Myers Park Elementary I believe principal and apparently had been deemed the person to be the most effective to come and handle this type of situation and she would gather student leaders together and hold what for lack of a better word and I'm thinking this is the term that was used a rap-in.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: Something-it was talking and getting groups to talk it was a mediation type of activity where she would get us to see that we had more things alike than we had differences.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: And to help us approach our conflicts and resolve them without fighting and violence. She did that I know at a number of high schools but what she didn't take with her when she left was the principal who was more hate-hateful than a number of the students. And I will say that the parents also chimed in and they did not help the situation. And I'm referring to a number of the Caucasian parents and I wanted to be clear that I am not saying all of anybody.
MM: Right.
CB: But there were some that had they not behaved in the manner that they did a lot of our problems could've resolved-could've been resolved between the students but the parents they were like fuel to the fire and it just made things worse. The problems did continue however--.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: --and I do recall very vividly the principal and he really gave me a lot of credit and this is when I knew I had what the young people may say I knew I had more juice than I thought I had.
MM: [Laughter]
CB: When he sent my parents a letter and he not only sent it to me a number of black students received this letter and I remember it the wording on that letter as vividly as if I had just read it 5 minutes ago it said to my parents "Your daughter, Vanessa Baxter" it alluded to the fact that I was being influenced by outside agitators.
MM: Hmm.
CB: Saying I had no mind of my own because there is no way in the world I could think on the spot like I was thinking and saying you know these things but he was under the belief that I was being influenced by outside agitators and should a riot ever occur not just at Harding High School High School but at any of the ten public high schools within Charlotte-Mecklenburg I would not be suspended I would be expelled and not be allowed to attend another public school in the state of North Carolina for one year.
MM: Hmm.
CB: Well [laughter] my family did not have the resources to address this as it needed to be but at least one of my friends did and they did indeed take that letter to the offices of attorney Julius Chambers who was well known for his civil rights activities in this city and now certainly across this country and the world. And anyway that matter was squashed very, very quickly.
MM: I can imagine.
CB: But the nerve, the gall, the audacity to approach you know a 15-.
MM: Yeah.
CB: I mean I'm 15-16-17 years old what do I-why do I have to go through all of this about something that is fair. And the whole thing about this integration this segregation-integration movement towards all of the you know melting pot type of thing to be subjected to this type of mentality from an adult. Somebody who also may even be preaching that they're Christian and they're-you know just doing the word of God and so on and so forth it was quite conflicting. For me because I grew up in a church you know I've been going to church since I was a little girl and learned the Golden Rule and went to the Lutheran Kindergarten during the winter--.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: And went over to Ascension Lutheran in the summer. You know right over here on Morehead Street for summer-the summer bible school and all of that. To deal with people like that and then knowing that my mother and my parents my aunt had instilled in me "You make sure you do right you do what's fair you-you know--you listen to authority."
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: And these authority figures are just messing me up because they don't have any regard for me.
MM: Yeah.
CB: They are just they want to mistreat me just because the way that I look. And I had nothing to do with that but I've always been told I'm a gift from God.
MM: Yeah.
CB: So you know you say you like God, you honor God but you want to dishonor me, step on me, hurt me it gives you great joy, great pride. I was truly conflicted so during this time I started thinking you know what is this Christianity thing all about too. And I--.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: I remember the first time I took that message home [Laughter] that didn't go over well. But these are types of things that my experiences forced me to think about.
MM: Sure.
CB: And examine.
MM: Yeah.
CB: And it's all a part of growth but I managed thank God to get out of Harding High School alive. Something that my mother thought might not be.
MM: Hmm.
CB: Because it became very, very brutal it was very, very personal and when I bring you the materials I will show to you in my yearbook where--.
MM: Yeah.
