Oral History

Edwin Caldwell - On the events leading up to school integration

Interviewed by Bob Gilgor on December 5, 2000

“One of the most difficult times I had was looking [after] and protecting teachers. I felt like that was my job. Man, you know, teachers need to have some independence to be able to do what they need to do, and I let them know that I was going to protect them. That’s why teachers came to me when I went to lunch because they knew that I was in their corner.”

- Edwin Caldwell, Jr.

Edwin Caldwell has been a member of the Chapel Hill community his whole life. He reflects on the time when the Chapel Hill high schools were integrating, along with discussing the community response to integration. He discusses the school board’s decision to allow white students to attend the newly integrated school for one year before allowing Black students to attend. This sparked community outcry and activism in the Black community, advocating for Black and white students to attend the high school at the same time. Mr. Caldwell speaks of the activism the Black community, along with members of the white community, did to change the school board's mind in allowing all students to attend the school at the same time. He speaks of the lack of consideration the previous all-Black high school, Lincoln High received as the new high school lacked to incorporate their principles, staff, traditions, school colors, mascots, and trophies. He acknowledges that the integration of the Chapel Hill high schools came with complications for the whole community.

He discusses the importance of sports for him and other Black students, as leagues provided them with mentors. Mr. Caldwell discusses the schools, organizations, and churches that were powerful support systems for Black students. The structure and rules in the integrated schools were different and less conducive to Black students’ success. When discussing his time on the Chapel Hill Carrboro School Board, he talks about how tenacious white parents with connections would advocate for their children. Black students often lacked advocates. In his work to protect Black educators, Mr. Caldwell had to threaten to involve Civil Rights attorneys for the unfair sanctioning and demotion of Black teachers.

This interview is part of an oral history project called Southern Communities: Listening for a Change: Mighty Tigers--Oral Histories of Chapel Hill's Lincoln High School. The interviewes were conducted from 2000-2001, by Bob Gilgor, with former teachers, staff, and students from Chapel Hill, N.C.'s Lincoln High School, the historically black secondary school that closed in 1962 when a school desegregation plan was implemented. Interviewees discuss African American life and race relations in Chapel Hill, as well as education, discipline, extracurricular activities, and high school social life before and after integration.

Edwin Caldwell - On the events leading up to school integration

Edwin Caldwell - On the events leading up to school integration

Edwin Caldwell - On the events leading up to school integration

Edwin Caldwell - On the events leading up to school integration

Edwin Caldwell - On the events leading up to school integration

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Oral history interview of Caldwell Jr., Edwin conducted by Gilgor, Bob on December 5, 2000 at Home of Edwin Caldwell, Jr., Chapel Hill, NC. Processed by Cameron, Paige.

Citation: Southern Oral History Program, “Edwin Caldwell - On the events leading up to school integration,” From the Rock Wall, accessed August 10, 2022, https://fromtherockwall.org/oral-histories/edwin-caldwell-december-2000.

Rights: Researcher must obtain written permission of interviewee, interviewer, director of the Southern Oral History Program, or director of the Chapel Hill Museum for publication.

View this interview on the Southern Oral History Program website

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