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Interview with Kathleen R. Crosby

Crosby, Kathleen R.
Desmarais, Melinda H.
Date of Interview: 
Crosby, Kathleen R., 1925-2012; Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools; Billingsville Elementary School (Charlotte, N.C.); Project Head Start (U.S.); Early childhood education; School management and organization; African American school principals; Early childhood education--Administration; Racism in education; Segregation in education; School integration; Busing for school integration; Race relations; Civil rights movements; Racism; Threats of violence; North Carolina--Charlotte; North Carolina--Charlotte--Grier Heights; Interviews (Sound recordings); Oral histories
Kathleen Crosby recounts her forty-year career as an educator in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), as well as her involvement in the civil rights movement in Charlotte. She describes the conditions for African Americans living under Jim Crow in the Charlotte region in the 1930s to the 1950s, with special focus on the way it affected teachers and students. As the original Head Start Program coordinator for CMS, as well as the former director of the regional Head Start training center, Ms. Crosby explains the beginnings of the program in the Charlotte area, the training teachers underwent, and how Head Start classes were racially integrated long before the rest of the school system was. She discusses how she was brought in as the principal of Billingsville Elementary in the early months of busing and how she changed the school’s institutional culture, working and bringing together teachers, students, and parents of all backgrounds and turning what had been a troubled school into a successful model of school integration.
North Carolina--Charlotte; circa 1930 - 2001
Interview Setting: 
Home of Kathleen Crosby, North Carolina--Charlotte
Oral History, OH
Interview Audio: 
KC: Kathleen Crosby
MD: Melinda Desmarais

Minidisc 1 begins.

MD: This is Melinda Desmarais the interviewer and I am here with Kathleen Crosby at her home in Charlotte, North Carolina. The date is October 1, 2001 and I am conducting this interview for the Digital Sound Archives Initiative at UNC Charlotte Atkins Library. Please state your full name.

KC: My name is Kathleen Earl Ross Crosby.

MD: And Ms. Crosby where were you born?

KC: I was born in Winnsboro South Carolina. A good little town between Columbia and Rock Hill.

MD: And what date were you born?

KC: Oh, wonderful. I was born on March 9th, 1925.

MD: Tell me what your parents’ names were?

KC: Oh, you want me to tell you how handsome my daddy was?

MD: (laughs)

KC: He was a handsome black man with a lot of brain. His name was William Albert Ross. And my mother’s name was Beatrice Tucker. My daddy taught her at Friendship College and she married her teacher. So her name became Beatrice Earl Ross Tucker, I mean Tucker Ross.

MD: Tucker Ross.

KC: Uh huh.

MD: And was Friendship in Winnsboro?

KC: No, Friendship was in Rock Hill and she lived out in the country in Union County and Rock Hill is in Union County. And my daddy was teaching at Friendship College and they had all these handsome young men. My daddy was teaching her math in ninth grade now, that’s as far as they went, they called that a college. It was ninth grade because at that time blacks in South Carolina didn’t have any rights for going to college and didn’t have the money to do it. So, my daddy went over and asked my grandmother if he could marry my student. And she said “Oh you are too young for that.” But my mother married him and I had three brothers and three girls were born. All of us went to college my mother and daddy told us we had to go to college. So we went they didn’t have any money. My daddy was making $39 a month in 1932 I have his bank book and my mother was making $20 a month. After the ‘54 Supreme Court decision he started making $299.

MD: Was he still teaching at the same college?

KC: No he was a principal at my high school in Winnsboro. See that was in Rock Hill I was born in Winnsboro. My daddy was the principal of the greatest school was they called Rosenwald School. You know Rosenwald is the man that gave schools to black people because we didn’t have any. My mother would have had to go to a little one-room school with one teacher in first through sixth grade. But daddy was the principal and I went through high school. Unfortunately I was his daughter I was the worst one in the family. And the teachers told me “You are not going to be like the other Ross children, you’re not going to be anything.” I said “Yes I am.” So anyway that’s enough about my family. Y’all would have to have a whole day to talk about my family.

MD: (laughs) Now when did you come to Charlotte?

KC: I came to Charlotte to go to Johnson C. Smith. I wanted to join a sorority and my mother said “We do not have money for sororities.” I said “Well if I get a job can I go in the sorority?” So I put dishes on the table after they were washed in the dinning room and I set the tables. They paid me $15 dollars a month and that paid my tuition at Johnson C. Smith. When I graduated from Johnson C. Smith I wanted to work in North Carolina because they paid more than South Carolina. One day when I was in Winnsboro wishing I had a job because I had applied to three or four places in North Carolina. And Mr. Joe Belton who was the principal of what was called Pineville Cut High School but it is now called Sterling. He came down to my house and gave me a contract to teach there. I began teaching there in 1946.

MD: So when did you graduate from Johnson C. Smith?

KC: ‘46 and I graduated and went to work in the fall like in about November. Black kids had to go in November because they had to pick cotton and they couldn’t go to school in September. So we had to do what you know they told us to do.

MD: Let me ask you before we go on, when you came to Charlotte to go to Johnson C. Smith could you describe for me what race relations were like in Charlotte in the 40’s?

KC: Oh, honey are you kidding? When I would come I would get on the bus in Winnsboro, the back of the bus. And they said “The colored move to the back please.” “Yes sir.” We moved to the back and when we got to the Greyhound bus station on Trade Street we would get out. And one thing I will say when we were coming through Rock Hill when I was on the bus they were some girls from Winthrop College, now only whites were going to Winthrop College. And the bus driver would get out and take there bags down and put them outside and walk their bags across the street and he would get on and drive us on. When we got to Charlotte I was back there grinning thinking he was going to help me to take mine off. And he got out and didn’t help me out, I took my bag on out and I had to go out to the street and get a #7 bus. Because I didn’t have any cab money. It was 10 cents to go to Johnson C. Smith on the city bus. And when I get to Johnson C. I got out on the sidewalk and I had to walk across to Duke Hall with my suitcase not baggage, suitcase. We knew it you just knew and on every sign it said “Colored please go to the back.” When I came up here they had colored water they had water for whites and colored. Not negro, colored and the bathrooms white ladies and colored women. And plenty of times I drank white water plenty of times. I just acted like I couldn’t read I just drank. You couldn’t go to any restaurants downtown but you could go to the 10-cent store on Kress's 10 cent store. You could go in the basement and eat but you couldn’t eat upstairs. There were all kinds of places. But seems to me I don’t know. When I started teaching I knew all about the discrimination because I had had it all my life. Things got better later on I will say that Charlotte got better when Mayor Brookshire became the mayor of Charlotte. And he was very sensitive to our plight and he called the President of Davidson College and asked him if he would take Mr. Belton who was a teacher at Johnson C. Smith down to eat at one of those white restaurants. And that’s the way they desegregated they just went on in there. And they weren’t going to say a word to Dr. Cunningham I think was his name.

MD: So this like the voluntary segregation after Brown. What they call voluntary segregation here in Charlotte.

KC: Right but it seems to me that Brookshire did it before Brown. I think he did it on his own initiative. And whoever came behind him I want say but we missed a lot of things because he did the—let me see I want be sure but I’m sure Brookshire did it. Between--see I graduated in 40 something but it was not in 40 when he went, he went down in the 50’s. The 60’s they had to do it because honey everybody was tearing up their city and they decided they weren’t going to tear up our city. So Brookshire I just give him the credit for getting us started.

MD: Were there in the 40’s before we get to the real Civil Rights push.

KC: Oh yeah uh-huh.

MD: Were there groups at Johnson C. Smith or groups in the community who were pushing for Civil Rights at all here in Charlotte in the 40’s or was it more of you know sort of a--?

KC: There were people like Marion Cannon I would call her name. The lady whose name on Cannon Towels and the Fabric. She lived here on Providence Road. We called her the witch because she loved to call herself the witch because she would have Halloween things and have her witch hat on and all. She was fun and see she was rich and she was free and she didn’t have to ask anybody if it was all right if she let blacks come to her house. And there were several other white families whose names I can’t call right now. I should call them because a lot of them opened their homes and some of them were politicians and they would tell you to come over and eat lunch with them and things like that. There were many white people who would have wanted to do and who had to almost slip because some of their neighbors “You don’t have those colored folks in your house do you?” And they just let them worry. I never will forget I was in a house no this was after I was at Billingsville I’ll tell that later.

MD: Go ahead you can tell it now. Oh so this was after you were at Billingsville so this was like in the early 70’s?

KC: No but Billingsville--I went to Billingsville in 1971 and stayed until ‘76.

MD: So after you went what was the story you were going to tell?

KC: Oh honey my PTA president was Phyllis Moore and her husband made her a queen she didn’t work or anything. She had a beautiful house down off Providence Road and some Jewish families lived in that neighborhood too and their children came to my school too. They were I’m telling you right now at Billingsville those parents were good to me. When I went there they was saying they wanted a new principal and they hired me as a black principal there and the male they didn’t like him. So the school board said “We’re sure not going to send somebody white just because they don’t like black.” And they called me out there and I said “Well honey-bun I’m black too” I said “But honey we will get along fine.” And Phyllis said “Kat I want you to come over and eat dinner with me.” She had all of her rich friends come in and I was just running my mouth as usual and oh they wanted to know what all about me and where did I come from and how did I get along so well with the folks. Honey I just paid a good time with them and I started out playing bright in the corner where you are. They just thought they would die laughing I made them sing I said “Y’all know that?” And they started singing and we just had a good time. A guy I can’t remember his name now but he was principal at Country Day. I can’t recall his name right now but and he and his wife were there and oh we just had a good time. After then I just got friends with a lot of those folks who didn’t have children in their schools but I would say that they were as kind to me as anybody.

