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Interview with Gerson L. Stroud

Stroud, Gerson L., 1919-2006
Stroud, Daisy S., 1921-
Desmarais, Melinda H.
Date of Interview: 
Stroud, Gerson L., 1919-2006; Stroud, Daisy S., 1921-; West Charlotte High School (Charlotte, N.C.); Johnson C. Smith University; Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools; Race relations; Segregation; African Americans--Education; School integration; Busing for school integration; African American school principals; Public schools--Administration; African American soldiers--Social conditions; North Carolina--Charlotte; Interviews (Sound recordings); Oral histories
Gerson L. Stroud recounts his experiences as a lifelong resident of Charlotte as well as his thirty-one year career with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system where, as principal of West Charlotte High School, he oversaw that school’s racial integration. Reflecting on his childhood, Mr. Stroud discusses the complete separation of black and white communities in Charlotte and the impact this had on children, who even from a young age understood that there were racial rules that must be followed. He also recounts how his father, who worked at some of Charlotte’s finest hotels and restaurants, provided employment opportunities to Johnson C. Smith students so they could finance their education. An army veteran of World War II, Mr. Stroud explains how segregation affected African American soldiers throughout their military career from induction to access to veterans’ benefits. Following his service, Mr. Stroud recalls the path he took into teaching and how Superintendent Dr. Elmer Garinger recruited him for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system. Mr. Stroud discusses his experience as West Charlotte High School’s principal as the school weathered a number of challenges including the closure of Second Ward High School, the subsequent incorporation of Second Ward’s population into West Charlotte, and the implementation of school busing to integrate the school system. In particular, he details the challenges the school administration and staff faced when all but nineteen of the school’s teachers were transferred to other high schools and replaced with newly hired white teachers, and how in the lead-up to integration the local media and the school system all expected West Charlotte to be the epicenter of racial conflict. However, when it came time to integrate, other than a short-lived boycott by white students, West Charlotte had fewer racial issues than the other high schools. Mr. Stroud attributes this to the hard work of the teachers and the staff. Mr. Stroud concludes by reflecting on how Charlotte has changed over his lifetime.
North Carolina--Charlotte; circa 1920 - 2001
Interview Setting: 
Home of Gerson Stroud, North Carolina--Charlotte
Oral History, OH
Interview Audio: 
GS: Gerson L. Stroud
DS: Daisy S. Stroud (contributor)
MD: Melinda H. Desmarais

Minidisc 1 begins.

MD: This is Melinda Desmarais, the interviewer and today is June the 20th the year is 2001 and I am here with Mr. Gerson Stroud at his home in Charlotte, North Carolina, and I’m conducting this interview for the digital sound archive initiative for the Special Collections department at UNC Charlotte’s Atkins Library. Mr. Stroud please state your full name.

GS: Gerson Lamar Stroud.

MD: And Mr. Stroud what’s your date of birth?

GS: 3-1-19

MD: And where were you born Mr. Stroud?

GS: Charlotte, North Carolina.

MD: What were your parents’ names?

GS: Julius and Jessie Stroud

MD: Were they from here too?

GS: My father was from Chapel Hill, North Carolina and my mother was from Spartanburg, South Carolina.

MD: What brought them here?

GS: I believe it was better opportunities for employment and especially the employment of my father. If you will remember, that, when you look back at the time when I was born, my father was a young man but opportunities for employment and, and growth were very limited. My father grew up in his hometown of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The set of the University of North Carolina and all the education and training that he received was at the University of North Carolina. For those who might have visited the university, they will remember the Carolina Inn that is located near the center of the campus. This is where my father first started to work. This is where he got his basic training and it was from there that he started branching out. At the Carolina Inn from the story that he would tell us, he started there in the kitchen as a pot washer and then he became a cook. He became a vegetable cook and a fry cook and a meat cook and a baker. And he then saw what was happening in the dining room and he said that he wanted to do what the others were doing in the dining room and he then asked to become a busboy so he could learn how to become a waiter. Because he said that the waiters were trained in how to deal with people, how to get along with people, how to satisfy people. And this would give him an opportunity of rendering a service but at the same time to gain an education, and as he grew there he outgrew what the Carolina Inn had to offer him. And those who were training them got opportunities to go to the various summer resorts in and around North Carolina. So he went to Hendersonville, North Carolina and there he became a first class waiter, and he said that’s where he started making money. My mother was from Spartanburg, South Carolina and my mother too had gone there to work because job opportunities were limited for Negro girls during that time. So they all wanted and got an opportunity to go to the different resorts to work during the summer and make money. And she went to Henderson and that’s where she met my father, and at the end of the summer they decided to get married, and when they got married they left and went back to Chapel Hill and they stayed in Chapel Hill for a while but my three oldest, three oldest children in my family were all born in Spartanburg, where my mother grew up and where her family was located. And the three youngest ones, well my father after the summer resorts and after going spending the summers there would go back to Chapel Hill and then he left Chapel Hill and he became, got to be in demand because he was such a good waiter.

MD: Is that what he did here in Charlotte?

GS: No well that’s what he did when he left, the mountains. He went back to Chapel Hill and from Chapel Hill the waiters got in demand, and he went to KK, we went to the old Henry Hotel in Greensboro and from there he came to Charlotte. And when he came to Charlotte that’s when he and my wife, he and his wife got, well, my mother didn’t work but he got his jobs and they decided that they were going to stay in Charlotte. And that’s when we moved on West Hill street and he got his job then working at a, at a club on West Trade Street, the Manufacturers Club. And from there he went to the Selwyn Hotel and he worked at the Selwyn Hotel and after that, they built the Charlotte Hotel and he went to work at the Charlotte Hotel and he started out as a captain, then a second head waiter and then head waiter. And he served in that capacity for years. And during his entire period of working in and around Charlotte, not only did he work there but he was the head waiter at Hotel Charlotte, he also served as head waiter at the Charlotte Country Club, and at the Myers Park Country Club. So as far as his service qualifications and his background and training in the field that he chose at that time, he was very, very well known. Very well respected. And in addition to rendering that service he would get the young men, the young students from Johnson C. Smith and he would get them and give them job opportunities at the various hotels where he worked so that they could work and make additional money to enable them to improve their education. And during those years not only did he do that for them, he did it for his own sons. And we went along with him and we went with him to the North End Hotel in Ocean Bloom, New Jersey. We went with him to the fancy 2400 apartment hotel [Hotel Twenty Four Hundred] in Washington D.C. We worked with him at the different clubs I mentioned in Charlotte, and at the Mayview Manor Inn, in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Not only did his own sons work there but many of the students who attended Johnson C. Smith and became educators, doctors, teachers and professional men under and as a result of his influence.

