Gus Gusler describes what it was like to attend high school in Burlington, NC during the time of segregation. Interview on July 24, 2012. (2:50)


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I'm from Burlington, about an hour west of here, 00:00:00.000 - 00:00:03.886
grew up there, went to Williams High School, graduated in '67 00:00:03.886 - 00:00:08.926
It's a very strange place. 00:00:08.926 - 00:00:12.802
If there's ever been a city where there's two sides of the tracks, that's it. 00:00:12.802 - 00:00:16.873
There's a railroad track that runs down the middle 00:00:16.873 - 00:00:19.612
and all the poor people live on one side, including my family. I'm a first generation college student. 00:00:19.612 - 00:00:24.237
My parents dropped out of school in the sixth grade. I was the oldest kid, the oldest grandson in the family. 00:00:24.237 - 00:00:30.168
Then the other side of the track is where the rich kids were, 00:00:30.168 - 00:00:33.322
There were two high schools altogether. The black school was on my side of the tracks 00:00:33.322 - 00:00:37.719
and the white school was on the other. 00:00:37.719 - 00:00:40.100
It was a very wealthy town from textiles, 00:00:40.100 - 00:00:45.897
a lot of money in the town. 00:00:45.897 - 00:00:48.391
The original Burlington Industries was called May Hosiery Mill in Burlington 00:00:48.391 - 00:00:54.240
and it became Burlington Industries, became the biggest textile company in the world, 00:00:54.240 - 00:00:58.785
so there were a lot of people in the town who had lots of money. 00:00:58.785 - 00:01:01.794
It was a very racially segregated town. 00:01:01.794 - 00:01:04.982
I'll never forget; I was a senior when they integrated the schools 00:01:04.982 - 00:01:12.153
for the first time and we had three African American students that came in and were going to play in the band. 00:01:12.153 - 00:01:18.370
I was in the marching band and I was president of the band my senior year. 00:01:18.370 - 00:01:21.053
Dr. Pfeiffer, who was the band director, 00:01:21.053 - 00:01:25.765
the first day of class said, 00:01:25.765 - 00:01:27.833
"I understand three of them are in the band." 00:01:27.833 - 00:01:31.503
"Let's hope they can't find the band room," 00:01:31.503 - 00:01:33.790
and they did and he quit, 00:01:33.790 - 00:01:37.943
resigned as the band director the day the first African American set foot in band practice. 00:01:37.943 - 00:01:44.893
So that's kind of the attitude of what was going on there. It was a strange time. 00:01:44.893 - 00:01:49.547
I worked with a band that was called Willie T. and the Magnificents 00:01:49.547 - 00:01:56.594
and it had a black singer and a black trumpet player-as a roadie-right after that, 00:01:56.594 - 00:02:06.477
and then there was a point where 00:02:06.477 - 00:02:10.373
we started another band, and I was playing trumpet in it, 00:02:10.373 - 00:02:14.511
and we had an African American singer and guitar player. 00:02:14.511 - 00:02:18.962
We were playing a show one time, 00:02:18.962 - 00:02:23.113
the first show we were going to do, and my parents decided they wanted to come. 00:02:23.113 - 00:02:26.305
They had no idea I was in a band with someone who was black. 00:02:26.305 - 00:02:30.273
I dropped out of the band because I knew it was going to be a nightmare to deal with, 00:02:30.273 - 00:02:37.519
so that's just the kind of place it was, and still is, probably. 00:02:37.519 - 00:02:41.854

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