MD: And how about in 40’s in the African American Community were there people who were trying to push the status quo in terms of race here in Charlotte as early as the 40’s?

KC: Oh yeah honey. The Kelly Alexander who was the President of the NAACP and the state president too and I think one time he was the national president.

MD: Uh huh.

KC: Now the Alexanders were always strong. Kelly Alexander wasn’t afraid of anything. He had a brother whose name was Fred and Fred wasn’t as what we call what’s the word we use for being too militant. But Kelly didn’t back up a bit Fred had a little more--he knew how to say the same thing and he taught us a lot of things about politics and what you do and what you don’t do.

MD: Kind of working within the system.

KC: Oh yeah uh-huh. And he was the first senator from North Carolina black and was the mayor and so anyway he mentored—Gantt. He mentored Gantt. He would tell us he would come to us and say “I’ll tell you colored folks something, I’m telling you this is what’s what.” He would tell us and we listened to him too. Of course I didn’t much listen to anybody I was known to be terrible now I will tell you an experience that I had in the 60’s. In the 60’s four outstanding black people’s homes were bombed. Kelly Alexander’s, Fred Alexander’s, Hawkins who was a dentist here, and Julius Chambers. Their homes were bombed one night and it was all this in the papers about it—it was a bomb. They didn’t want to say--they said the Klan did it everybody was putting it on the Klan. It didn’t have nothing to do with the Klan it was just people who decided to do it. That weekend Dr. Carlyle Marney who was the minister of Myers Park Baptist Church. He found out that Rev. James Works who was a black Baptist minister and had a church on McDowell Street. Blacks use to live on McDowell street before the city took all our property over there and made--you can’t live over there now. But anyway he was going to have a big rally at his church that Sunday. And Dr. Carlyle Marney called him and said “Listen don’t do that let’s have a city wide program for everybody in Charlotte. We want white and blacks to be together.” So Dr. Works gave in and he said “OK” so they said “OK we are going to pick so many whites and so many blacks to speak.” And they called the National President of the NACCP he came. Then they asked Mrs. Marion Cannon and me to speak we are the two women that spoke that Sunday. I mean it was terrible and it came out in the Charlotte News that Saturday. The names of the people who are going to speak and we thought we were big shots with our names in the paper. But the sure enough Klan got our names and Sunday morning when I woke up I looked out my window I heard a car in my yard and I looked at my husband was sick. I said “Joe it’s a special delivery truck in our yard.” He said “Oh shucks they’re not looking for us there’s nobody looking for us.” And he went on back sleeping and I went out and it was this letter in the box. It had on there it came from Mount Holly but I don’t think anybody--any Klansmen in Mount Holly did it I think somebody in Charlotte did it and went to Mount Holly and mailed it. It had on there it said “Dear Nigger if you get up and speak at that program we going to blow your black A off.” So I let Joe read it and he said “What you going to do about it?” I said “I am going to speak.” And I said “I tell you what you get up and take the kids to Sunday school and I’m going to call whoever I thought was the FBI.” It wasn’t really the FBI but some white males came in here and sat down with me. They took the letter with them I wish I had kept it. But I had my speech ready oh yes so we went out and my neighbor next door went with us. My children went and my husband went and they sat down in front. So we were sitting up there on the stage but the guys told me who came to my house to don’t worry because they would have somebody to protect us. I said “Well I don’t know about that but whatever you all say is fine.” I said “I am going.”

MD: Uh huh.

KC: So when we got down there Marion and I were whispering and I told Marion what had happened and she started using that bad language. She was mad.

MD: (laughs)

KC: So I kept my speech it’s around here somewhere but anyway when I stood up I remember what I said at first and I remember what I told them after I said “I am getting ready to speak but I’m glad my father taught me not to hate. But he also told me not to be afraid. And there’s somebody in here right now who has promised me with an anonymous letter that you going to blow a part of my body while I was speaking. So you’d better start shooting right now because I’m fixing to talk.”

MD: What was the reaction of the audience when you did that?

KC: They just clapped, they just clapped and yelled and it was a man standing around I guess they were agents but anyway. I said “Y’all better start doing it now because I’m fixing to talk.” And honey I just told them how cowardly they were. I said “Anybody who would shoot in a home where children were lying asleep.” See the Alexander boys’ bedroom was shattered and I just told them how dumb it was. And I said “Anybody who is free and so coward and then went to another city to put the… I told them what they did shucks.” We had a good time.

MD: What was the mood I mean?

KC: It was great it made the city come together. Yeah people were ashamed of it I mean people were just ashamed of it. We really didn’t have a whole lot of those things happening in Charlotte until when they had the people who started shooting people over in California. You remember when they had all those fights?

MD: Like Watts?

KC: Yeah Watts uh-huh. Well honey see I’ll tell you that Brookshire wasn’t letting all this stuff go. And then John Belk was the mayor but we had pretty good mayors though. Got a few that didn’t believe in it but I won’t call their names and one night we had a rally to be sure that we don’t have the same thing that happened in Watts. And so the mayor asked--I can’t remember which--oh yeah I know. The mayor didn’t do it the Community Relations Committee decided that we needed to have a rally for peace in Charlotte.

MD: And was this in the 60’s?

KC: No this was after the 60’s this was a little bit--.

MD: Early 70’s.

KC: Uh-huh.

MD: Uh huh.

KC: But I will say this a young man who we know very well right now was sitting on the front seat and a lady who was on the city council was sitting on the front seat next to him. We had Bill Lee spoke, the president of Johnson C. Smith Dr. Albright spoke, I spoke, Bob Walters spoke, I think one of the Alexanders spoke. But anyway it was white and black they spoke on behalf of peace. And so when I got up to make my speech these very two well known people whose names I will not call but they know who they are. I said “I want everybody to stand up.” See while we were talking and when people were getting up talking little children went way over on the other end of the civic center and they were playing black and white children little children they weren’t worrying about their parents. They were way over there and you couldn’t hear them because it was so big and they were just having a good time. When I stood up I was just struck by here are young children little babies five years old six years old kids just having a good time. I said “I am going to teach you all something. I’m proud to be me but I also see you are just proud to be you. We might look at things a lot differently but lots of good people do. That’s just human nature just so why should I hate you for being as human as I. We’ll get as we give if we live and let live we will both get along if we try.” I said “Now I am going to sing it.” I sang it for them and I said “Now you all sing it.” Now these two very important people sat down while we were singing. And we sang it and we clapped and so when they sat down I said “Just a minute. There are two children on front row who are misbehaving now we are going to give them a chance to get up this time.” They got up that time and sang it. I wouldn’t dare tell you but it was a mayor I won’t tell you which one it was.

MD: So when you talk about having this rally were there sort of sparks of militancy or things that made Mayor Brookshire or other people who decided to have this rally said “Uh-oh we’d better do this because we see heat coming on here?”

KC: Look I don’t think Brookshire was a man let me go back on that. That was in later than the 60’s but Brookshire let me go back to Brookshire. Brookshire had a rally for peace and Dr. Coleman W. Carrie who was well known he was on school board and he was a good guy. He was going to be the speaker that night. And Captain and I were on a committee and we were trouble. We were just trouble because we would just there and tell people they had to do right. So different people were going to speak. We had a rally but it was going to be and I’ll tell you a white minister I’m trying to think of who he was. It could have been Dr. Marney I’m not sure it could have been I can’t remember every name but it was plenty of good folks. We were going to have a dinner a sit down supper and eat together whites and blacks. From white churches and black churches we had this big supper. Just as we were getting ready to eat a bomb scare came. We all had to get out in the middle of the street right there on Brevard and Trade. We just had to evacuate but honey we didn’t leave we started singing “We Shall Overcome” we were holding hands and just having a good time. Once they told us it was clear we went back in and ate.

MD: So there was cooperation between white and blacks churches?

KC: Oh yeah see I always brag about Charlotte it’s a lot of things now that’s not as good as it used to be to me. A lot of things are not as--well anyway people get along because they like to do it but I think our leadership can stand a little bit of help.

MD: So who asked you to join the Community Relations Committee?

KC: Oh Lord honey.

MD: Do you remember? (laughs)

KC: Let’s see I think Jack Bullard. Now I haven’t mentioned Jack Bullard. Jack Bullard is--when everybody else was gone Jack Bullard would stand up for rights. He was the executive director of the Community Relations Committee. And people like Sarah Stevenson was on it and oh Lord there’s all kinds of folks that I’ve forgotten honey. I’ve been on too many committees but the Community Relations Committee was it. And Jack Bullard was great and Jack Bullard has never been honored in Charlotte the way he should be. Because he was too free to say it’s wrong to be racist.

MD: Why was he so free to say that do you think?

