James Atwater grew up on Church St. as one of five siblings. Before working for the hospital at the University of North Carolina, his mother was an insurance agent for North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company in Durham, the oldest and largest African American life insurance company in the nation. James Atwater himself journeyed to Durham after graduating from the Orange County Training School to attend North Carolina Central University. While there, he studied English and later went to teach on the continent of Africa and at Howard University before serving in the military for two decades.
James Atwater - On Pottersfield and influential teachers at Lincoln High School
“I would preface that by saying that our school was again so small that practically everyone had to do, I could say, had to play multiple roles because we simply did not have enough people to go around and to have the kinds of programs that we wanted to have.”
- James Atwater
James Atwater grew up in Pottserfield, where he gathered to play with his close friends and schoolmates. Often hosting people at his home, he was able to create a safe space for those that may not have had one. Atwater talks about his times at Lincoln High and the impact that his teachers made on his life. He speaks on the organization “New Farmers of America” and how this extracurricular activity taught him very important lessons that he thinks about throughout his life. He may have not grown up on a farm, but this club gave him an insight to the world of agriculture. James closes the interview with his take on how his teachers truly cared for their students, motivating them to do more with their lives.
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. James Atwater's interview includes the following topics: growing up in Chapel Hill; Lincoln High School; President Franklin Roosevelt; Pottersfield neighborhood in Chapel Hill; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; UNC-CH relations with the African American community; welfare policy; juvenile reform schools; Orange County Training School; French teacher, Mrs. Turner; Mr. R.D. Smith, agriculture instructor; New Farmers of America; Lincoln High Principal, Mr. McDougle; discipline at Lincoln High; music teacher, Mr. Pickard; lack of resources at Lincoln High.
James Atwater - On how the memory of desegregation shapes local schools
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