BY: Ebenezer Nkunda
Over 50 years ago, Cary High was an all-white high school, like many schools during that time. However, that all changed when 6 black students came to the school. In 1962, the Wake County assistant superintendent and the board decided that the county needed a “Negro High School” to accommodate the growing black student population. In 1963, the Wake County board of education approved a transfer of six students from an all-black school to the all-white Cary High School. These students were the first in the county to be authorized under the “freedom of choice” policy that had been adopted by the Wake County Board, following the Supreme Court’s decision on segregation in Public Schools.
On August 30, 1963, integration officially began in the Wake County System; as predicted– it wasn’t easy. Gwen Matthews, one of the first black students entering Cary High, recalls her first day with white students, the racist shouts and chants against integration engraved in her memory. The black students did not want to return the next day, but they say they were influenced and encouraged by their parents that it would get better. In an interview with the News and Observer, Gwen Matthews said the demonstrations lasted for ten days and county school officials had to be brought in to make sure no organized community demonstration happens.
Even though the anti-integration demonstrations stopped, the lives of the six black girls didn’t get easier. Gwen Matthews recalls that in the days prior to her integration, her father tried to prepare her for the name-calling that she would experience; however, she says she wasn’t “prepared for the intensity.” Her father told her not to retaliate after the name-calling, which makes sense, retaliating allows the white students to pinpoint you as “dangerous.” These six students were not accepted into Cary High life with open arms. Teachers and students both ignored them. One student recants the events of when white students would physically move their desks and seclude her, making it seem she was in her own world.
Many things have changed since Cary High was integrated; for example, the mascot was originally the “White Imps,” but was later turned to simply “Imps” after black students voiced their concern on the racist connotation it could portray. The integration of Cary High led to the integration of the entire Wake County system. It is those brave six girls who set the pace for all other black students in the county. Lucille Evans, Frances Louise White, Gwendolyn Matthews, Brenda Lee Hill, Esther Lee Mayo, and Phyllis Rose are why we have black students Cary High today; these six girls are why Cary High is the Cary High it is today.