KC: Jack Bullard is really a minister but he wasn’t a minister of a church he was a minister. But Jack was just a good guy he still is in Charlotte in fact you ought to talk to him. Jack Bullard is one of the finest guys in Charlotte and I noticed that Belmont Abbey honored him and Sarah Stevenson last year and see it’s kind of pitiful that nobody has honored him because we’ve been talking about blacks getting together but whites and blacks we need to get a group together. Because he really did a whole lot and after Brookshire left it wasn’t nearly the same it was other mayors came in and did the best they could or they wanted too. And we still had it up until right now it’s not working.

MD: So would you all come together and try to quail problems or--?

KC: Oh yeah honey we were pros.

MD: Were there problems in the community and you would try to head them off? Or were you trying to plan ahead of time to not have it sounds like problems happen?

KC: We had to be magicians to take Charlotte on honey. Because it was a lot of racism in Charlotte because you couldn’t even try on a dress in Montaldos if you were black.

MD: So did you all--.

KC: But honey I went down there one day and they said “We don’t sell colored.” I said “I ain’t colored honey I just want this dress.” and I got to try it on. You’ve just got to break through some of the stuff.

MD: So with members of the Community Relations Committee I mean was that something you all discussed or did you just do that on your own or--?

KC: We had discussed but we didn’t the word going. Just about everybody opened up everything because money doesn’t have any colored to it. Doesn’t have any odor to it. So (laughs) you know you just have to--honey I can’t even--see I’ve been on so many different committees till I can’t remember which ones I’m talking about right now. But anyway Charlotte to me when I went to Bank Street College in the 60’s I told them that Charlotte was the best place in the world and it was because people worked hard in the 60’s to make it work. Because everybody was scared that our place was going to blow up and they did do some things like that bombing and not a lot of bombing took place after that. We worked in the 60’s now we didn’t have to work too hard. We had to work hard in the 70’s to get the school system straightened out. Now that was the hard thing too.

MD: OK so to sort of back up and start talking about that you were in Pineville teaching.

KC: Oh yes but I—uh-huh. But I moved on up to Lincoln Heights when it opened in 1957. And I was interviewed by two city principals. See I was working in the county system you made less money in the county then you did in the city. Y’all didn’t know that did you? So honey Mr. Freeman said “I’m taking Ms. Crosby.” So I was one of the first teachers hired for Lincoln High School. And I stayed in Lincoln Heights until let’s see I worked from 46’ to 57’ or 56’ I think and I went to Lincoln Heights. You had to stay out and I got pregnant with my second child and you have to stay out of school a whole year at that time.

MD: Uh huh.

KC: If you had a baby. So I--.

MD: Is Lincoln Heights an all African-American school?

KC: It was.

MD: At that time when you were there?

KC: Oh yes but it was the last word honey. We had a principal Mr. O.N. Freeman was our principal and he wouldn’t hire anybody unless they knew a lot or knew how to teach. And made us go to school to get--that’s how I got in Bank Street College. Some of us were asked to come to Bank Street to work on some integration stuff in ‘62. We went up there and didn’t have to pay one penny we lived in an international house we were just rich honey. See 15 blacks and 15 whites from the South went up there and they talked to us about integration of southern schools and they gave us a whole lot of good stuff. And so we did so well that when we came back down here we started talking about the good things that the Office of Education was going to do for black kids. And then they started talking about Head Start they got Bank Street to write the Head Start program. A man from Basil—who is a professor from London who came over to Bank Street and talked to us like everything about children and disadvantaged children and segregation and all. And so in ‘65 they gave a new—‘64 they had another program for Northern teachers and a New York teacher backed out and they called me asking “Kathy came you come up?” I said “Right on.” and I went and see that’s the way I got my Masters up there. I had 14 hours after I finished that time. When I came back they gave me a chance to head up the Head Start Program. I had to train all the principals in Charlotte with the Head Start Program because I had gotten it from Bank Street.

MD: So you were working for Head Start? Like the Federal Government Program?

KC: Yeah but I was working at Lincoln Heights during the school day and then in the summertime we trained the principals. And then I left Lincoln Heights and went downtown to be the first In Service Specialist for Early Childhood Education. Because we did not have kindergartens in Charlotte. See Head Start was the beginning of then four year olds to six year olds. But I trained the principals out at Johnson C. Smith. See the Office of Education let them have a room in the dormitory it was in the summer when we trained them. I could used people right in Charlotte some principals and some teachers who are real good teachers who could help principals know how to do things.

MD: Did whites and blacks go together for that training?

KC: Oh yeah, oh yes I had white teachers and black teachers yeah. Yeah I had wonderful teachers and I knew who the good ones were I hired them. We made good money oh making more money in six weeks then I made in a whole year almost. Because I was what they called me the Institutional Director I was looking at that on something the other night. See you forget what you did because you are so old I mean I’m so old now I can’t remember.

MD: (laughs) Were Head Start Programs integrated programs?

KC: Oh yes you should see some of my pictures. In fact we’ve got a—there’s a lady that--she stole half of my pictures. We got the pictures of our kids when they were learning how to do things with their hands. And see kids just can’t start reading if they are not in a home where parents use English and well they use English. But you know they say this, that, or something like that disadvantaged kids. And they don’t have a lot of books in their homes and they had books and we had toys and you know this is a sword, scooter, these blocks what color are these blocks? We would take them walking around “This is a red rose.” And we’d see something else red “That’s not a rose.” I said “But it’s red.” And we’d show them colors and grass is green and oh they’d pick the green crayon and color the grass. You know you have to give kids like that who have not had experiences whose parents had not taken them--they didn’t know what the escalator was. They hadn’t been to a store with an escalator or an elevator.

MD: So was the Head Start Program integrated before the schools were integrated here in Charlotte?

KC: Oh yes.

MD: Where were the Head Start—were the Head Start Programs held at school?

KC: Yes the Head Start was the--let me tell you what we did. We had a Head Start where we started with after we did the Head Start training we developed--we had four development centers and it’s the same as Head Start.

MD: Uh-huh.

KC: Children who before they were six years old because the state did not have kindergarten. But we had child development centers. One at Davidson Mrs. Oswald whose husband was a professor at the Davidson College she was the principal of that. Betty McLauren who was one of the first black women principals she became a principal when she was young in the city school system. Betty’s school was over at Seversville [Bruns Avenue Elementary School] but see Seversville used to be a white school. But by that time it was they had built another school for whites who lived over there near Johnson C. Smith. Betty McLauren was in charge of the Seversville Child Development Center white and black kids came. They were just cute as a button. Marion Price was a teacher at Midwood school [Midwood High School] she was a very good teacher and she became the principal down at Sterling [Sterling Elementary School]. Those little children would come to--and they came on a bus they picked them up white and black kids were poor. But they had to be kind of poor to be picked up. And I was the person over the child development center to help them with--because most of them didn’t have kindergarten training they had elementary and are different. So I would go to those schools and work with them and they were excellent principals.

MD: And were the staff at the Head Start integrated prior to the Charlotte Mecklenburg School System?

KC: Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes honey child. We had good stuff.

MD: Were there ever--?

KC: What year did we integrate?

MD: Well Swann is up in the early 70’s—‘71 ’70--.

KC: That’s right.

MD: Right so this was back in the 60’s.

KC: Oh yeah.

MD: And did people ever question “I don’t want my child going to this program on this bus?”

KC: No honey they were so glad to go. See we did our homework we went to see the parents and asked them if they wanted their children to have an experience with children. And they let them come.

MD: Why do you think that there wasn’t that sense of you know hatred and tension?

KC: Most of these people were not rich people and they--everybody says that poor people are more racist but they are not necessarily. Because some of those rich people didn’t think their kids--well they didn’t qualify anyway. But we had some kids who had pretty good—well what we call rich is not rich we’re not rich anyway. But anyway it was black and white kids and it was black and white teachers. And we hired kids—we hired a guy whose grandparents was a millionaire and he wanted to work in Head Start. And Glen Cunningham I hired him and we had white kids and Doctor—I’ll tell you who else’s child was working with us Craig Phillips’ daughter wanted to do it. So these kids—these white kids who don’t mind doing it but black kids too. We just wouldn’t be putting up with no segregated stuff. We can’t stay with all this stuff--race stuff.

MD: And were there regulations that you know you could enforce about it being a Federal Program and not being segregated?

KC: But you had to you got that Federal Government money and they take it from you.

MD: Right.

KC: That was one thing that--.

MD: Did you ever have to use that a tool with a white parent?

KC: No.

MD: That was just really never an issue?

KC: I’m going to tell you right now we were pros when it came to integration. Because we just refused to let people be too happy about not wanting to be around us and some whites were just as good as we were good in what we did. We didn’t mind talking race and we talked about it and honey child we just talked it out.

MD: So it’s amazing to me that all that was happening in an integrated setting before even the schools were integrating themselves?

KC: Yeah but the schools couldn’t do it the schools didn’t have enough guts to do it. They wanted to keep their jobs but I say that the Mayor Brookshire set the pace. Mayor Brookshire got up and said that people are people and he just would not stand up to have a city segregated. And see everybody didn’t touch what he was talking about but a lot of the leaders got the message. And a lot of leaders who wouldn’t have done it did it because they didn’t want to look bad. Whoever followed him they had to work hard. That’s why I always say when I would go back to Bank Street I would tell them Charlotte is better than any other place because to me it was.

