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School marks 100 years; alumni recall quiet integration

Posted February 19, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

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— Protests, taunts and physical violence marked the transition from segregation to integration in some public schools during the 1950s. However, one Raleigh school calmly brought black and white students together before it was the law.

Cardinal Gibbons High School celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. Visitors who walk the halls today see a mixture of boys and girls, both black and white. Rewind 56 years, and the scene was much different.

The Catholic high school, then known as Cathedral Latin High, included only white students. Then, the school changed.

School marks 100 years; alumni recall integration School marks 100 years; alumni recall integration

“We had a bishop who believed it was time to make a change, and he had the courage to follow his convictions,” said alumnus Frank Prevo.

In 1953, the year before the U.S. Supreme Court ordered an end to segregated public schools, the Rev. Vincent Waters of Raleigh ordered the integration of the schools under his control. Prevo was at Gibbons then.

“I’ll never forget the day the school integrated, which was my sophomore year in 1954. The way it happened, they kept it a secret,” he said.

Ruby Dunston Green and Janet Peebles McLin entered a year later.

“No one attacked us or anything like that,” McLin said.

“Some of them didn’t speak and some were friendly, some were overly friendly, trying to overcompensate,” Green said.

What happened inside the old high school, which sat on Hillsborough Street, was not as easily accepted on the outside.

“It may have bothered some (other schools), because we had a hard time scheduling some sporting events,” Prevo said.

The school had to cancel sports for two years.

For McLin and Green, their move to Cathedral Latin had nothing to do with being pioneers in race relations.

“We didn’t go in there for the purpose of integrating the school. We went there for the education, the opportunity to get a better education,” McLin said.

Green has written a book about her experience called “Ruby's Miraculous Journey.”

Cardinal Gibbons began in 1909 as Sacred Heart High School and became Cathedral Latin High School in 1924. The name Cardinal Gibbons came in 1962.

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  • jse830fcnawa030klgmvnnaw+ Feb 19, 2009

    That was very brave for Rev. Vincent Waters and others to do this, when it was an extremely hostile environment at the time.

    The funny thing was that I knew nothing about prejudices and racism until I came to the United States. I grew up in Guam in the 1970s, when there were (and still are) a lot of ethnic diversity on the island. I thought it was normal to go to school and work next to a Filipino, black, white, Korean, etc. I still believe in this mantra, but I was surprised by the number of Americans who did not (especially when some of these people were so-called Christians and using the word of God to justify their actions). Luckily, I have also met a lot Americans who act and live in the opposite of these negative beliefs.

  • valentine girl Feb 19, 2009

    What a wonderful story, and congratulations to Cardinal Gibbons. I can remember when St. Egberts Catholic School was formed in Morehead City in 1956,and it was integrated from the first day, with no fuss I might add. It took until 1965 to integrate the other schools in Carteret County.

  • Mr. Middle of the Road Feb 19, 2009

    Hats of to Rev Vincent and Ms. McLin and Ms. Green on their courage. And to the then students at Cathedral Latin on their acceptance of what was correct.

  • TeresaBee Feb 19, 2009

    Great Story. It's sad there had to be conscientious thinking to intergrate schools. And it bothers me that all this happened in my lifetime and not many, many years ago.

  • districtcadvocate Feb 19, 2009

    Ruby, you are looking good. I want the readers to know Ruby has been an advocate for excellence her whole life and we are that much better off because she has done here good work in Raleigh for Raleigh.