MD: And what was his name?

GS: Julius Stroud.

MD: And your mother’s name again?

GS: Jessie, Geneva Stroud. My father did all of the work. My mother was one of the ones during that time that lived by the rule that the mothers stayed at home, took care of the children, and this is what she did. And my father did all of the bread winning, as it was known at that time.

MD: Describe for me where you grew up here in Charlotte.

GS: I grew up on, well after well my, as I mentioned before my mother and father had a place on West Hill Street which is a few doors below the Good Samaritan Hospital, and after being there for a while my father was able to buy a home on Jefferson Street, in Third Ward. Jefferson Street was a short block between Church Street and Mint Street, off of Morehead Street. It’s very close to where Erickson Stadium is right now. That’s where my father bought a home. It was small when he bought it. He continued to renovate it and it was big enough for our family and we stayed there until redevelopment and we had to move, and that’s when my family moved to the Washington Height area. And that’s where my mother passed. Now my father, when my father passed we were still living on Jefferson Street and that was the old home place.

MD: And Jefferson Street, was it in African, in an African American community?

GS: Jefferson Street was a street between, was a one-block street between Mint and Church Street.

MD: So it was only like one row of houses.

GS: One block of houses that were originally occupied by whites and I don’t know, but like what has happened so many times. They decided to sell that block to Negroes, and my father was one of the first ones to buy one of those houses and I would often hear him tell the story that he paid $6.25 a week for the purchase of that house. And when we lived in that house initially it was Eight Rudison Street. That’s what it was when we first moved there. But it was as I said a one-block street, unpaved, gravel. It had three and four, seven, eight houses on that street. And it was in between Church Street, Mint Street, Palmer Street and Post Street. That’s where it was located and of course being as young as we were we didn’t know anything, we didn’t know anything about the location of the street and it’s being in between the houses and homes where white people lived. All we knew is this is where we lived and this is where my mother and father had bought a place for us to live. But we do know that we had to go through the white communities for everything. And we would go from there to the Myers Street School where we attended elementary school and then from there to Second Ward High School, where we went to high school, all of us. And that’s where, that was our early days and that’s where we went to elementary school and went to high school.

MD: Did you have any contacts with whites that you lived near? Other than walking through their neighborhood to go to your schools or to town or--

GS: Across from Dunbar Street, Dunbar Street was, well Dunbar Street is still there but on Dunbar Street black people lived. Across the street from Dunbar was a big field. And across from that field on Morehead Street over on the other side, off on the other side was where the white people lived. And there were a number of white children over there, in that field out there. They came to play and we went to play. And we had this kind of a playing relationship. We played baseball, football, had swings in the trees. There were no real developed playgrounds. We made the playgrounds and we played on them. Now we went to the playground and we played together and we did things together there. But we had our ups and downs but we didn’t cross the street and go into their homes and they didn’t cross the street and come into our homes. They went to their schools and we went to ours. They went to the D. H. Hill Elementary School and the Graham, I believe it was the Graham Junior High School [Alexander Graham Middle School] over there on Morehead Street and we would walk from where we lived on Morehead Street and we would go either up to up Brevard Street to First Street and cut across and go down to Myers Street, or Second Ward, or we would go the back way, we called it the back way and cut across the field and go across the branch. This was a short way and go across Boundary Street over to Myers Street and Second Ward, to school. That’s what we did during those days. And the majority of us who had a dream or a desire for higher education, there wasn’t anything like scholarships at that time. Scholarships were what we made and what we did ourselves. Those were the scholarships. So all of us that went to, were interested in, wanted to push forward, we would generally go with my father and some of the others and we would do those kind of jobs and that’s how we would make the money that we would make to pay for our tuition. And we couldn’t the majority of those who would go to college during that time, unless they were children of some of the more advanced parent, that’s what they would do and we would make that kind of money. We would try to make fifty dollars to pay the tuition, and we would walk to and from Johnson C. Smith, until we got there we learned how to maneuver, and then we could get work aid scholarships and we could live on campus and that’s what we did. The first two years we would to and from where we lived in Third Ward to the campus and after that we learned how to get work aid scholarships and we got work aid scholarships so that we could live on the campus and we would get our tuition and our lodging and we would stay on the campus, that’s how we did it. And we stayed there until we graduated and then went into service. (laughs)

MD: Well let’s talk about before you went into service, and you were telling me sort of about your experiences and your families working experiences, can you describe for me a little bit about how you would characterize race relations in Charlotte say in the 1930’s and 40’s, even the 20’s since you were born in 1919. Sort of how would characterize race relations here in those early days?

GS: Well it wasn’t any, I mean you couldn’t hardly characterize race relations because you weren’t allowed to associate with the other race. They were complete separate, you know. And all of your relations generally were with your own race, but it was just generally understood that you were completely separate, completely separate, the whites and the blacks. And well whites evidenced a superior attitude. They evidenced the attitude of the majority, the evidenced the attitude of those with all, because the black people were the ones who did all of the service work. They were the ones who did the meager service work in the homes. They were the ones who were the maids. They were the ones who were the cooks. They were the ones who were the nurses. They were the ones who were taught to drive those few automobiles that the white people had at that time, and they were the ones who were the chauffeurs. They were the ones who did the lawns and cut the grass and kept the yards looking beautiful. And that’s what we came in contact with, and that’s what we saw all the time. I can’t help but think about (pause) a song that we would hear sometimes when we would go up and down the streets and we would see a group of black children in groups and they would be singing and they would be jumping up and down, and we would say what is that song they were singing? ‘White folks call me a nigger, that ain’t none of my name, when I get to heaven they gonna call me by my name’ and they would just (claps), and they would just dance and simply, they were, this was a means of a release. This was a, these were, these were different groups, they were not the groups that you would see in normal and regular routine of black family living, and there was a group that did and reacted and carried on in this way, and this was a means of release and this is what they actually saw and felt. So that was a, that was an exhibit that you could see and it was done.