MD: Because of the leadership?

KC: Yeah and the experiences I had had with whites and blacks. And see sometimes you get a bad name if you say “You like them white folks?” I said “Honey they can’t bite me.” I said “They are just as nice to me as you are.” I don’t let people pick my people. I love everybody I don’t care who it is. And I will talk to folk I don’t even know “What’s your name honey?” Honey they walk on I won’t be mad. See I talk to everybody.

MD: So you were working with the Head Start--.

KC: But I’m just one person now listen they were plenty of people like Bob Davis, Bob Walton who used to be a County Commissioner he’s dead now. Bob was good with getting people together too. They were plenty of whites who worked hard to do it too.

MD: What was it your impression—what was your impression about why they wanted people to come together? Why they wanted--what was the motive for them?

KC: Well I think that in the first place in my opinion most whites who lived here were brought up in a segregated city. We had Sycamore and West Charlotte that was it. Those other schools beat up schools and they just automatic knew that “When you’re white you’re right, when you’re yellow you’re mellow, when you’re brown stick around, when you’re black get back.” But I never would get back I said “Y’all can say it all you please but I ain’t getting back.” You just got to stand up and the more people know you the more they forget about “Why did I grow up hating black people.” And we were afraid of white people because they would tell us the Klan is going to come down to our house. When I was in Winnsboro I had been to get some milk from our family doctor cost 10 cents for two quarts of buttermilk we got it from him. This little boy came out and I had on a white dress and he threw a clod of dirt on me and messed up my dress and I threw that milk back at him. His mother came out and said “The Klan’s going to get you tonight.” I said “He’d better not.” And I was scared to sleep that night and they just lived about two blocks from me because I lived on a street--my house was the last house on my street. There was another black family right across from us the rest of them were white on down in there. And so we you know we passed their houses and sometimes we’d speak to them and some of them would speak to us and some wouldn’t. We just grew up in a segregated city. Like I told you my daddy was the principal he was the principal of the colored school not the white school. The Chairman of the Board was a white doctor and my daddy would have to go to the back door of his office to get the checks for the teachers. Since he was a treasurer and he gave him he would give him--he couldn’t mail them to him. Ross he called him he didn’t call him Mr. Ross he said “Ross go to the back.” And Daddy just smiled and went to the back and got all of us through school. See they had--our parents had to do what they were told to do. But those whites they knew they could tell us anything. And only God kept me alive because I didn’t let them talk to me like that. I talked back to them all the time. When I was in Winnsboro I said--.

MD: What do you think about people who were part of the white sort of power structure here in Charlotte? I mean I know you said quite clearly that how you felt about Brookshire do you feel that they were doing this because they didn’t want Charlotte to have a bad name? Or do you feel like it was apart of their wanting to achieve racial justice? What do you think?

KC: I think Brookshire was a good man and Brookshire believed in right and he believed that colored people what we called them back then. Weren’t blacks then. That they deserved to have a right to be a citizen in this city. And he went out and got people like Billy Wyman out at Queens College see he opened up his school to let blacks in. See people just need to be told or they may know but they have to come cognoscente and feel it and once they start thinking about themselves and go to church and be praying and going on Sunday and coming out telling blacks to go to the back door. So a lot of those folks didn’t want to fool around and not get to heaven so they just got good. We had something else called oh gosh I forgot the name of the other thing we used to have right here in Charlotte. My mind is too bad right now. Scratch--but after that other initiatives were taken place and we had something with the Mecklenburg Ministries. There was another group that did some wonderful things and a lot of people that I know were members of it and still are and do good things. There are a lot of good people in Charlotte. When I go I tell how good Charlotte is.

MD: Well obviously I know just from what I’ve read in the papers and from what other people have told me there was mass resistance to some degree. Especially during the Swann Case with the busing and so--.

KC: Oh definitely yes.

MD: Can I ask you to talk a little about your experiences and your impressions of that? Now when did you go--you went to Billingsville in 1971.

KC: That was right. MD: Were you asked to go over there as a principal to kind of oversee this integration? How did all that come about?

KC: No, no I don’t want to say this because it doesn’t come out right. But see the people who lived in Greer town they built Billingsville. In fact the man who gave them the property is Sam Billings he was a black man. And a lady who died just this past month Mrs. Mammie Drennon she and her husband said “We want us a school.” so they had that little building back that building in 1925. It wasn’t as big as my house. Had three rooms in it and that was the original Billingsville School that they built for us as a Rosenwald School.

MD: Uh-huh.

KC: So Mrs. Drennon was always a strong woman when she was young. And she and her husband said “We are going to build a school like these other schools.” See Billingsville was kind of in the county and Mrs. Drennon she’s a 100 years old when she died this past month. She built that school the one that I went to. But when I got to--there was a black male who was the principal of Billingsville when Billingsville they integrated. For some reason I don’t know what he did I don’t have anything against him. But it seems like he did not like the white parents coming in and taking over the school. They just took it over really they wanted their children to be in this teacher’s room and in this teacher’s room and see they had white and black teachers in Billingsville already.

MD: Because the staff integrated before?

KC: Yeah integrated before. I was an In Service Specialist for Early Childhood Education then. I was uptown I had an office uptown. I would go around to schools and just you know I didn’t have anything to do with them because they didn’t have a primary program. I mean not a kindergarten but you know what I’m saying.

MD: Right.

KC: But anyway one day the superintendent called me and he said “Kat I’d like to send you out to Billingsville.” I said “For what?” He said “To be the principal.” I said “But I don’t have my principal certificate.” He said “But you’ve got your Masters and you already know how to handle people. I’m sending you out there to get the people together the folk are all fighting each other. Whites and black are not getting along.” I said “Well how can I fix it?” He said “If anybody can fix it you can fix it and if you don’t do well we can take you out.” I said “Well OK is it clear?” So Ms. Rippey was a supervisor she was a good supervisor and assistant a black woman. She took me out there she said “Kat you are the very person for this school very good person.” I went out there looked around cut my eyes around and started praying.

MD: So was it true? What did you find there?

KC: Well the faculty honey it was just sad. When I went out there I didn’t worry about why he wasn’t going to be there I just went in there. The first day I was there I called the faculty together. I just talked to them I said “Now you all can tell me anything you want to know but I didn’t come out to find out what’s wrong with the school. I came out for us to make peace in the school and I’m sure that everybody in here is going to do it.” I had white and black faculty. I said “Now if there is anything that you all need to ask me before I get started ask about my way about working with people. I will try to answer it but you’d probably better wait till it happens and ask me. Because you may ask me more questions than I can answer and I may not do too well but I will do the best I can.” Well they said “We don’t even have any paper we are not allowed to have paper.” I said “Well that’s already taken care of paper.” (laughs) And they started talking about what was wrong and how they couldn’t get things and they had to get permission from the secretary to get a sheet of paper or something else. Oh they just kept talking about what’s wrong. So I said “Somebody be the secretary and just write it all down.” So they wrote it all down and so they left. So the next day I went to every class in the school after they got in there off the bus. I saw how they got off the bus they’d get off the bus just running everywhere. I didn’t say a word I just cut my eyes and said “Uh-huh.” So I went to every room and I said “My name is Ms. Crosby and I will be your principal now.” “You’re going to be our principal?” “Yeah” I said. They said “Well do you whip children?” I said “No honey you see this dress I have on? If I whip you all it will tear up my dress.” And they looked at me and as if to say “That’s why she doesn’t whip because she doesn’t want to tear up her dress?” I said “Why should I whip you?” I said “Now you all are Billingsville kids now that’s your name Billingsville kids.” I said “Anybody that goes to school here is a Billingsville kid and you belong to me while you are at school and your teachers.” I said “Any questions?” “No ma’am.” I said “Well I got a question do y’all know how to get off the bus and walk to your classrooms?” I said “Let me see the hands of all of you all I don’t mean run. Suppose you’re running and you have your braces on and you fall and break them. They’ll say ‘Ms. Crosby’s got a bad school out there kids running all over each other.’” “No ma’am Ms. Crosby.” I said “OK. All the children who can walk to their rooms raise their hands.” And I went to every room and did the same little Johnny-come-lately.

MD: (laughs)

KC: Pretty, pretty. But then I had another meeting with my teachers and I said I asked them “I want you to promise me that you will be to work on time.” I said “If you want to have fun and talk with me and talk with your friends and tell your big tales and enjoy them come about half and hour early so you can have your coffee but be in your classroom if your child is supposed to be in school by a quarter of eight. Be sure you are already in there and be sure you have something for them to do when they walk in. Don’t wait until they come in to think about what you are going to do. Plan well and have centers in their class for kids can put their coats down and go to centers and work until you get started until all the children get in.” And I said “Now if you all do that y’all will get to go home early some days when you want to go. If your momma’s sick we’ll get somebody to take care.” I said “Honey I’m babying you all really.” And they loved it anyway. Then some mommas came over to my school to tell me that “I want to know about the reading clinic.” They had a reading clinic and a lot of parents had certain children pulled out of their classes to teach them reading. And I told them “We have to look at this again.” I said “Now anybody who wants to talk to be privately I will be in my office until 5 o’clock everyday unless I let you know I’m not. School is out at 3:30 and I will be at my office at 5 o’clock. Anybody got anything that you really want to tell me.” And don’t think they didn’t line up. “I don’t want my child to be in so and so’s room because he’s not doing well in so and so.” They gave me all these things.

