Local News

50 years later, man recalls entering Raleigh's all-white schools

Posted September 6, 2010 1:54 p.m. EDT
Updated September 6, 2010 10:47 p.m. EDT

— In 1960, a local couple made history by enrolling their 7-year old son in Raleigh's all-white Murphey Elementary School, integrating the city's public school system. The boy would later grow up in a world of triumph and turmoil.

In September 1960, Bill Campbell began second grade at Murphey Elementary, becoming the first black student in the all-white Raleigh school.

“I felt unsafe every day,” he said. “That’s three years before the march on Washington, and North Carolina was a very ugly place.”

Campbell was elected mayor of Atlanta in 1993. Now living in Florida, he spoke with WRAL by phone about his turbulent upbringing.

“I was a second-grader in a school that went to the sixth grade, and there were older, more hostile, more difficult people that were prepared to make my life difficult, and they did very often,” he said.

Campbell's older brother, Ralph, is a former state auditor. Their parents tried to enroll both boys and a daughter in Raleigh public schools, but at the time only Campbell, the youngest, was approved.

“My family prepared me by simply saying, 'This is important, and you’re going to have to do it. You’re going to have to endure it,’” he recalled.

Schools in Raleigh and Wake County are much different today, in large part because of the sacrifices made by families like the Campbell’s.

The former Atlanta mayor says he's proud of his role 50 years ago, but disappointed at the direction being taken by the new school board majority in Wake County – a majority that favors neighborhood schools over a long held policy of busing to achieve diversity.

“The fact that it’s now being changed without any appreciation for what has gone before, and certainly without any understanding of the loss of diversity that makes out school system work so well, I think it’s just a great tragedy,” he said.

In response, Wake County School Board Chairman Ron Margiotta said: "What happened 50 years ago was necessary, but today we are not helping students by busing them out of their neighborhoods. That isn't working for student achievement. We must help these kids."

Campbell was the only black student at Murphey for the five years.