By Andrea Wuerth, Reposted from April 28, 2017
I have lived here all my life. My daughter grew up here. We went to school here. She went to UNC-Chapel Hill. … This is MY town!
– Ms. Pat Jackson, April 19, 2017
I recently had the privilege of listening to Northside resident Pat Jackson talk about her experience growing up in Chapel Hill– first under segregation, then in the early days of school integration. She credits a community support system for helping her to get through those years; the same community also helped her raise her daughter. That daughter, she stated ever so proudly, graduated from Chapel Hill High School and went on to get a Ph.D. in psychology.
When she emphatically says, looking straight at her audience, “This is MY town!” Miss Pat is staking her claim. Her simple statement is a battle cry for her and for the other Northside residents who have always had to fight for visibility and voice in the university town in which they have lived for their entire lives.
Miss Pat is a woman on a mission, willing and very able to connect with students sitting in classrooms in the same school she helped integrate 50 years ago. When asked last week by students about her childhood, Miss Pat began with anecdotes and observations about segregated Chapel Hill.
“It was always clear: there was White Town and Black Town.” And it was in the all-black Northside neighborhood – the churches, the schools, the Hargraves Community Center, the homes of her friends and relations– where she and the other kids found sanctuary.
During the school week, her teachers (also members of the Northside community) taught and disciplined students as if each child were their own; on Sundays, everyone she knew went to church and “everything that happened in the community came to church.”
In other words, your business was their business. Familiarity was a source of strength for the kids of Northside. Support was freely given, and expectations were high: “You didn’t even think of stepping out of line back then.”
They also were taught the rules of segregation: don’t ever be where you’re not supposed to be.
The university after work hours.
Downtown on Franklin Street.
In residential neighborhoods where white people lived and where the fraternity houses were.
Pretty much anywhere in white, working class Carrboro.
Her parents and, later, Miss Pat herself worked for the university. And yet, they were prevented by the color of their skin from claiming that part of town as their own.
“We worked ‘over there’ but we couldn’t live or go there outside of work.” Things began to change only when her daughter was accepted to UNC-CH and Miss Pat became “a UNC mom.”
She recalled how the integration of Chapel Hill High School brought on struggles she and her black classmates previously had not experienced. In 1967, when black Lincoln High School was closed, the kids of Northside began going to Chapel Hill High and “no one wanted you there.”
But the Northside community was there to help: “Without our community, we would not have made it.”
With a wry smile on her ageless face, she described how she crossed the campus, proudly wearing her “UNC Mom” sweatshirt. Rather than feel marginalized, Miss Pat staked her long-overdue claim: “I got a piece of the University.”
Because of lessons taught in the tight-knit Northside community, she was determined not to feel like an outsider but to “want to be in the mix.”
And as far as I can tell, she’s been in the mix, mixing things up, holding her ground, and speaking her truth ever since.
Andrea Wuerth is a volunteer participant in the Center’s Learning Across Generations local history curriculum and our Oral History Archive. She agreed to let us post her blog entry on a recent visit to Chapel Hill High School. We formed an ongoing partnership with an African American History elective in which community mentors came into the classroom as guest speakers. Access to Andrea’s full blog can be found here.