CB: One of the students who became my friend one of the white students who became my friend he wrote in my yearbook "Dear Vanessa when I heard that we had a black head cheerleader" -I became I went on to become the first African-American head cheerleader at Harding High School-"when I heard that we had a black head cheerleader I was going to drop out of school but now that I know you, you are real cool and I like you. Your friend forever, Devon."
MM: [Laughter] what a transformation. He changed-he changed his mind.
CB: A lot of people changed.
MM: Yeah, yeah.
CB: When they saw that it was all ridiculous.
MM: Right.
CB: But when you have an adult leading children and their thinking is all messed up.
MM: Right.
CB: Because we did eventually, many of us did eventually see that you don't have anything on me and I don't have anything on you. We're all in this thing together.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: Why not since we're all in the same boat try to steer in the right-the same direction. We'll get there quicker.
MM: Exactly.
CB: But you got all these folks trying to be the sharks in the water and yanking the oars and stuff and these are the folks who are in-you know who have authoritative positions. And it was just very, very difficult to make that transition on paper--.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: --it had said this is what this country this is what this city this is what this county this state this is the direction we're going and that was not the case everybody was not moving in the same direction and that you know--.
MM: Yeah.
CB: A number of people were in positions that they clearly should not have been I have been told that in many, many years I run you know I run into people who shared that experience whether it'd be a student or a faculty member.
MM: Yeah.
CB: And I've heard a number of stories shared to me to say that was really, really wrong. But interestingly enough ten years later I went back to Harding High School.
MM: Right.
CB: And I went back as a television news reporter anchor.
MM: Yeah.
CB: And I did a story a series looking at Harding High School ten years following my graduation. That class graduating that year was the first class to have gone through total integration--.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: In the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system and I went back to do a two part series on what a difference ten years makes.
MM: Yeah.
CB: And I did indeed a magnificent difference.
MM: Wow.
CB: So all the pains and the battle scars, etc. Often times people have to be a trailblazer and you don't get up one morning saying "Oh I think I'll go out and be a trailblazer." They didn't wake up and say "Oh I think I'll-I won't stay in the poor pit I'll just go out here and fight Civil Rights and you know maybe my house will get bombed" or you know--.
MM: Right.
CB: You don't choose these things you just get put in positions and I think-and I do believe God knows enough about who the people are--.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: Who might be able to handle it. Because as you said everybody may not have been able been prepared to do that. Some things along the road prepared me for that moment.
MM: Yeah.
CB: I wouldn't trade it even if it was very, very harmful it started eating me up inside.
MM: Right.
CB: My mother had to sit me down and tell me you know "You've got to let some of this stuff go because it's eating you up. I've seen a transformation in you that I don't like. You know this is all you think about you know. You're not thinking about getting even you're trying to make things right and you just can't do all of this stuff and these things take time." And I didn't want to hear that I'm 16 years old you know--.
MM: Yeah.
CB: I want to microwave everything.
MM: [Laughter]
CB: You know the law got passed you know when I started elementary school why is it that I'm still dealing with this ignorance? So everything takes time but my, my real celebration was ten years later when I was invited back to be to give the commencement address.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: At Harding High School High School and I didn't go there and tell them even though I know that I gave a wonderful commencement type go out fight the world you know seize the day carpe diem type of address I also want you all to know you're looking at me yes I'm looking good but the road has not been filled with all roses starting right here at Harding High School High.
MM: Yeah.
CB: And I had spent the week over there meeting a lot of the students preparing my two part series that was going to be airing on the previous day leading up to graduation and the day of graduation and so I just had a good time and actually with all of these kids they were just wonderful. Just absolutely wonderful and you know they're just interacting with each other and I was like "Man this is a different place".
MM: Yeah.
CB: And I just never would've expected to see and I could look in one corner and just kind of have a flashback of an image of somebody's face hitting the cement in that same spot at that time this white girl was all up in this black guy's hair and I was like you know this is really, really, really different. But it's a difference for certainly the better now but I did say I told them I would be remiss if I did not let them know that my days at Harding High School was not all filled with fun.