MD: Maybe not the norm, but like you say--

GS: That’s right

MD: But people did act out.

GS: Yeah.

MD: In frustration at times.

GS: Sure, that’s true, that’s true.

MD: Gosh and you had an interesting experience when you worked with your father here in Charlotte I would think--

GS: Oh yes.

MD: In terms of serving people at hotels--

GS: Yes.

MD: And how you were treated as a young black man being there.

GS: Yes, yes indeed. I had some very good experiences and I would say that working with him afforded me a number of opportunities that I would not have had otherwise. But, I also did other things, you know not only just relying on my father but as a, as a student, as a, I always had a feeling or a knack to want to do something for myself. I’ll never forget when I was, I think in either the fourth or fifth grade, we would always go to the public library over on the corner of Second and Brevard Street during that summer they would have a reading program, and they would keep a record of all the books you would check out and all the books you would check in, and the books that you said that you read and the books that you said that you didn’t enjoy, and that you were returning and getting other books, I can remember that as though it were yesterday and I remember one book in particular, I think, I think I was in either fifth or sixth grade, it was a Boy Scouts book. I had not become a member of the Boy Scouts, but it was a Boy Scout book, and that book just fascinated me. It had so many things in it that, it just appealed to me, and then as I continued to read it I saw an advertisement in that book that read if you want to be your own boss, if you wanted to be your own manager. Then clip out this coupon, or get permission to write down this address and send it to this company and tell them you are interested in making some money for yourself. And I wrote it down, it was an advertisement for boys in the fifth, sixth or, seventh grade I believe to sell The American Magazine, The Woman’s Home Companion and Collier’s magazine and that if you were to sell these, not only could you make a profit, but you could gain so many certificates that would earn for you, awards that you could use to build up equipment needed for baseball teams and football teams and for playing areas and I wrote that down and I went on and I wrote to The American Magazine and the office was in Cincinnati, Ohio and I wrote to them and I told them that I had read this in the Boy Scout magazine and that I was very much interested in becoming a salesman. In less than a week or ten days they sent their sales representative from Charlotte a Mrs. Cohen to my house to meet me, to meet my mother and to see how interested I really was, and after they met me and my mother, Mrs. Cohen said that she was very much interested in me becoming a salesman and that she would let me try first, I believe she said with attempting to sell about four American magazines. The Collier’s magazine was a weekly magazine, no the Collier’s yes The American Magazine was monthly. The woman’s magazine was bi-monthly I believe and the Collier’s magazine was a weekly magazine, and the Collier’s magazine was 5 cents, the woman’s magazine was 10 cents, and The American Magazine was 25 cents and for each one that I would sell, on the 25 cents magazine I think I would get ten cents. And for the Collier’s magazine that was a weekly magazine, we would sell the weekly magazine for 10 cent and the company would get 6 cents and give me 4 cent, and the other magazine, the Collier’s, The Woman’s Home Companion and one more, we get another amount.

MD: So were you successful?

GS: Yes, and for every magazine that you sold, you would get certificates and when you would get a number of certificates you could turn in those certificates for playground equipment, and I would turn these in and I got enough equipment for our team to have baseball equipment, baseball bats, we had one or two, two or three baseballs, a catcher’s mitt, a first baseman’s mitt and about three gloves and they would always say that I owned the baseball team. (laughs)

MD: That must be the only time but yeah.

GS: Yeah, yeah, that’s what they said, and you know down on the end of the street where we lived, there was a big field. We never knew who owned that field, we never knew that, but we went down there and started our own playground. We started our own baseball field. And they used to say that it was my baseball team, and every afternoon they would gather and they would come to my house, I lived about 3 or 4 doors from the field and they would wait for me to come out and bring the tools so we could play baseball and we did that. And it was from that, that the, The Charlotte News, The Charlotte News, no, before The Charlotte News, during that period there were three I believe prominent black newspapers; The Chicago Defender, the Pittsburgh Courier, the Norfolk Journal and Guide [New Journal and Guide]. And did I say the Afro American [Baltimore Afro American]? The Afro-American newspaper, and as I would go through the various community, the community close to me selling The Woman’s Home Companion and those magazines and so forth the people would ask me where’s the Afro American, where’s the Norfolk General and Guide, where are those papers? And I said I don’t know but I’ll certainly find out, then when I found out I had to order them. I ordered all of those newspapers and my brothers and I made a wagon. We put those newspapers on that wagon and put that American Magazine, Collier’s and put those all on this wagon and we would go through the community, the black community where we lived, every time we would get those papers and every time we would get the magazines and we would sell them, and we built up quite a clientele for the black newspapers. We lost what we had built up--

MD: In the other thing--

GS: For the others, because they really were not appealing to the people that we were selling to, and we did so good with those black newspapers, that The Charlotte News district representative came to my house and talked to my mother and me about my carrying The Charlotte News. That they needed a carrier in that area and from what they could understand from all the people in there, that they didn’t want to take The Charlotte News because the Afro American, the Norfolk General and Guide, the Pittsburgh Courier and The Chicago Defender were servicing their needs, and so my mother said well he’s doing so fine with those black newspapers that he’s carrying and that people are buying, I don’t know whether he should go into a daily newspapers because of the district manager said well he couldn’t carry anything but The Charlotte News, and so she asked me and I said well I don’t want to carry them.

MD: So there was a thirst for things in the African American community--

GS: Sure.

MD: In terms of news--

GS: Yes.

MD: For them by them--

GS: Yes.

MD: About them--

GS: Yes, yes indeed, yes.

MD: Was there a feeling before World War II, were I mean I know you mentioned the, the unusual song that some people would demonstrate or sing?

GS: Yes.

MD: Was there any kinds of civil rights activity other than that before World War II here in Charlotte?

GS: Well everything was so separate. Everything was separate.

MD: And people just realized that?

