Integration of Jordan High discussed in new book
“The white man’s ice is colder,” are words that have stuck with Jordan High School teacher Brian McDonald since he first heard them from Belinda Jones as she recounted them from her father.
McDonald interviewed Jones and many others for his book “Not the End, but the Beginning: The Impact of Race and Class on the History of Jordan High School” that chronicles the history of desegregation and race relations of the high school since it first opened its doors in 1963.
In the main branch of the Durham County Library on Sunday afternoon, McDonald moderated a panel discussion about what the desegregation process was like at Jordan High School for four people who were a part of that history.
On the panel were Belinda Jones, a 1967 graduate of Jordan High and now a professor at N.C. Central University; Stephen Barringer, a 1981 graduate of Jordan and president of the alumni association; Maurice Hayes, a 1976 graduate of Jordan and former police officer; and Janet Turyn, 1967 graduate of Jordan, former elementary school teacher and founder of the Jordan High School alumni association.
McDonald has been teaching at Jordan since 2001 and was the high school’s 2009 Teacher of the Year. It was as a graduate student at NCCU that McDonald even considered writing extensively about the history of Jordan High.
“Two of my professors suggested that I do my master’s thesis on the history of desegregation of Jordan High School,” McDonald explained, pointing out that he immediately turned them down and had other ideas.
After mentioning the suggested topic to others, McDonald said that stories of Jordan High during that time seemed to pour in and soon, “everything I heard made me regret saying I wouldn’t do my thesis on the history of Jordan High.”
Jordan High School opened its doors in 1963 to 487 students, two of whom were black. David Jones and Arthur McCullum were those two students. Belinda Jones and Turyn began at Jordan the following year.
Turyn moved from West Virginia where integration had already taken place.
“Nothing was out of the ordinary, that’s just how it was,” Turyn recalled. “I remember not so much the race issue but the socioeconomic issues, the Lowe’s Grove and Hope Valley kids. I asked Belinda if I was ever mean and she told me I wasn’t but I’m not sure I ever did anything nice and that makes me kind of sad.”
Jones said that her parents were happy to hear that Jordan High would be opening its doors soon. Being close to their home, Jones said, “my parents said it was going to be a better school and I’d get a better education.
“It was sort of unpleasant really,” she continued. “We were sort of afraid. There was a lot of fear. There was a lot of anxiety.”
Jones was part of a group of seven black students to enter Jordan. What Jones said should have been some of the most fun years of her life turned out to be a source of isolation and fear.
“We felt socially isolated in so many ways. We clung together. We went to the cafeteria, no one would sit with us. But the teachers were fair. The whole social thing, being called the N-word, being talked down to or being looked down on as if we were less than. It was very difficult. It got better and better each year and folks became more friendly.”
Barringer said that during his time at Jordan, social and class issues were more prominent than race, explaining that “it’s just heartbreaking to hear some of my friends talk about how hard it was.”
Hayes said that his parents told him he was going to Jordan High.
“They wanted be to be as diverse as the society we live in today,” he explained. “I didn’t have the experiences that Belinda and Janet had. They’re my heroes and I have a great deal of respect for what they went through. They paved the way. In 1973 when I walked through the doors of Jordan High, I was afraid but I trusted my parents.”
Hayes was on the Jordan High football team and he noted that athletics were often the great unifier of Jordan.
“There was never a racial incident when I played football,” he said. “Not one. If it happened, I didn’t hear about it.”
Hayes attributed the progress made at Jordan to strong leadership that held everything together and shielded the black students as much as possible.
“The academics were important but it was the athletics that kept things as nice as they could be,” Barringer added.
But for students who weren’t athletes, what was there for them?
“There was not a lot for African-American students,” Jones said as she talked about available extracurricular activities at Jordan. “It crippled me socially. I said that if I were at Merrick-Moore I would have been in the chorus or something like that but I didn’t feel that same freedom at Jordan.”
Jones continued, discussing some of the unforeseen issues that were very much a part of the integration process, at Jordan High School and a lot of other places.
“What no one ever thought about was what the psychosocial and cultural implications were of that whole dynamic,” she said. “And because no one though of it there was nothing put in place to address that.”
Jones described the invisible knapsack that white people are born with filled with many pieces of life that minorities have been forced to earn.
“Everything that we go through is for a purpose. Even though it was bittersweet, I learned a lot. Later when I went on to UNC (Chapel Hill) it (her experience at Jordan High) helped me be able to navigate the system. Things have changed.”
Lauren Phillips is a senior at Jordan High School. She sat in the audience wearing a T-shirt that celebrates 50 years of athletics at the high school. An athlete herself, she can attest to the power of sports.
“It’s definitely changed a lot since then,” she said. “It’ll change the way I look at the teachers who were there then and still at the school. It’s cool to know that those people played a role.”