MM: Right.
CB: That there were riots that there were-there was a person in authority who had a devout dislike and hatred for people of color.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: And it helped prolong an issue that-a situation that needed not be and etc. etc. And I told them about some of those things and I could tell by the silence that they were captured because they just never even imagined that something happened like that on those grounds.
MM: Yeah.
CB: It just blew them away.
MM: Right.
CB: It just blew them away so afterwards parents came up to me and said "I'm so glad you told that story. I'm so glad you told it because these kids they think life is just easy."
MM: I know.
CB: You know and they don't think that even some of them don't even think that civil rights ever happened you know they just think people just got out here and all of this stuff is to be handed to them and delivered to them but now they see you and you're somebody real they see you on TV and they know they see you on TV they think "Oh she's got it going on you know. She's never had a hard day in her life."
MM: Oh sure.
CB: But they said "Thank you for sharing that because it's good for them to know that you still have to work twice as hard." This is just where we started out.
MM: That's right.
CB: You still gotta work twice as hard you gotta be twice as better etc. etc.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: And don't forget it because it still is an underlying thing it may never be spoken it may never be said but its there its still there and then on the other hand some of the teachers some of the white teachers came up to me and said to me "Vanessa I thank you for saying that." And they were in tears individually.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: In tears, "I knew that that was going on but I couldn't say anything. It didn't make any sense for that principal to teach you to treat you the way that he did. You hadn't done anything to anybody you were just trying to do the right thing you were smart" and so on and so forth.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: "And you were trying you know you were the ideal type of student."
MM: Right.
CB: "But he just hated you and he didn't hate you for any other reason than he was black." And then the woman just broke down and started crying and she said "I just wish I could've done something but I stood back and I let it happen and I want to apologize to you right now."
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: And then I had an opportunity to interview my old African-American Culture teacher and she and I talked and you know there were tears and stuff and I let all of them know. I believe in redemption I believe in forgiveness. Everybody is forgiven and released on that one. You know I can't-my mother kept saying "You can't keep holding all of this stuff in."
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: You know "You have had an experience you were there for a reason. You know you have to let this stuff go otherwise its going to consume you" so I let it go but I think it was releasing for them for to be able to come up and say "I saw that,"
MM: Yeah.
CB: "I didn't do anything I'm really sorry I wish I could've done something." And I'm an adult now so I can say back to them "I know you had a job. You know you had kids." And blah, blah, blah, blah but then they kept saying "But it wasn't right, it wasn't right." And I said "No it wasn't right. We all got through this and we're going to keep on but if any other opportunity comes in life where you can do something for somebody then use that as a stepping stone."
MM: Right, right. Well I want to thank you. And in my span with Vanessa Baxter one of the points that came up regarding Harding High School High School concerned the guidance. And Vanessa recalls very strongly her experience with one of the councilors at Harding High School.