GS: Yes, Yes. Everything was separate. And the black people were in such a minority that, they just didn’t leave that area in which that they had been located. All of the different houses and the homes that they had were the ones that were built by the white people and they had to rent them from them and they had to pay them their rent, and all of the lodging, the grocery stores and the, the majority of the grocery stores were mama papa grocery stores but they were white owned, and there was a lot of peddling that was done in the black community but this peddling was done by black farmers that lived in the suburbs and they had their own farms and they would come into the city two and three times a week and they would sell all of their vegetables, fresh fruit etc., that they grew on their farms, and this is where the people would buy largely their vegetables and farm-grown items, fruit etc. That’s what they would do, that’s what happened during that time. But I might mention, I didn’t mention, we were talking about the newspapers etc, they finally encouraged me to take a route with The Charlotte News, but they did not discourage me from continuing to carry the black newspapers so although it was against the rule I carried The Charlotte News and I still sold all of the black newspapers every week to all of that area in that community in which I lived. And then one of my brothers and I went into another business, we went into the milk bottle, soft drink bottle, collection, cleaning and selling of those bottles. We had a, what we might have considered a bottle exchange in our backyard during that time.

MD: And was this common for people to try to earn money the best way they could in the community and they did all sort of things industriously?

GS: Yes, yes, yes indeed, you had much of that going on, much of it.

MD: Let me ask if you if we can leave some of your early time now?

GS: Yes ok.

MD: And sort of move forward, if that’s ok.

GS: Yeah, that’s all right, sure.

MD: And talk a little bit about, I know you were in World War II.

GS: Yes.

MD: And then you came back to Charlotte after that time.

GS: Yes.

MD: Had you begun teaching at that time?

GS: What when I came back, Charlotte?

MD: Uh huh.

GS: No, after World War II, you see I was drafted while I was in school at Johnson C. Smith and they granted the seniors who were to graduate the privilege of graduating after which they would call you into service. I graduated in, I believe it was June of ‘42 and I was already, I had already been drafted and I was awaiting the call to go into service so in July I received the invitation, that I would be drafted, I would be called to service in August, and in August, for all the group that was going they called a in August and in August I went to Fort Bragg for the examination, and then you know when you went at that time, they would give you, give you a two week furlough, they would called it, so if you passed you could go back home and get your business straight, that’s what they would always say. So, I went at that time and I went to Fort Bragg, with the group from Charlotte. We didn’t travel together, blacks traveled on the buses for blacks. Whites traveled on the buses for whites. The army was very segregated, very segregated. And we went to the induction center at Fort Bragg when we got there, and they would always say that you would go there, and you would go through and you would take your physical exam and if you passed, no if we got there in time enough that morning and you passed they would then induct you into the army and they would give you a furlough a two week furlough to get your business straight and then you would return and that’s when you would receive your assignment. When they was getting ready for the induction that evening, you know it was all done alphabetically and you see S is near the end (laughs) and when they got to the line where I was, they cut it off and said this is all we are going to take today, all the rest of you all from this point on go back over here, and you will come back tomorrow and we will induct you (laughs) and you will go back tomorrow. And I had a brother that was along with me. He went back home that day I went back home the next day, what a difference a day could make.

MD: Yeah (laughs) now after you returned to Charlotte from the war--

GS: Yes.

MD: Let’s just fast forward after the war.

GS: Yes.

MD: Were things any different here in terms of race relations?

GS: No, no. It was still black and white.

MD: Even when, had you started teaching after you returned from the war?

GS: No, you know you asked me that I think before, no when I came back I had just returned and I was really trying to get a job. I had completed my degree but I had not taken education which was a requirement for teaching at that time, so what I was really, what we had been told is what I thought, since I had been in army administration as well as in supplies and ammunition I had done all of that, I thought that I could have gotten a job otherwise they told us, that we were quite qualified. I was a supply sergeant and I was an army personnel clerk, I did all of that. I thought that I could very easily get a job, and so I applied to all the federal places trying to get employed and I wasn’t successful. If they didn’t have black and white, if there were no vacancies where the black people were employed there just weren’t any vacancies, and there were a number of us who failed in this category, so all we had to do then was to draw our 52-20. That’s for fifty-two weeks you could draw twenty dollars a week subsistence, and that’s what so many of us did. I thought sure I could get a job with the Employment Security Commission and there were a group of us who were really applying and from what I could understand that I probably had the best qualifications, but the manner in which they made their choices was on the basis of size, not on the, I mean your qualifications but size also because they said that with all of those soldiers coming in to get their 52-20 they were going to need physical strength as well as the ability to handle the paperwork, and they at the employment security commission, you see it was separate. They had a black section that was over on McDowell Street and they had the white section on First Street or Second Street, First Street I believe. The white section was in charge of the black section that was on Second Street, but all of the people who were employed had to go through a state employment section where they did the employing and I remember that in the final analysis that there were about four or five of us that were left in the final group to be chosen. They chose my brother because he was the biggest one, and they said that he could probably handle that crowd that was coming in there, and they chose one or two others who were older, you know those men that had gone in they were 30 and 35, they were older and they chose them, and that’s how they made the choices. Those were the men who were chosen, they were the ones who were placed in charge in the black component to work with the black soldiers. Yeah they were still segregated everything was segregated.

MD: So World War II didn’t, you didn’t really see a big change when you came back. It was, Charlotte was still sort of--

GS: Completely segregated.

MD: The way it was?

GS: Yes.

MD: Status quo?

GS: Sure.

MD: Did you see things start to change at all say in the 50’s or did you see, were there any people who started to push for, like people in the NAACP or other organizations or people who started to push for civil rights here?

GS: There was always some group that was pushing and trying to bring about an improvement. Carver College, which was an evening school that opened in the facility of Second Ward High School, was opened shortly after they opened Charlotte College, in Charlotte, and they opened Charlotte College as an evening school and as a component, they opened Carver College as an evening school and in the old Second Ward facility.

MD: And they were segregated right?

GS: Oh yes, yes. Completely segregated and the majority of the black soldiers went to that, to that, to Carver College. They went to attend to qualify but at the same time they could draw their subsistence and they could get their expenses paid, so that turned out pretty good, and then at that enables to eliminate a lot of the criticism and frustrations of Charlotte College and Carver College. Charlotte College was Charlotte College, and Carver College was a separate college but it would eliminate the criticism that you would hear one for white veterans then you had to have something for the black veterans so Carver College was the one there at that time.

MD: This is the end of disc one, now go to minidisc two for the continuation of the interview of June 20, 2001 with Gerson Stroud.

Minidisc 1 ends; Minidisc 2 begins.