MD: Were they racial reasons that--?

KC: Well some of it was racial but some of it was true. Some just happened to be black and some of the whites they didn’t want their children in their schools. If they wanted the best teachers those parents knew who the best teachers were. So I told them I said “Now we can’t change this school in one day but we will work toward having the best teachers here. And I am a big time observer and I will be observing ever teacher until I know what they are doing. And they probably are smarter than I am but I know smart people when I see them. That’s why I hire smart people.” So they just went on home and said “Kat’s got in charge of it.” So the mommas went on home and the kids were wonderful. But my teachers got to be better teachers too. They started doing on one hall the fifth grade teachers got together and they started talking about who is in the best math teacher in here and who is—and so they thought that the real smart math teachers should teach the real smart children but it didn’t go that way. We started the math teachers they have groups of children who were behind. Because the kids who could already do could already do it anyway and so we worked it out and the parents didn’t fuss a bit. They didn’t fuss one bit about who I moved. And I would move them to have a certain block of time and then they would go back to their teacher. Some children had to be moved because some children had conflicts with their teachers. I didn’t care what anybody said. I didn’t care whether it was she did something I didn’t have to get my permission from people in the street to tell me what to do to make the school work. See it worked and the parents loved it and I loved them they loved me. One problem I had was the black parents came over and said to me “Ms. Crosby the whites are taking over the PTA.” I said “They really are we are going to work on that too.” But you see they came in with a lot of money.

MD: Uh-huh.

KC: One night Phyllis Moore became our PTA president and her husband had a lot of money. And honey they raised so much money they didn’t know how to act. We got all kinds of stuff we never had. But what I said to the PTA I said “Now you have two or three and a half blacks on it.” And I just tell them like that “Three and a half blacks.” (laughs) I’d have to always be fun with them to get it over.

MD: Uh-huh

KC: So I said “Now when you all get ready to organize for your next PTA I came into this and I am not changing it.” I said “But next year we are going to have an integrated PTA and we have people black and white.” I said “Greertown is not a slum place. A lot of people bought property and build a lot of apartments in it and people got to live somewhere. So we are not going to be saying ‘So and so is not good enough’ but we are going to have blacks and whites on the PTA board.” We did have but it was not representative but honey child they fixed that thing up so we weren’t doing anything but grinning next thing we knew Charles Kuralt came down there and said “Let me see how y’all did it.” We were on CBS News you couldn’t tell us a thing. Honey I love Billingsville I loved it. I go to my kids weddings and got to see their babies my PTA folk when Joe died they were over here sitting on the sofa and coming to see about me.

MD: Did Charlotte Mecklenburg School System ever give you or other teachers, principals, training about how these schools were going to integrate? What to expect and--?

KC: Well see I will tell you this I was uptown as an In Service Specialist in Early Childhood Development when they were doing it.

MD: Right.

KC: They did plan I will give them credit the administration had problems at certain schools. They would send us out to schools now Barbie Toby you don’t know her. She was over Social Work she’s a black woman finished school at Spelman in Atlanta. Her mamma was a woman principal way back in the ‘teens. She came from a very well to do family and intelligent. She was head of Social Work I’m talking about of all Social Workers in the school system she was director of Social Work. Barbie and I would go to schools I remember we went to Carmel Junior High School. See what they did was they let most white kids stay in their schools and black kids. See young children kids who were first, second, and third grade they had to get bused all the way out to Rama Road. But no white kids got bused over here until they got in fifth grade, fourth, fifth, and sixth. It wasn’t too much of that done but they would send us out on a mission. We would go out there and we’d get these kids from Boulevard homes and these kids were poor. They’re out with those rich kids and their mommas bringing their bassoons and coming in the station wagons saying “Honey here is your so and so.” And these kids on free lunch see that was a big mistake but it was easy for them to desegregate it because a lot of blacks raised sand about it. Like my daughter was supposed to go way out to Independence and I went downtown and said “Uh-uh.” I said “You all are gonna have to put your children.” I said “My child is going right up here to West Charlotte.” And she did oh yeah you can’t be just a mamma and somebody else’s principal and don’t take care of your own kids. But we went out there and it was the cutest thing you’ve ever seen and it was all the black kids no whites were in there. In other words there wasn’t no bad black white kids according to them. So we were in there and Ms. Lady these folk around here think that we don’t got any since. We’ve got plenty of sense. And I said “Why?” (laughs) so we let them talk too.

MD: And how old are these kids?

KC: These kids were in Junior High School.

MD: Uh-huh.

KC: They said “Ms. Lady they just don’t treat us right.” I said “Well why don’t we get the principal in here and let him hear it.” “We don’t care if he gets in here we don’t care we’re glad y’all come out here.” (laughs) They were just talking. And the principal was really listening, he was listening. I said “You all know y’all don’t whip these white children but y’all whip us.” I mean they were telling all of it I said “But I bet you right now y’all just think that way.” And I said “I bet you Mr. so and so and all his teachers don’t even realize that they are doing that kind of thing differently.” I said “From now on this school is going to be the best school I am coming back out here and you all are going to be the best kids y’all aren’t going to be bad in school.” “No ma’am Ms. Lady I ain’t bad.” I said “OK I am going to give you a piece of paper and put down the best things about you. I’m good looking, I’m smart, sometimes I’m bad.”

MD: (laughs)

KC: I said “No just put all the good things on one side put it on the other side.” And they put “I need to be better.” They started making assessments of themselves and “I am going to be a better girl.” “Ms. Lady I like to fight but I’m not going to fight no more.” I mean they were just cute as a button but it just took a lot to get it going. And it took people who were sensitive to race relations and things like that. Honey we would go we loved to go and things just got better but we had some places that we couldn’t even do anything with because we had some school board members who did not believe in integration. And they had a big rally out there in West Charlotte not right here in Charlotte in West Mecklenburg. You know how they had Harding kids where--they came over to Harding with guns and things. Because I got a friend name Eddie Moore who was a teacher over there a black teacher. They had to run down in the bushes because they came over there with chains and things.

MD: You mean the white kids?

KC: No white grown people.

MD: Oh, is this about the Dorothy Counts? Or you mean when--.?

KC: No that was before.

MD: Oh you mean busing?

KC: That was after the busing.

MD: Now what the white people when they were integrating come down there with--.?

KC: Yeah they came down there with chains and stuff uh-huh yeah. Over at Harding but see Harding was a white school.

MD: And was that everyday or just when this started?

KC: No when they started the teachers had to run down for cover. Yeah it’s in the book I think it is wherever it is. Oh yeah honey we went through a lot. Well I had a teacher at one of my schools--.

Minidisc 1 ends; Minisdisc 2 begins.

KC: --demoted her and one of her male bright principals wrote me a letter and said “You don’t want white to come in tonight.” That was the second Klan letter I got but see he didn’t know I’m a FBI agent. I traced it right back to him. I waited until the next year and he had a baby. And I heard he had a young baby and I went over there. He said “Hey Kathy” just grinning. I said “How is your baby?” He said “Oh she is beautiful.” I said “I hope the white will not come in tonight.” I taught him a lesson so he looked so scared he started apologizing “Can I apologize? I was just hoping you never knew I sent that note.” I said “You should know I’m just like a witch.” I said “I don’t be mad at you, you don’t know any better. You know better now and I hope white don’t come in tonight on your little girl that would be too bad. Because you don’t know they may hurt them more than I would.” Honey he said--I can write my—Anne Hap fusses at me all the time “You ought to write your own book you always telling your story.” I said “I ain’t writing no book.” Oh that’s off?

MD: I just turned it back on yeah. What about--you mentioned the people in West Mecklenburg and their kind of resistance and the rally that they had and that sort of thing. You know people say Frye Gaillard and others I mean they really say it was a smooth transition.

KC: Oh yeah.

MD: And they sort of trump it up to say that.

KC: They say it but when you look--.

MD: So what do you think about that?

KC: When you look in it they’ve got some of those real things in there. It’s not all trumped up like that. Now Frye may say that now but when Frye wrote his book he just kind of put things down that really happened. They can’t run away from it because I was telling you that Charles Kuralt came down here and he talked to different people. I got that tape somewhere but I don’t know where. He has clips it’s a piece here somewhere when those people had that rally. It was terrible it was racist I mean they were just insane. They had it on the television that night but somebody captured it its in print somewhere. They had a rally to stop integration they didn’t want niggers at that schools they used all those words and everything.

MD: Do you think that was more indicative of how all of Charlotte felt?

KC: No.

MD: Or do you think people like Brookshire were more indicative of most Charlotteans I mean what can you say one or the other?

KC: I believe that more even I’m not talking about just rich people now people who live on that side they would always seem to be that it’s all right. But they didn’t like it either because some of the people at Myers Park asked Dr. Garinger who was--now see Dr. Garinger was here when it first started really. And honey some of those important people they say “How you letting them black boys go into Myers Park School with their heads out the window? They ain’t supposed to be over here.” Dr. Garinger stood up to them. And so but see it really didn’t happen until after--.

