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Patricia Burden oral history interview, May 6, 2008

Date: May. 06 2008 | Identifier: 45-05-01-20
Interview with East Carolina University alumna and high school principal Patricia Burden of Goldsboro, N.C. Mrs. Burden discusses her decision to attend a predominately white college in 1965 and the concerns she and her family had about that decision, her feelings during her initial days at school and the reactions of white classmates, her experiences addressing prejudices and stereotypes in her interactions with fellow students, the support she received from her mother and father, her relationship with a professor she initially felt might be prejudiced toward her, and her feeling that ECU was good preparation for her for work in predominately white environments after graduation. She also discusses working as a teacher and a school administrator in North Carolina and various other locations. Interviewer: Joanne Phipps. more...
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Transcript of Patricia Burden Interview
Interviewee:Patricia Burden
Interviewer:Joanne Phipps
Date of Interview:May 6, 2008
Location of Interview:Goldsboro, NC
Length:MP3 - 34 Minutes; 30 Seconds

Joanne Phipps:

This is the interview with Miss Patricia Burden for the ECU Centennial Oral History Project; interviewer--Joanne Phipps.

Patricia Burden:

Okay.

Joanne Phipps:

So I wanted to start with a few questions first about your childhood to get some background; what did your parents do when you were growing up?

Patricia Burden:

Well my father went into the Navy when I was a young girl and my mother went to Business School and--but because jobs were not available for her in Goldsboro she did a lot of different jobs. She has taken care of kids; as a matter of fact I got my name from a young girl that she took care of. She also was the ticket seller at the Carolina Theater in Goldsboro and--and then she became a secretary and she worked as a secretary in Richmond, Virginia, in the school system, in an insurance office, and she continued that until she retired.

My father went off and took a lot of Math courses. He was an outstanding mathematician. He worked for Grumman and Republic in New York. They were located on Long Island, New York, and so he worked there and he was involved with NASA in developing parts for satellites--



those things they send up. So that's what--and he did that until he retired; uh-huh.

Joanne Phipps:

Okay; how much education did they complete?

Patricia Burden:

Well my mother had an Associate Degree; she went to a Business School and graduated with an Associate Degree. My father did not graduate from college that I know anything about but he did take courses I guess that enhanced his skills at his job. But he was not a college graduate. But in my household I was never given a choice; it was always when you go off to college, so that was the--they really valued education and so that was engrained in me you know to do well in school and when you go off to college you're going to do such and such and such or you'll be successful. Now they allowed me to choose what I wanted to do but it was always when you go off to college or Patricia is going off to college so it was like there wasn't a question or if I will--if I would go.

Joanne Phipps:

Do you have siblings?

Patricia Burden:

I have siblings now; my father and mother were divorced and my father remarried and I have two brothers. One is in Richmond, Virginia, and he's a teacher and I think he's a teacher because I was a teacher. Even though he's a good teacher now and my other brother is in Texas and I--I can't--he works for a company where when companies are closing down or opening up they do advertisements and things like that for them. So he travels around a lot but he is located in--in Texas not far from Houston, Texas because he works out of Houston, Texas; uh-hm.

Joanne Phipps:

Now when you were in high school were your high school peers also expected to go off to college?

Patricia Burden:

Some were; some were expected to go off and [Phone Rings] there were others that



took advantage of Wayne Community College which opened up here before I graduated from high school. But kids were encouraged to--to go off to college because it was taught to us that education was the key and it was our way out of a segregated world and that's what I grew up in was a segregated world and they felt that it was our way out of a segregated world and we had to be prepared for a new and different future than our teachers had.

Joanne Phipps:

Uh-hm; now why did you choose East Carolina?

Patricia Burden:

I chose East Carolina because I number one at the time that I got ready to go to school in 1965 I am a product of the Civil Rights Movement and so I had looked in "Ebony Magazine" and there were a lot of applications for scholarships for students that were willing to go to schools to help integrate them. And I chose East Carolina because it was not that far from home and I was hoping to be able to get some money to go to school, so it was--it was one avenue that I thought would help me get money to go to school and then it would allow me to apply for these scholarships. And it worked out that way. People said that East Carolina was not going to give me any money at all and when they accepted me they did give me a tuition scholarship and then something--it increased over the four-year period. I got more money. And--and then I got the scholarships from these other organizations that were supporting students who wanted to be teachers, wanted to work in Mathematics or wanted to go off to a non-integrated school.

Joanne Phipps:

How did your parents feel about your decision?

Patricia Burden:

Um, [Laughs] I'm laughing because I'm thinking about my daddy right now and I really don't know how my daddy--my daddy felt because my father always told me that he wasn't going to send a girl to school because they go to school and they find husbands and drop--



drop out. But I think that was more of a joke but I took it really seriously so I--when I asked him the last time which was before I left New York to come home to do my senior year I knew within my head that I was going to have to insure that I had the finances to go to school. My mother was happy that I was going off to college. I think both of them were very happy that I was going off to college. I think that my father underneath it all wanted me to say daddy, can I come to New York and live with you and go to school? But since he was--he had that--he gave me those mixed feelings about going to college I never--I did not consider that. My mother really wanted me to go to a different school because she was concerned about me going to an all-white school; uh-hm. But she wanted me to go to college and when I got the money to go college she didn't fight it as much. But see I had instructors that they didn't want me to be hurt if--if East Carolina didn't accept me and they wanted me to go to other schools but I would have been on a work study program and I just wanted to be able to go and focus on my academics. And then I had this avenue--Ebony Magazine; it--at that time it was pages and pages and pages and pages of scholarships. Some were loans but I was able to send back all of the loans because I got enough money that sent me to school. So--and I had been through the Civil Rights Movement and I felt like by the time I graduate from college it may be a different world or a different world is coming and so what better way to be prepared for that world then to go to a school that was very much like East Carolina at the time.