MD: This is tape number two or disc number two of two discs, this is Melinda Desmerais the interviewer and this is the second portion of my interview with Gerson Stroud of June 20th 2001. And Mr. Stroud I know we’ve kind of jumped over World War II and gotten you back here in Charlotte, trying to find a job is where we left off and I know that you started teaching at some point. What was your first teaching job here in Charlotte?

GS: Well my first teaching job was after, after I came back and I was unable to get employed then I just took part time work because my wife was pregnant. And I just wanted to see the birth of our child and our first child was a stillbirth and after that I had applied to go to graduate school and I said that the first admission that I got was where I would probably go, so Ohio State University was the first one to admit me, but they also told me that before I could be registered I’d have to have a place to live and they didn’t have any places that I would have to come there and probably stay at the Y and find a place, so that to me was just a little different and next I received an admission to the University of Illinois so I, and the University of Illinois told me that they didn’t have any housing for a man and his wife, but, what the average veteran was doing, was coming there, living in the veteran residents quarter and then look for a place for the two of you, and that I did, and I went to the University of Illinois and I went into the veterans quarters and I stayed there until I could find a place where my wife could come, and so she came afterwards to the University of Illinois and then she came to the University of Illinois and I went, I mean I started working on my Masters and she worked in one of the offices, I’ve forgotten which one as a secretary and we found a room and we shared that room, and then where we shared that room the lady had four bedrooms where she had couples and it wasn’t pleasant. (laughs) So we continued to look for a place and we finally got another place that we felt was desirable and we stayed there, and my wife got pregnant again and I stayed in school and I finished, I got the Master’s Degree, and I was in the, getting ready to go into the Doctoral Program and we came back to Charlotte and it was in the summer and we’d been gone for so long and we just decided that you know with the young baby and grandparents want to see the baby and everybody at home, and we wanted to come home and spend a while, and then we would go back. Shortly after I came back the dean at Johnson C. Smith University came to me and told me that the, that the, one of the professors in the Department of Economics and Small Business Enterprise had gotten sick and it was right at the time the school was opening. And he was wondering if I would just do them a favor and come and help out until they could, could do better and I agreed and I went there and went to work at Johnson C. Smith and it was shortly thereafter when they opened Carver College, so I then applied for Carver College because I knew that my being at Johnson C. Smith was gonna be temporary and the way we had it set up I wasn’t really ready to go back to Illinois especially with the young baby and since we had had a stillbirth before then, this kind of cooperation and assistance from her mother and her family would be much better for her, so I talked to the superintendent you know at that point and the superintendent told me that they had an agreement at Johnson C. Smith that they wouldn’t take any of their instructors unless there was a mutual agreement, and I talked to Dr. Listen and he talked them and we agreed that mine was just temporary. I wasn’t a permanent employee, but from what Dr. Garinger in at the Charlotte was seeing this would be an opportunity for me, so Dr. Garinger said to me that he was very much interested in me and he was interested in my qualifications. He said that they had an opening right there at West Charlotte High School in Distributed Education and he says on the basis of the training that I had had then, that I could fill that bill in a minute, and he says if I would agree, if Dr. Listen would agree to let me come and I would agree to do that, if I would go to New York University that summer and take the required courses of Methods of Teaching Distributive Education and Principles, Fundamentals of Retails Salesmanship then when I come back I would get that job at West Charlotte High School as coordinator of distributive education and then in the evenings I could teach business subjects at Carver Junior High School [Carver College], and I, gosh I doubled the money that I was making and that I did. I did that for five years and at the end of that five-year period York Road Junior High School [Kennedy Middle School] was open, it was new, but in the meantime I still went to NYU to improve myself and I got the six-year program certificate in education and education administration, and Dr. Garinger recommended me to become the principal of York Road Junior High School and I went to York Road Junior High School as principal.

MD: In what year, do you remember?

GS: That was in 1951 I believe.

MD: So York Road--

GS: York Road was a new junior high school, you know at this time they were, there was a movement, no there was a, this is when the integration movement was just getting started.

MD: Right, Brown [Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka] hadn’t happened.

GS: Well this was, well it hadn’t happened, but--

MD: It was brewing.

GS: Yes, and so this was according to the information it was brewing also an attempt to keep segregation.

MD: So that was very true here in Charlotte?

GS: Oh yes, yes.

MD: With new schools--

GS: Yes, and the entire Southern section of the city was growing, you see they had those two new housing department, developments out there, the Brookhill Village, and the Southside Homes. Those were large housing developments and they had just built the Marie G. Davis Elementary School. So they were building the junior high school, they built three junior high schools during that time; Statesville Junior High, Eastway Junior High and York Road Junior High. And I was appointed the principal of that school. And I stayed there until 1968, ‘68, and I think it was in 1955 really when I went out there, because I was out there 10 or 11 years, and after, after the movement was increasing for integration a year was added each year to the junior high school to make it a senior high school so those students could stay there and it became York Road Junior Senior High School, and it remained York Road Junior Senior High School until 1968.

MD: So this was you think a political move to keep these students?

GS: Oh yes sure.

MD: To keep these students segregated.

GS: Sure, to keep the school as it was.

MD: Is that what the Charlotte School Board said I mean is that what, why they kept adding. Or it was like, the official party line.

GS: No, you know they said that the population in that area was growing to such an extent and the intent had originally been to build a senior high school just to the rear of the junior high school and while they were waiting to build that senior high school to continue to add a year a year a year and they just added York Road Junior and York Road Senior High and the senior high was going to move out up on the hill as soon as it could become established, but after it was once determined that, that there would be integration they eliminated the idea of building a new senior high school and that’s when Olympic Senior High School was built where it is built now and the plan for the senior high school that was going to be constructed on the property just to the rear of where the present, where the York Road Junior High School was, was moved out to where Olympic Senior High School is now, and that is the Olympic Senior High School was originally to have been York Road Senior High School. When that movement took place, they dropped the senior high school portion and that was in ’68 and it was at that time it reverted to York Road Junior High School and the principal of West Charlotte Senior High School accepted a position as a secondary school specialist in Dayton Ohio and they had appointed me principal of the new Albemarle Road, I believe it was Albemarle Road, the new junior high school that was under construction (pause) it wasn’t, it hadn’t even been constructed but they appointed me the principal of that new school, but when the principal of West Charlotte decided to accept that position in Ohio, and I had just been moved to go downtown and I was going to be working down there until the new school was completed. They then transferred me to West Charlotte Senior High School, and I went to West Charlotte Senior High School as principal and I was at West Charlotte Senior High School from 1968 until 1975, ’75 or ’76.

