Monday, February 23, 2015

Claudette Graves Burroughs-White: Pioneer of Desegregation

February is Black History Month. To celebrate, our Spartan Stories this month focus on remembering important people and events related to the history of African Americans and UNCG.

Claudette Graves Burroughs-White, 1961 yearbook
Claudette Graves Burroughs-White was a student at Woman's College (now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro) from 1957-1961. She entered the college during the second year of the campus' desegregation and faced many personal and academic challenges because of it. During Burroughs-White's senior year at Dudley High School in Greensboro, North Carolina, the city saw the integration of their public schools. Many in her senior class were involved with local protests and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and they believed that it was important to see their classmates placed in all of the state colleges. They were successful and Burroughs-White was one of five African American students who enrolled at Woman's College. She found that some students and professors were very welcoming, but others were blatantly unhappy with the new integrated campus. There were no African American professors. In fact, the only African Americans on campus were those who worked in maintenance or housekeeping.

Although she lived at home and not in a dormitory, the living quarters on campus were still somewhat segregated. The African American students lived in the same dormitories as the white students, but were required to live in separate halls with their own bathrooms. Her campus involvement was somewhat limited because of her commute to campus and her job. Most of her social life was off campus and she had a strong network with her high school friends and her family church. She and her friends dated the young men from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, a historically black university also located in Greensboro.

Graves Burroughs-White as Social Chair of the Town Students Association
Burroughs-White later recalled that while many white students were anxious to be her friend, others ignored her. She was constantly amazed that girls, who professed to be her friends, would not touch the same utensils or lab equipment that she used. Incredibly, one fellow student believed that Burroughs-White had a tail. Other students were changed very positively by knowing her personally - they recognized their racial prejudice and were able to rethink their position. Burroughs-White was attending Woman’s College during the February 1960 Sit-in at Woolworth's in downtown Greensboro and she was involved in this nonviolent Civil Rights protest.

While in college, Burroughs-White majored in sociology and was interested in working in the field of juvenile justice. After graduation, she briefly moved to Philadelphia, then returned to Greensboro and took a position as a probation officer with the Domestic Relations Court of Guilford. She continued to work in the court system until she retired in 1994. Burroughs-White was very active in the community serving as a city councilwoman (1994-2005) and as a member of the Governor's Crime Commission (1997-2005), the United Way, the Girl Scouts, and the YWCA. Throughout her career she was admired as a pioneer and received many prestigious awards in her field.

In 1991, she was interviewed as part of the UNCG Centennial Oral History Project. You can find the full transcript of her oral history interview online at http://libcdm1.uncg.edu/cdm/ref/collection/OralHisCo/id/6965

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