CB: Yes I very, very vividly remember Mrs. Allison she was a very nice lady but she always tried to direct--well that was her job description to guide but I was not necessarily always in agreement with the guidance I certainly thought that I was qualified in certain-was capable of doing work in the SAT program that's what it was called then.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: It would be now the equivalent of AP.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: Accelerated Program I believe that is--but I wanted to certainly get into that SAT English because I figured I had mastered a number of the fundamental and rudimentary skills of the English language and could hang in a number of our-my sisters and brothers were always directed to go to the basic English course and I wanted to get into the accelerated and so did Melvinmy best friend. And we were discouraged from doing that but however we did eventually did prevail in that matter and maintained our standing in the SAT English throughout our high school term.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: And that also helped us to up our grade point averages in the calculations of the National Honors Society.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: So folks meant well but the guidance councilor also in addition to always trying to channel black students into basic and remedial math and English which takes away from the calculation-your calculations in the Honors Society. That always seemed to be part of the core but not only that was the direction in helping students select curricula.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: Curriculums that would put them in a position to be better more competitive--.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: For college acceptance. And we often times were not rather than guided we were misguided.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: And it happened just repeatedly so that was another thing but it was very, very interesting I was certainly aware that I had to participate in extra-curricular activities to certainly increase my chances-my viability of enrolling in whatever university that I might choose so I decided that I would certainly apply to become an exchange student.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: And I wanted to see the world I was always interested in the world I told you a little bit about my junior high school teacher, French teacher Mrs. Greer that opened my eyes about France and its romantic language and I wanted to see the place and so I applied to become a foreign exchange student and lo and behold the selection was not done through the school system there was an external exchange committee-foreign exchange committee.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: Outside of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system so when they reviewed and looked at all of the applications that were received from Harding High School because only one exchange student would be selected from each school--.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: The two candidates the two applications the first and second place the first runner up and the second runner up ended up being two none other than MelvinWalton in second place and me in first place and that was the choice from Harding High School High School. The first time ever African-Americans had even competed in the foreign exchange program.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: And then from Harding High School they end up with two black candidates so we went to the-we were asked to come to an interview individually and I remember mine very vividly every time I go out Park Road and past Closeburn Avenue and remember going out there on a Sunday afternoon to meet this committee and to be interviewed by them.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: And I was selected as the foreign exchange student to represent Harding High School High School in Oslo, Norway. Well that did not happen it did not take place even though I had won and had gone through all of the competition when the host family found out that it would be receiving as their guest a 16 year old African-American female everyone who-everyone who had applied to be a host family on the Norway end withdrew their applications except for one family. And that family had a male student in their home who was our age so Melvinas the second place contender he ended up going to Oslo but he was only there for a week he was supposed to stay a term.
MM: Right.
CB: He was only there for a week because he was not well received.
MM: Oh my.
CB: And as a matter of fact he was you know almost run down on the street with the car. So every time I hear about the Nobel Peace prize being given in Oslo, Norway I keep wondering about why that setting because of Melvin's experience was so bad and I wasn't even afforded the experience as a winner I always wonder what kind of peace it is there that they were talking about. Maybe someone from Oslo, Norway will read this oral transcript and decide to host me these many years later. Extend the peace. [Laughter] But the last thing I'd like to say with that guidance issue there we were often times black students were directed and there was this big push to send us to this one particular university in North Carolina which very few of us had interest but some of us did end up going there and most of them never graduated because it was just not a good match.
MM: Uh-huh.
CB: But it was the Alma mater though of the guidance councilor and I'm not sure what kind of points had been exchanged but whatever.
MM: Oh.
CB: But I ended up being recruited heavily by the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill which is a very fine university. And the other surprisingly to me I was recruited and the recruiter made two trips to see me from this university which I had never heard of it was a university called Vassar. So the second time that she came to visit with me she left some materials for my parents and me to look at and I remember once that she left I opened up the brochure and the first sentence as if I'm-was reading it I just read it 5 minutes ago the first sentence asked a question: what do you have in common with ( Lee Radiswil ) and Jacklyn Bovier Kennedy. Both of them are Vassar graduates. And I quickly answered the question "Not one damn thing." [Laughter] These-not a thing. I instead folded up the brochure and said to myself "Self, you are going to the blackest university on this planet because you are not going to spend your college years fighting and fighting and fighting for truth and justice and fairness and righteousness and just a chance to be heard as a human being and as a citizen and not a third class citizen. You can't spend that kind of time anymore I understand college those days are supposed to be the best years of your life you cannot rewind the tape on the film that you've just seen the past three years. Go have yourself some fun-
MM: Yeah, yeah.
CB: "And find yourself the blackest university on the planet." And as a result the only university to which I applied was Howard University. I am thankful to God that they did indeed accept me because that was the only university that received my application. [Laughter] I want to thank you very, very much too and thank the University of North Carolina in Charlotte for this wonderful opportunity to be a part of this most important project.
MM: It's my pleasure, you're welcome.
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