MD: Let me ask you a few questions now that I kind of understand your path of projection.

GS: Yes.

MD: Through the school system and where you taught and how you taught there. Do you remember what they called voluntary school integration here in Charlotte when I know there were several others, but Dorothy Counts and others went to different schools. Can you tell me a little about that and what your impressions were about that?

GS: Well (pause) Dorothy Counts was the first one to go to Harding Senior High School when Harding was located off of West Trade Street and there were three or four students who was breaking the color line at the different schools at that time, but Dorothy Counts was the first and she went to Harding. Those were difficult days. Dorothy was not wanted. She did not receive the support that she could have received at Harding and after a very few days there, the tension and the potential alluded for damage and destruction was as such that her father and those who supporting her decided it best that she drop out and leave and that’s when she dropped out, and then she went to some other school I believe in Delaware.

MD: As an educator what did you think about that and what that meant for Charlotte or what that might mean for you as a principal or as an educator?

GS: It was devastating but it was, (clears throat) it also evidenced the feeling of the people at that time, and I would say that the people in that particular area, because you know there was another student that went to Central High School, Central High School was about the same but they had a principal at Central High School that walked with, and talked with and stood with those two students at Central High School, that kept from having any such similar problems and attitudes there. So this too was worthy of being considered, and you might have relied upon the attitudes of the administration, the professional staff and the constituency of the student parties that determined actually what was happening and what was taking place during that period.

MD: Do you think in areas that had more working class versus more affluent make-ups, did that, do you think that made a difference? Or do you think--

GS: Well--

MD: That didn’t really matter--

GS: Tell, well--

MD: That race superseded that?

GS: Tell I think that race was a part of it. I think race had a lot to do with it, but I also think that strong administration and cooperation of staff with the administration had a lot to do with the progress that was and was not made during that time.

MD: So you almost see it as also looking at individuals and what roles, what sort of leadership or principal might take versus another principal.

GS: Sure.

MD: Yeah ok.

GS: Sure.

MD: So that could account for the differences?

GS: Yes I think that administration has a lot to do with it, and that the kind of leadership that is given and don’t think that a staff does not know what to expect from its leadership.

MD: Now you were at West Charlotte?

GS: That’s right.

MD: When sort of that Swann [Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education] decision was handed down, the final decision right. Was that true you were there when integration started? I mean whole, the busing, the wholesale kind of integration.

GS: Well, I was there in ’71 when the bus first came to West Charlotte--

MD: Yeah.

GS: I was there when they separated the faculties. I was there when they, when the faculty at York Road, well let’s go back a little bit before that, when they closed Second Ward High School.

MD: Ok, yes.

GS: When Second Ward High School closed, the students at Second Ward High School were given the privilege of attending any senior high school in Charlotte. The students, the vast majority of them chose to come to West Charlotte and that was in 1969, 1970. And that meant two black schools within a school, two schools who had been rivals over the years, housed within one facility, that’s when the school in addition to being a facility for one student body became a facility with a two black student bodies from two competitive senior high schools, so the atmosphere was presented from the beginning for the possibility of discontent, from the beginning. But the students were promised at that time the privilege of having the same programs at West Charlotte that they had at Second Ward, the same clubs, the same organizations and even the teachers, the vast majority of the teachers from the Second Ward were transferred to West Charlotte.

MD: How did you handle it? That would seem to be a huge issue of overcrowding.

GS: Well I tell you they brought in a new school with all the buses. I mean all of the, all of the trailers, not only did you have the school facility that West Charlotte had but trailers filled that campus, there were enough trailers on that campus to house all of those students from Second Ward on West Charlotte’s campus.

MD: And if I’m understanding you correctly they were African American students who should have gone to any school but they wanted to go to West Charlotte.

GS: That’s right. They were given the privilege of choosing any school in any senior high school in Charlotte, but the very vast majority of them chose to come to West Charlotte and in that they did, they had to supply housing for them, and then they got the buses from all over the city to come out there and line up and all of those buses were placed on campus and that’s where all of the students from the two schools were housed, that’s where they were housed. On that campus, and you can imagine the difficulty that it was to have school that year, when you had school but the biggest push and the biggest thing that you were attempting to do was to maintain law and order. And I think that considering that, I think we did very well had a, had a fairly good school year. At the end of the school year it was hard, it was very difficult because you know in most schools at the end of the year, you know students at the end of the year students had made up in their minds that this was the time they were going to get even. They were going to do things that they intended to do, that was about the same kind of an ending that we had there at West Charlotte at the end of school that year.

MD: So at this time, you know when you are consolidating the two schools together you’ve also got the Swann issues taking place, and people challenging you know, there’s the whole busing issue that’s coming up. How did that impact Charlotte and things that were going on at West Charlotte?

GS: Well, (pause) it was very difficult and it was very difficult because the white students didn’t want to come to West Charlotte and the black students didn’t want to leave West Charlotte, and can you imagine a faculty with I can’t remember the exact figures but between 120 and 150 faculty members with the vast majority being black and when they said that the school would be completely integrated and that we could not keep over I believe 30 or so odd percent of black students and all the others would be white students and then since we had a faculty of close to 150 teachers and of that number probably all but about but 15 were black and then all of them were transferred with the exception of 19 black teachers and we were told at that time it would be well to keep the teachers who could serve as our cadre at West Charlotte, those were the 19 black teachers. All of the other black teachers were transferred to the white schools and all of the new replacements were new teachers, white teachers being employed in Charlotte, and they were employed and assigned to West Charlotte.

MD: Why was that, why weren’t they seizing more veteran teachers?

GS: I can’t answer that, but the new teachers that were assigned to West Charlotte, the teachers that were assigned to West Charlotte were the new teachers that were employed.

MD: Right, and that was their first post.

GS: That’s right. And these were the teachers that were assigned to West Charlotte, and of course as I said we only had 19 of the remaining teachers from the full staff of the prior years to remain at West Charlotte and they were to have been the cadre at West Charlotte, and all of the additional teachers were to have been the teachers who were of the majority race and the new employees, they were assigned to West Charlotte, and of course once the assignments were complete then they were supposing professionals that were employed to come in and have workshops?

MD: What kind of workshops?