MD: Right with the Swann Case and the busing.

KC: Uh-huh yeah that’s right.

MD: Were you afraid that something might erupt at your school? Or did you feel--?

KC: I never felt that anything was going to erupt. When I went to my school I was accepted by--I don’t know not one white down on Randolph Road and Providence Road. They were just as sweet to me--see I was nice to their kids before they got to know me. See before I took over the principal-ship I got in my car and rode the bus route to see where kids got on the bus and I changed a lot of the bus stops. Because the kids would come out running across Providence Road. I said “Nobody runs across Providence Road at all.” And I didn’t care what they said I made my own bus routes. I said “The kids who live in Pinehurst Apartments meetup here at the clubhouse and that’s where the bus is going to stop. Do not run, walk. If you see the bus coming just get safe” but see those parents loved that. Those kids who lived in Greertown some of those kids were having to walk from way over some apartments way over somewhere. I said “Let the bus come through this” I got the cutest book a kid wrote about my school I am going to let you look at it. She lived down Providence Road and she rode that bus. When the bus driver was coming through those kids that who lived in those apartments they would get on the bus. And they would say “You just think you’re something because your hair is better than mine.” These black girls started telling these kids “You think you something because your hair is straighter than mine.” They would be scared you know and so one day I--.

MD: They would say that to the white kids riding on the bus with them?

KC: Uh-huh but a black kid bought some glasses like a white girl had. And the other said “You brought some glasses just like Cindy why did you buy your glasses like Cindy?” This little girl who was riding on the bus when she became a teacher up in Virginia and when they named the school the Kat Crosby Library she wrote this story about integration. It’s a beautiful story and it said then we were doing something and told all about how the kids were--. They weren’t fighting on the bus they were doing that before I came and that’s what they were saying. She was saying that I think I don’t know I think the other principal had that bus coming through there I think. But I ran some buses through there too but I didn’t have that trouble. But the guy was going by what those kids did before I got there because that’s in her book Cindy and I. We came and they were telling us so and so and so and then when Ms. Crosby came she would take up all of us. She didn’t allow us to be mean and so they got along fine the kids started--the buses still came through. Nobody found that in my school honey these y’all school honey y’all my kids shucks. Uh-huh that fighting had to go. But it’s the cutest thing she wrote guess what she said about me? She said “Ms. Crosby came and she was our new principal. She came and talked to us every room and said she wore high heel shoes and she had a charm bracelet that made noise.”

MD: (laughs)

KC: See honey I went out there with high heel shoes on cute had my charm bracelet on with a million charms on it. I said “I will wear my charm bracelet and y’all get ready and be in place when I get there and you wouldn’t have to get fussed at.”

MD: Was it important to you I mean to take steps about how I don’t mean this to sound like a condescending question. But I mean you know you were going into this potentially racially charged environment with these parents, PTA, students having trouble, did you make certain steps consciously about how you dressed? Are how you talked to people or addressed people to try to make things work? I’m just curious.

KC: No I didn’t you mean how I--the clothes I wore?

MD: Yeah or even how you dealt with people?

KC: Oh no honey let me tell you as far as clothes and colored folks. We don’t be going anywhere with our shirttails down. Our parents told us “If you are a professional look like a professional.” You don’t have to be dressed up and everything but honey we wouldn’t wear any tennis shoes to work. We’d be just dressed up honey child going to school. Folk used to wear all this loud perfume and I just was going to die I couldn’t stand that. I had a friend who’d have--I would go in her school and I would fall back. Oh if she ever reads this she’d kill me. But we used to do it I never liked perfume. But we used to dress up now. I mean I didn’t wear silk blouses are nothing like that but I would wear a suit. I didn’t wear pants nobody wore pants then.

MD: So you never really had like when you addressed the PTA members you said “Now we need this to be a more even situation. And have African American men and women on this board.” Did you meet with resistance from them?

KC: Now I’m not saying this to be bragging on me. One of my best things is to get people together. See I talk to them just like I talk to black folks. I don’t talk to white people differently I talk to them just like—uh-huh. And I told them I said “When I was little I used to have to drink black water but when y’all weren’t looking I drank white water.” And they just laughed. I think I have a certain humor to me. To say things that I want to say I usually say whatever I want to say to black and whites. I mean I’m just that way. I told you my teachers told me I wasn’t going to be anything because I wasn’t like the other Ross children. They were real nice I wasn’t nice. Because I would always tell the truth it hurt them but it didn’t hurt me I felt good. When I get ready to talk to my PTA folks I say “Y’all sit down.” I said “Now what do y’all think is wrong with this school, I already know.” They said “Well Kat we just aren’t sensitive like you are.” I said “Well I’m real sensitive and you all are wonderful people. You all will help me to do what I need to do. I’m not going to do it y’all are going to do it.” I didn’t do it I didn’t call out and say “Miss Lady you come over.” I said “There’s plenty of people there’s plenty of kids in this school whose parents are intelligent and they can serve.” I got pictures back over there somewhere that who sent me those pictures? Somebody gave me those pictures--oh here’s one right here. See these folks when they named the library they had all these pictures they had kept and they gave them to me. Now this was my--he and his wife were my PTA Presidents and he was on the school committee his name is Boyd. I know that name so well cause their daughter is the one who wrote that thing about the--.

MD: Oh uh-huh.

KC: Uh huh and they were my PTA Presidents. I’m sitting in here with my slacks on. See how got on my slacks see I said I didn’t wear pants then but it was different when it was a slack suit weren’t just britches you know.

MD: Right.

KC: You know now see this was a suit. And more than likely my charm bracelet was hanging over there somewhere. This is another one of my—this is--what is her name? Gosh I used to remember all of their names. I’ll think about it in a minute but she had two boys and she was the best volunteer. We had more than one this was just the Executive Committee. The PTA President and the Chairman of the Board. I think the cook out of the kitchen was on something on another picture that I had. But they gave me these because these were pictures that they had taken.

MD: So you saw race relations really change over time is that what you’re saying?

KC: Oh yeah.

MD: From the time you arrived on the bus at Johnson C. Smith to the time you were principal at Billingsville.

KC: Yeah things just kept going. We know about the bombing and all that of those houses and stuff that was after Johnson C. Smith.

MD: Uh huh.

KC: But we did something about it. The community came together after that honey oh yeah. And then that night we had that dinner when the bomb scare was at the Civic Center. But I’ll tell you one thing--it wasn’t Civic Center what was that building right on the square? It was a building on the square. No on College Street that’s where it is now isn’t it?

MD: Uh-huh.

KC: OK that’s where it was because we came out on College Street and Trade. We made a circle and started singing “We Shall Overcome”. Oh yeah I still say there are some things that can be done better. Just like our streets if you noticed coming over here. They don’t take care of our streets at all they put everything over at Myers Park and down Providence Road. When we moved down here whites lived out here and the houses that were already built up there. This house, the house next door was the last house that was built on this street and the little house across the street over there. A little shot gun now it was a little brick house. Whites live out here not rich people but whites live here. They had it’s a statement that no blacks can live out here. And the houses up on Edison Street none of them are new. All them were there and we bought this lot and they built this house not this room but the house for $8,500 including the lot. This man was wanting to get rid of--Bob Allen had brought all this property for a little of nothing and it used to be Good Circle North Way [Druid Circle] and it stopped right down there at the corner. This street was a dead end but they opened it up and did a circle. They just named that Moretz [Avenue].

MD: You mean they were selling them because African American minimum were moving in?

KC: Uh-huh oh yeah they moved out. And they got a--it’s in the courthouse that blacks cannot live in those houses. They were trying to do something and that thing is still in--.

MD: Restrictive Covenant.

KC: Yeah and see some white folks own--now blacks up there doing it. But they own that corner up there on Edison Street and it’s the worst it ain’t nothing but a drug place. They got cars on—you’ll see it all the way across people. People put those old cars in there and they send the drug boy in there and he puts the drugs in this broken down car and they come and get it. They know it but they don’t do anything about it. Myers Park wouldn’t have it. Now some of them probably own the stuff but I’m telling you it’s on there now. (laughs)

MD: What do you think if you think back about your involvement in Charlotte? Because you were involved in a lot of different areas and what do you think was the most pivotal sort of event for effecting Charlotte Civil Rights here and the peoples Civil Rights here in Charlotte? I mean were you involved in an event that you think was the most pivotal one?

KC: Can you cut that off for a minute?

MD: Uh huh. Now I know we were talking earlier about—you were talking about dinners that you might attend and the white community people would try to invite other African Americans and sort of have a diverse group working toward things. You found a letter inviting you to that. Could you kind of tell me the date and maybe read the letter who it’s from?

KC: I may not read all of it but it comes from Dr. and Mrs. Robert Miller and the lady’s name was Caroline Miller. It says “Dear Kat, Dr. and Mrs. Raymond Wheeler and my husband Dr. Robert Miller invite you to a light supper at my home on Huxley Road at 6:30P.M. Thursday, July 20th. We have a special reason for inviting you particularly to be with us knowing of your committee toward working for a more decent community. We think we have an idea which you will find exciting along with several other people. We have been discussing the possibility of putting together a citywide conference in the fall to be conducted by Richard Harmon, Associate Director of Industrial Areas Foundations, founded by the late Saul Sosnowski in Chicago, Illinois. The purpose of this conference is to explore the potential of building in Charlotte a positive and broad based Citizen Action Organization which would enhance the Democratic process of this city. And be a strong force to deal with some of the problems facing us in the 70’s. We would like very much for you to join us in a deeper discussion of this idea and share your thoughts on this proposal. Please let me know immediately whether you can come. Please consider your husband invited also. Sincerely yours, Caroline”

MD: And what date was that?

