Growing up in Burlington, NC

Gus Gusler describes what it was like to attend high school in Burlington, NC during the time of segregation.

Interview on 2012-07-24


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