GS: Instructional workshops, teaching the teachers how to teach in an integrated society. In an integrated school system, and they had the teachers, you see the same thing applied to J.T. Williams that applied to our school. So they had all the teachers from West Charlotte Senior High School and J. T. Williams Junior High School to meet in a workshop to sponsored by the Board of Education at West Charlotte and that’s where all of the teachers were given this training for this new assignment.

MD: And as a principal did you do other types of training or did you--

GS: As an administrator I didn’t have time, you see all of this came, keep in mind that we had to transfer all of the students, of the student body in, in 1971.

MD: So I know that you said that some of these new faculty, these sort of these newly minted teachers, there was a really quick sort of this is how you handle this situation (laughs) sort of training from the school board because it was pretty quick that school started.

GS: Oh yes, yes.

MD: The school board had a, had a director of instruction, and the director of instruction had employed these specialists to come in and conduct the workshop for--

GS: All of these new teachers, the new teachers for West Charlotte, and the new teachers for, for--

MD: The junior high.

GS: Yes, yes, the junior high school, yes, so all of them met at West Charlotte, and they met there every day for a week, maybe 10 days, 10 days all day and they went over so many things, so these professionals under the supervision of the director of instruction for the public schools conducted it they are the ones who conducted it, and of course and you know we had so many other things that were taking place at that time. So we were extremely busy, extremely busy with that for the beginning and you know with all the changes that took place, and with all of the registering and the scheduling, etcetera and with all of the new students who were coming in, our counselors and our assistant principals and instructors, supervisory instructors all worked long hours to work with the scheduling to get the assignments done, to get everything prepared and ready for that first day.

MD: Were you anxious about that first day?

GS: Well, you are always anxious.

MD: Were you especially anxious (laughs) about that?

GS: Yes, yes we were and of course you know that this was the first time that any, white students were being bused and being transferred to West Charlotte, and you know when the buses came there were very few students on the buses. From the beginning they said they weren’t coming and it was probably a week maybe 10 days before a number of the students came. The buses would come but the students wouldn’t be on the buses.

MD: So they just stayed out of school?

GS: So they just stayed out, they just said that they weren’t coming and after a couple of weeks they started coming and then finally they came.

MD: And was this kind of an organized kind of boycott or was it just individuals saying I’m not coming?

GS: Well you know, they, the families in the communities didn’t want them to come, and well there had been comments long before this time, that they weren’t coming. There had been these comments and when the buses came the newspaper reporters made a report; and they said on bus number one there were four students, number two there were eight, number three there were seven.

MD: So they were literally empty.

GS: Sure, sure. It was about a week before a number of students came and then maybe at the end of a two-week period those who had been assigned came. And you know they changed the student body there at West Charlotte, every year for the, for four or five years so it was never stable. It was an attempt to bring about adjustments and to make it stable.

MD: So during sort of this fluid process and during especially just the first year that you know, this was going on, what, I would read about in the newspaper you know I’m reading thirty-year-old newspaper accounts.

GS: Sure.

MD: You know, about problems, you know about you know, was it overstated that they would call these things that happened in the schools riots, I mean.

GS: You, you mean, you, you mean, that.

MD: Between students.

GS: You know West Charlotte had fewer problems than the majority of the schools, well this is the way they described it at the time that it occurred so the only thing that we could do was to accept what was being released during that time and of course you know all of this kind of reporting is the way that our teaching was guided, and this is what kept it in the eyes of the general public as to what it was and what was happening. That it was so amazing that everyone thought that it was going to be all the time West Charlotte, West Charlotte, West Charlotte, but it wasn’t, it wasn’t. West Charlotte was as calm during that period as any school and probably more so than the majority of them, than the majority of them.

MD: And you attribute that to your leadership?

GS: No, I attribute it to the faculty, the, to the determination of all on the staff to make it what they would like for it to be, for what they would want to be associated with. To make it what they would want it to be for their children. To eliminate all of that exterior criticism that had been coming and everything that had been coming for and towards West Charlotte. I think that’s what they were for, during the period.

MD: What kind of impact Mr. Stroud do you think that integration had on the black community? I have heard that there were in some sense cohesive in a way well because there are people at West Charlotte who you know joined together for like community, parent community organizations and that kind of thing, did that happen or was it a cohesive impact on the black community or was it one that tore people apart? How do you see that?

GS: I think that you could describe it in various degrees. You could see all faces of this. But as a whole the, there was a more of a majority that wanted to see the change that was taking place, but the thing that hurt them most was that they felt that all of the aggression and all of the criticism was directed towards West Charlotte. And also they felt that, it, it wasn’t just. It wasn’t just. I think that was a part of it. Daisy, Daisy, I thought you had gone?

DS: You’re gonna get that on tape. (laughs)

MD: Oh, ok, yes.

GS: I heard that noise and I just wanted to be sure.

DS: I was calling her to see if she had left.

GS: Oh I see.

DS: I didn’t want to disturb you, I just wanted to let you know that she told me to call back in about ten minutes. I said I hope you don’t say anything about it cause it’s going to be on the tape.

MD: Don’t worry about it.

GS: Ok.

MD: What impact did you see busing having on the white community, and there are several black communities and several white communities and I am sorry to generalize like that but that said, what sort of impact do you think the whole busing issue had on the community here, that, the, the white community here?

GS: Well, I think that the white community was as, was more against busing than was the black community. The white community made it known that they did not want their children bused. They did not want their children moved from within the area of where they lived and they didn’t want any others coming in to that area, and they were quite vocal about that.

MD: Was it surprising to you to hear them here in Charlotte, saying the things they said about busing, about African Americans in general or was that the status quo you had come to expect?

GS: Was it surprising that the white parents made those comments?

MD: Uh hum.

GS: No I don’t really think it was surprising. I don’t, I think that when the pressure is on and when you are affected, when your children are affected then the truth, the genuine you, reflects itself. Up until you are affected in that way, then you have an opportunity to cover and to keep from being who you are in the face of everybody, but when you are directly affected then you show your true colors. And the vast majority of the people did not want busing. They did not want the mixture of their children. They did not want their children leaving their neighborhoods and their communities and they didn’t want any of the others who may be less fortunate than theirs with different ideas and different background to infiltrate and come into the community with these particular changes.

MD: Was the black community fairly unified in wanting to see integration in your opinion?