KC: This was July 13, 1972.

MD: So you would have been a principal at Billingsville at that time?

KC: Yeah.

MD: You remember if you went to that dinner?

KC: Oh yes it was fun. Fred Alexander was there and a whole lot of folk. But I remember Fred was there and let’s see who else was there. I think Moses Belton might have been there. I can’t remember because I’ve been to too many people’s houses. And I was probably talking more than anybody. (laughs)

MD: Well we’ve talked about sort of the complexities a little bit of integration and how there were people like these people who wanted to see it work for whatever reason. And then there were people let’s say at West Mecklenburg who were fighting it. Was there a consensus within the black community to want to see integration at that time? Did everybody want to see that within the black community?

KC: Well most of the blacks that I know and when I’m around them if they don’t think we ought to have had it they don’t tell me. Because it’s more like desegregation than integration and there’s a difference in those two. Desegregation is just saying that everybody can come but integration has to do with people entering into each other’s lives and talk and be friends. You don’t have to be personal friends but to be friends and not be afraid to talk to people because they are a certain color, race, or whatever it is. I didn’t ever hear a lot of blacks say “We don’t want to be integrated.” I’ve never hear anybody say that because all of us get together and say we don’t have anything and we don’t get the service. We still say that. That we don’t get the services that whites whether they are rich or not. We’ve got a lot of blacks I’m not one of them. But we’ve got a lot of blacks who live in fine places and have fine homes but they still don’t get the attention that in white neighborhoods that are generally white. Even when you drive up and down I-77 if I’m going down there near where I am going to be turning off to some of those places where they live. People out there picking up trash and cutting the lawn and cutting the hedges down. When I go up Statesville Avenue nobody has picked up the trash cans around our place at all. It’s still the same thing. I mean it’s still--the leadership in Charlotte. The people that we elected we just have one person who will represent us in this area. And that’s just one person it’s a black person. I hate to say race but it has a lot to do with race. If whites lived down here we’d have a better—we have a neighbor across the street Ms. Ballot she goes downtown all the time. She worries everybody to death she just spends all her time running up and down the street. And these people out here could call themselves fixing our sidewalks. But these kids have been going to Druid Hill without a sidewalk all these years. It’s just going to be one it’s not they said--we paid to get ours done they put all the red ribbons up but they never did it. So they came back now and putting curbing down for us. But we don’t need that we already got curbing. They fixed two or three places where there was a lot of water running over in people’s yard. But this is way back. I’ve been living here since ‘51 waiting on the stuff to happen. It’s worse now and I think we’d better get together because you don’t want to see what happened on the 11th of November or whatever month is it was the 11th.

MD: In September.

KC: I don’t want to think about the month. But I mean people get tired and mad. And Charlotte has been real calm and we have never torn up our city. We’ve had some bad things happen but its just a few nuts.

MD: Why do you think that there was a prevailing sort of calm in Charlotte versus you know?

KC: Because generally people in Charlotte are pretty good. I really think that there are a lot of folks who would never join into the whole course of human kind. But a lot of them have learned that it’s all right to be a good citizen. People don’t go around calling people names “You’re a white cracker.” “You’re a nigger.” We don’t do that in Charlotte we really don’t.

MD: But you think--.

KC: We don’t do it but we don’t make any effort to make us you know people who just don’t look at your skin and don’t look at where you live.

MD: But then do you see--.

KC: But I still think that--.

MD: Race problems in terms of even what you just said about--.

KC: Oh yes it’s great problems with that.

MD: But you think the lid never kind of came off like it might have in Chicago or you know Watts [Watts, Los Angeles, CA].

KC: It didn’t because I think see whites who don’t think too much of us they ought to love us because we never had any big blow out. We don’t believe in blowing out we would get together and say what we were going to do. But we don’t get up and say we are going to shoot somebody. You know I’m not talking about these nuts who go out because a lot of people shoot folks you don’t see their pictures in the papers. I know a lot of folks who’ve been in trouble and they don’t put their pictures in the paper.

MD: But you think that that is something different about people here in Charlotte?

KC: Uh-huh I do.

MD: Or do you think it was the leadership in Charlotte?

KC: I think it’s always been the leadership and whether they say it or not they are proud of Charlotte in a way. There’s a lot to be done but it’s a lot--and even the integration of schools I don’t know many places that integrated as well as we did. Although we had a few little bomb scares and stuff but nobody got killed that I remember.

MD: And you credit that to?

KC: Because parents when they get home they may not like it but I think they try to talk around their children to say everything is going to be OK Kids--I go in schools now white and black kids they just come up to me and say “Ms. Lady what’s your name.” I say so and so and so. They say “You’re going to read some poems to us today?” I said “I might if you be good.” “Yeah we’re going to be good come on.” (laughs) I have a good time.

MD: Why do you think that sense of militancy that happened in other places? I mean I know Charlotte had a Black Panther Party you know small group.

KC: But it was so little didn’t nobody join them. They didn’t join the Panthers they were here but I didn’t know them. I didn’t fool with them and I didn’t want to know them. They can take that Panther stuff somewhere else. I said “If the Klan can have theirs the Panthers can have theirs.” But as far as blacks were concern I just told them “I don’t believe in Black Panthers.” See you don’t want to be like people who discriminate against other folks and want to hurt people. Shoot honey they say “Kat you don’t know.” I said “If I get beat up or if I get put in jail or if I get shot down it’s just too bad. I have to say what I believe.” You’ve got to go somewhere sometime. (laughs)

MD: So you think that the integration or desegregation depending on which one you really think took place?

KC: Uh-huh yeah desegregation.

MD: Do you think that was--?

KC: But in some things we integrated because I’ve got friends who are white who are as good of friends as black friends that I have.

MD: Do you think the school--?

KC: We can talk about anything we talk about race and laugh. Heck you have to laugh about this stuff you can’t get too serious about it.

MD: Do you think it was successful the school desegregation?

KC: I think so I think--.

MD: How do you think it was successful?

KC: I think more people got together more children knew each other got to be friends with each other. And I think the newcomers who came here recently now they are the ones that’s been crying so—in fact that man who sued them--he’s somebody from Chitlin Switch somewhere Beaverdam one--whatever the place is. But see people who come in and see us doing this say “What are they doing?” They have to get in line and learn how we got where we are.

MD: And with that in mind just last week, there was a ruling from that lawsuit which sort of started a question about Swann again. As you know the whole sort of information came out they ruled that the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools were unitary.

KC: But they knew that was not true we knew that was not true.

MD: What does that say to you about--what do you think about the future of race relations here in Charlotte?

KC: Well unless we have leaders and some of the leaders that we have who should be out there is not taking anything to do with race relations. Unless the leaders get out and start saying what we need to do and what we need to be sure that we don’t have to have federal governments to tell us what to do is right. Now one thing I will say they are doing this time that I ain’t never seen. They knew that they weren’t going to integrate the schools and they said people will have to live in their neighborhoods. But one thing the school board did this time and the County Commissioner approved. I went over to Druid Hills where my kids went to school. They were just a little old naked school over there and people didn’t want their kids to go over there. I wouldn’t want mine because the people who own all that property with all those broken down cars and all that trash. If you take somebody on a cruise to go around the neighborhood to get to the school they will say “I’m scared.” But one thing they can come up one street and turn right. Druid Hills I went over there the other day to vote they have a new principal and I know her real well so I went in there and I said “Is the principal here?” Said “Tell her there is a lady who wants to make some trouble to come out.” She came out looking big “Kat” she told me I better come on and help her. But she was doing well it’s a pretty school the new school they built. The halls I was scared we used to have halls so narrow till you’d smell somebody’s breath if you said something to them. These wide halls clean the building just clean just beautiful. I said “This is a school in a black neighborhood?” I got scared.

MD: (laughs)

KC: What and I don’t know about the one up on North Tryon near Sugar Creek Road it’s probably going to be pretty too. But that one at Druid Hills is beautiful.

MD: Does that give you hope?

KC: Well it gave me hope and see the big thing about it we don’t care whether we’re with white folks or black folks. But we want what y’all have. We don’t want to have a library with 50,000 volumes I think and my library’s got three little bookcases. When I went to Billingsville the library just had some encyclopedia now that’s how come we got--now they didn’t build the library until after I left but while I was there I said “Just a minute.” When I got there the first week in making my assessment of Billingsville School I said “Now this school was build for colored folks and y’all don’t have any books in here y’all don’t have any space.” And I said “Look at these chairs these broken down chairs.” They had these little old wooden chairs that’s broken down and some of them were plastic chairs and I called maintenance they almost fired me. I said “Take all these chairs out of here take them out of there.” I made them take the tables and the chairs. I said “The children can sit on the floor.” But they weren’t going to let those beautiful children sit on the floor next thing I knew they brought all new furniture. The next year they enlarged my library.