GS: The, the majority, I don’t think so.

MD: The African American community, do you think they wanted that?

GS: That, that.

MD: That they want to see integration happen.

GS: I think from the very beginning that they did, but after they saw actually what was happening. The way that the black children were receiving the brunt of what was happening. That the bulk of the busing was done by the black children, that they were being transferred to long distances from where they lived to where they had to go, the long length of time that they had to stay on the bus from the time that they would get up in the morning until they would return in the evening and when they would take all that into consideration that it brought about frustrations and dislikes and this they didn’t like and this is when there was a change in thinking about busing, and, and I believe that the change would have been easier if the busing had been more equally distributed. I think that that would have been one of the keys.

MD: Historically speaking in terms of the written history that now exists about Charlotte. Some of the written history, some historians some writers they are not all historians, have argued that the transition in Charlotte was unique in that it was compared to places like Detroit for example or other places.

GS: Boston.

MD: Boston yes, yes (laughs) that it was easier.

GS: Yeah.

MD: That it was unique.

GS: Yeah.

MD: That the sort of the leadership of Charlotte wanted to see it happen whether it was for political expediency or you know whatever, do you, do you think that that’s an overstatement or do you agree with that, that it was different and that it went smoother and that sort of thing.

GS: Well, I think we had a lot of leadership that was really interested in the change.

MD: And does that include black and white leadership?

GS: Yes, yes. I think that they were interested in the change, but they wanted to see the equality in the change. They didn’t want to see it one sided, and if it could be this way then I think the attitudes would have been different, but they had a feeling that it wasn’t really that way, and this is what changed a number of the attitudes.

MD: I’m just curious to know were there any specific people, either community leaders, or they could be you know uptown leaders or leaders in that, within the larger African American community, were there white or and or African American leaders who you really think stood out in making this work in whatever flawed fashion it may have played itself out as you’ve alluded to, but were there particular people that you think were important in the transition?

GS: (pause) You know, there are a number of people who stood out, who stood up and really stood for the things that we were all probably looking for but I find that it’s quite difficult to just pick out and choose one or two or two or three. I think that those who contributed and those who worked that there are a number of those who were quite vocal and outstanding, but on the other hand for those, to those who worked with a large number of them, they would say that there are a number of those who are not as vocal and not as outstanding but have contributed through their own means in doing things for others, that contributed to whatever the wellbeing of this has been and have caused what has taken place to do as well as it has done, as oppose to those who stand out, stand way out and they receive the praise, but along with the praise they also receive some criticism, so it’s kind of difficult.

MD: So there are a lot of players?

GS: Yes.

MD: More than I think history has given--

GS: That’s true.

MD: --their due to.

GS: That’s true, quite a number of them.

MD: Let me just ask you just about, I have just a few more questions we have not too much longer on our tape. Are there any, and I understand that your case, West Charlotte was sort of looked upon as the place that trouble might happen, was happening when it necessarily wasn’t any different than the other schools. You argue you know, you’re gonna have these kind issues and conflagrations and problems that will arise when you have this kind of monumental change, but were there any, was there a certain incident that you can think of that might have shown you, students faculty or whatever, was there an incident that might have shown you hope that this, that this experiment if you will might happen. And was there any kind of incident that you recall you know just in the day to day events of school, that was sort of the depth of you know sort of oh my gosh I you know, this is indicative of the worst that could happen or and then maybe something that would say this is indicative of this might work, you know, did you have any experiences like that, that you might can remember or can relay. Or did you have too many? (laughs)

GS: We had so many experiences from day to day and since we did not have a stationary student body we would have changes every year and we would have to work with what we had. And as I said, I really don’t think that we had a whole lot of major conflicts as was being reported by what was happening at a number of other schools but it’s a mindset that has been developed that it is West Charlotte, that’s where the problems are, that’s where the problems arise, that’s where they’re going to happen. That’s where they’re going to occur and I think that during the time from the time that the buses start rolling in ‘71 through ‘75, if the record would show itself that during this period there were fewer incidents and problems then were generally found in that total school population in general, although there was a different student body there every year. The faculty that came, the first year after integration they worked hard together to try to make it work and I think they did well, I think they did well because nobody knows what we had to do from year to year with new students, it changes altogether, and we had some new faculty members but not a whole lot during that time and we had some good faculty members during that period. So, I didn’t fiddle, I really didn’t.

MD: Let me ask you, on a final note.

GS: Alright.

MD: A final question.

GS: Alright.

MD: You’ve obviously lived in Charlotte a long time.

GS: Yes.

MD: Seen a lot of changes.

GS: Yes.

MD: Seen continuity.

GS: Yes.

MD: Particularly in terms of you know civil rights.

GS: Yes.

MD: Integration or desegregation depending on how you want to look at that.

GS: Right

MD: What do you see for Charlotte’s future, are you, are you hopeful are you pessimistic, where do you see the future of race relations and this whole busing question has you know has been back in, in vogue so are you hopeful?

GS: Are you speaking only of busing or are you speaking of race relations?

MD: Race relations.

GS: In general.

MD: Yes race relations in general.

GS: Right well I think if you were to look at race relations now in comparison (coughs) with what has happened over the years, that you would see an improvement. The improvement may not be 100% but there is improvement, I can see so much improvement over what it was in the early, in the early years and in the middle years I can see a tremendous amount of improvement from the time I went into service and the time I came out of service and what we did after we came out of service, I can see so much improvement since we got our first black police officer and since we got the first member of the city council and since we got our first black mayor and since we have the number of senators and representatives and those representing us all over, and the places that you see them, the not totally improvement as far as housing is concerned but some improvement, and I think that the people who look at television and look at the various programs that they have on television, and they look at the various meetings that they have, and if they have had any history or any experiences over the years, that alone will give them some background (clears throat) excuse me, and tell them something about the improvement that have taken place over the years, yeah there’s a lot of improvement.

MD: Do you think it will continue to improve in the future?

GS: I do. I do. I don’t think that we could slide backwards and if we slide backwards we are all going to be sorry for what will happen to so many of us, or many of us. We’ve got to continue to look at what’s happening, to make improvements, where improvements are needed and to be a part of the improvements that take place. I think that’s what we got to do.

MD: Thank you so much.

GS: Oh you’re quite welcome.

End of Interview.