MD: And this was you mean the Charlotte Mecklenburg School System?

KC: Yeah and they enlarged my library. But they were so busy being cheap they forgot to put the heat in it. And they had to put those big old open pipes up around to do it. But at least they put the--we were going to have to be in cold weather. They forgot to put the furnace stuff in. But anyway they did and then when they built the new library it is just a building of it’s own it’s beautiful. And the principal’s office is when you come off of Randolph Road it’s beautiful. The new library they named it the Kat Crosby Library. I said “Now that’s what I was looking for but thank y’all for naming it.”

MD: Now I remember hearing a story about you hearing people on television talking about how they didn’t want to send their kids to Billingsville. You got in the car and tell me about that what meeting was that?

KC: That’s right it was the School Board Meeting.

MD: And this was when you were principal there?

KC: No this is now wait a minute now hold it. Oh I did it as a principal I went down there about my daughter but about the other one about me talking about the school. Some parents were down there talking about I think the parents were in Eastover [Eastover Elementary] I think. See they were talking about sending the kids from Eastover over to Billingsville.

MD: Busing them?

KC: Uh huh.

MD: Redistricting.

KC: Like give them the little children and give them the big children because they weren’t about to send their little children off anyway I was at home looking at television and they were down there talking about why they don’t want their kids--I mean what about the school over there. And I went down there raised my hand I said “I just finished looking at part of what you all said while I was listening about my house. I came down here to let you know that yes there are beer cans on the streets where people live there but they are not in our school and they are not in our school yard.” And I said “We don’t have tree lined lanes as you have over there but you come in Billingsville School and you will learn something.” I told them parents to get off. I said “Y’all ain’t going to hurt my feelings about my school house and my people.”

MD: And did you ever have to work with any of those parents that were saying those things?

KC: Oh when I’d see them “That’s Kat?” We didn’t let them come over there. We (laughs) just said “Keep them over there.” We didn’t need them I think were trying to get more white kids because there’s more blacks than whites. But my kids didn’t leave they didn’t go they stayed right there. And I had good support from both white and black parents. We had something called the Spring Fling and we had a Carnival and we had black and white parents working together. They were just wonderful. I was the fortuneteller that day and I was in this little booth you ought to see my outfit it’s a thing like Arabian striped purple, orange, and yellow and I had it over my head. Those people come on down and I was sitting there with my crystal ball. I was in this dark place and they had to come in. I said “Let me see your hand.” And I said “Uh-huh. You have been doing something I’m not sure what this is but you have doing something that you don’t want me to know.” “Ms. Crosby don’t tell nobody” and start telling (laughs) I said “Wait a minute you are going to have good luck. You are going to make a good grade on your math test. I think it’s right here.” Said “Yeah I’m doing better in math.” I had the best time child and they were coming in there to get their fortune told. You would have these little tickets see we did it so that the parents wouldn’t have to be saying that we didn’t have any money. The tickets didn’t cost but five cents and you come and buy as many tickets as you could get in everything for five cents. If they wanted an ice cream bar they got it with one of those stubs. They called it the Spring Fling and those parents would come out and the black and white parents were out there working. Because a lot of times it’s usually white parents—parents will say “They’ve got to work.” But those parents would come out and they were friends too. We had the best time and then they cleaned up when it was over it was over about 2 o’clock started at 10 o’clock in the morning it was over at 2. Child the Spring Fling oh they loved it. And something else we had we had something else in the gym one night. And we would have programs for Christmas and another thing I had to learn was that--I had to get my teachers aware of the fact that we had a lot of Jewish kids and I said “Now you all wanted to have a Christmas Program.” I said “We’ve got to have Hanukkah we’ve got to have what they like too. And we are not going to try and talk about we fix the songs so they don’t offend anybody.” We did that and I stopped those Baptist preachers from coming down there saying “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God.” I said “We are going to use God and whoever their Lord is.” I said “We are not going to use just Jesus Christ. I believe in it and you believe in what you want also.” And we just took those words out. All that had to be taken care of.

MD: So there was more than just the black white issue?

KC: Oh yeah and I had a lot of Jewish people. But they were good to me. I had some wonderful Jewish parents and smart too. Yeah they were smart. It was a--I don’t know why they sent me but they said I did all right. But I went out there and I saw what the problems were and I just took care of them. Just like I do everything else I got to do. Do it or not do it or go back home. But I loved Billingsville.

MD: So it had been integrated the year before you came?

KC: It was the year that I came.

MD: That you came.

KC: See I went in January or February.

MD: So you came in midyear?

KC: Yeah.

MD: Oh OK.

KC: They couldn’t take it any more they were carrying on so.


KC: So honey child I don’t know how come I inherited that. I guess that’s how I got to be an area superintendent. Because they just called me out they didn’t even interview me. Said “You are going to be an Area Superintendent over at Myers Park.” You should have seen some of those people who worked in the system who got other areas. One lady said “I can take Myers Park don’t you think I can do Myers Park better than you can?” I said “Why?” Said “All those white people.” I said “Honey child it doesn’t make to me no difference whether they are white or black I can take care of them just like you can take care of the black folks you’ve got to take care of. It will be a good experience for you.” But yeah they thought I just had the rich school but it wasn’t. Myers Park didn’t have a lot of stuff that some other schools didn’t have because it’s an old school. I had to fight to get stuff for them too. I would too give us our stuff.

MD: So—.

KC: Myers Park got enlarged what’s the word when you going to make I can’t think anymore.

MD: Like expand it?

KC: Uh-huh they didn’t build anything for Myers Park while I was there. But they had a lot though like they had a dining room with a big fireplace. I mean they had things that other schools didn’t have before I guess that’s why I didn’t worry about Myers Park. But we fussed “We don’t have so and so and so.” Oh yeah honey I’d be fighting for my schools. Whatever schools I had that was behind I said “We’ve got to get it.” I didn’t get everything I wanted but I got a lot.

MD: So is--.

KC: I enjoyed it and it was hard being an area superintendent. Because some people had their Doctorates oh honey baby it was bad news. I just loved them to death they started calling me “Momma Cat the Black Cat.” I’d be “The Black Cat is on her prowl.” They would just laugh in my face those guys they were just as nice as they could be. And most of the women were in fact one or two had a little problem. Only one had a big problem but she got well.

MD: Well tell me any parting words that you have about Charlotte’s history in terms of desegregation, integration, race relations are there any kind of last ideas or parting words that you want to offer about your experiences in that arena?

KC: I loved all of it and I still would love to see it go on. I would like to see some young people, people in their 40’s and 50’s. See when you get in 70’s your mind is not good enough to remember what you are going to say. So I think if some young ones in 40’s when you about 42 or 43 you’re old enough to know and young enough to grow. And people who are 50 they are smart as everything and they good until they get about 62 and then they go down. So I wish some of the young people even younger people can get together and look at what wrong with Charlotte. And come up with their era this is not mine mine is over. It’s so many young people who could do so much and there is so many people here who I think will do it. Too many children went through the integrated process and a lot of these kids got friends white and blacks have friends of different races and they are smart too. They could do a lot. If the leadership I’m talking about the Leadership of Charlotte would endorse that. And would look at it and think it’s something good. See the problem with people who run for office they are afraid if they look at something that’s good for the community and it may not let them be back in office they won’t do it. But I think people in Charlotte respect folk who will do what they truly believe. And I think plenty of people get elected because they truly believe what’s right. Because the country is a little bit bad now because a lot of things happened in the last election that we never could get straightened out. Whether it’s right or wrong. But when you have so many different things happen everybody says “I don’t want to go to politics.” But somebody got to do it. And even without been a politician some groups could convene just like that lady who invited me to her house. Somebody is always telling me to get it started. I said “Now listen y’all know how to do it too.” I said “Y’all get it started and I will come. I don’t want to be in charge of it.” So but we need to have better communications and better times and opportunities. See we don’t hear anybody having anything down at the Civic Center to bring us together not in the last six or seven years. That’s true. Honey we used to get together honey. We’d get together in churches we’d get together in homes we didn’t get in schools. Because somebody would be too nervous about it uh-huh. We didn’t want to believe in that we’d go to neutral places. I don’t see why anybody wants to have a city where people hate each other. And where people don’t care about each other and it would mean so much to everybody. The children would act better, the grown folk would act better, the grand mama’s would act better. And in 10 years from now they would say “Charlotte is the city of the United States.” Shoot we could.

MD: So do you see Charlotte moving back to what you saw before?

KC: Uh-huh.

MD: You all were working?

KC: Oh yeah we are regressing. And the city fathers are still cultivating all the land where very rich white people live. They are not doing anything where we live. And they are now taking their businesses over--the people who own those businesses they wouldn’t dare let it they don’t want people to know who own it. So that needs to be done but somebody else needs to travel that road. And get their call in the night so honey I’m too old to be worrying up. I’m the only one in this house and I have to take care of all my business. I don’t have anybody to take care of but me. I take care of my business and I run my mouth when I get ready.

MD: Well thank you very much for the interview and for sharing your experiences with us.

KC: I have to apologize to you because I talked a lot about nothing but I enjoyed it.

MD: No it was wonderful thank you.

End of Interview