Joanne Phipps:

Tell me about your first day moving in.

Patricia Burden:

Well it--it was exciting; it was unnerving because it was new territory. I remember and I don't know if this should be told, but I remember that my teacher, Mrs. Josie [Carr] was my homeroom teacher for four years. She also taught Drama and she taught History so I had her



as a classroom teacher as well as my homeroom teacher. And she always taught us as young ladies that you just couldn't ride around town with these boys under the steering wheel because you had to stay focused you know because education was the most important thing. And when I got to East Carolina that day and I was going into the dormitory--I think it was Fleming Dormitory there was a couple on the line across from the dormitory and they were just sitting there on the blanket. They weren't doing anything wrong but they were just closely attached you know and I looked and I said to my godfather and my godmother, oh Mrs. [Carr] would not believe that now. [Laughs] So that kind of relaxed me and we moved in.

And let's see; Fleming Dorm--yeah, I had I'm trying to think of who was my first roommates but I don't think that was Joanna; I think that was my last year. So but I was in a--a large room and we had--we had two other roommates. We had a very large room and I had two other roommates so it was exciting and it was new. But because I had traveled to New York in the summertime it--it wasn't as threatening as I--I thought it would be initially you know going away from home, and I was very excited and I wanted to be there. I started off going to summer school so it gave me a chance to get familiar--become familiar with the campus and--and just to get a feel of what the New Year was going to bring; uh-hm.

Joanne Phipps:

What was the atmosphere like on campus?

Patricia Burden:

Well I'm going to tell you; for the first three weeks there I was ready to come home because the kids just didn't--the students just stared at you, you know. I would walk down the halls and I would think do I have on a slip? Is my slip hanging? What is wrong you know? Everybody was just looking at you but when I called my mother--well I lived off-campus. That's what it was; I lived off-campus the first year so when I--but I moved into the Dorm later on



during that first year there. That's when I saw the students but I lived off-campus but the--the--they did not want you to go home for the first three weeks of school at the time that I went to East Carolina. And when I called my mother to complain about the students my mother's comment was you chose it; now you live with it, so I had to make the adjustment. But then when we got into classes together--now this--this was amazing to me; when we went--when I went to my first classes the seat in front of me and the seats on the side of me and the seat directly behind me were not filled in. And they were not filled in until we took our mid-term exams and I scored real high on the mid-term exams and then I was invited into study groups; uh-hm yeah.

Joanne Phipps:

[Laughs]

Patricia Burden:

So it--it was an experience but it was a good experience overall. I mean I--I don't have any complaints about it.

Joanne Phipps:

Did you feel any something like culture shock when you were first there, any major adjustments that you had to make?

Patricia Burden:

Culture shock--I guess my--my culture shock was recognizing that as amazing as it was for me to be there amongst all of these other students who were different than I by race that it was also amazing for those students to see someone like me in that arena. I remember a student said to me the only blacks that I've known are blacks who have worked on my farm--my father's farm in the summertime and so therefore, she saw me different than that because I was on a college campus with her. So I guess it was the adjustment and--and--and even though you believe that we are alike in--in many ways even though we are of a different race and a different background it really comes to fruition when you are there on the--the campus like that. And then once you get to sit down and talk with people you see and a lot of the stereotypes that I had heard



about blacks or African-Americans when I was at East Carolina and I moved onto the--onto the campus and I was living in the dorm and you could pass the rooms I could pass the room of white students and their room would be you know as junky as other student's room would be on a college campus. But the stereotype was that it would be more likely that my room would be junky and they would have a very neat and clean room, but teenagers are all the same. And so I guess that was just the--it was just taking the things that you had heard and putting them into perspective. And when you got to a point that--that once you got invited into those study groups then people wanted to get to know you not so much for your academic ability but also because of the individual. And so we got to the point that we could talk about each other and we could ask questions of each other and--and we could learn from each other, and so that just really paid off very well for me; uh-hm.

Joanne Phipps:

What other activities did you get involved in?

Patricia Burden:

Well I was basically in the Black Students Union organization and probably I did participate in the--the Baptist Church group on campus; uh-hm.

Joanne Phipps:

How did--how did your relationship with your parents change--or did it change?

Patricia Burden:

Well no; they--they remained supportive and you know once I got there and--and I was fine my mother didn't worry as much. But I remember when Martin Luther King was killed she heard or someone at her job heard on the radio that there were riot(ings) taking place at different colleges and she became very worried and I don't know why [Laughs] because I'm not that kind of rebellious person to--to fight in that manner. So she was worried and so she called to make sure that I was all right. But no; as a matter of fact she came on campus and visited me a lot. She called and set up with the Dorm Mother to take me to see "The Sound of Music" because I



had to have special permission because I would come back after curfew and so I think that she really appreciated the fact that I went to East Carolina and the education I received from there; uh-hm.

Joanne Phipps:

Did your dad come down and see you?

Patricia Burden:

Well my dad didn't visit me on campus but he was there for my graduation; uh-hm yeah.

Joanne Phipps:

Okay.

Patricia Burden:

But he supported me; because I was on scholarship he would send me extra spending money for clothes you know and I'd call him and tell him about Homecoming and I needed a new outfit for this and a new outfit for that and so he was very supportive in that sense and I always went up there in the summertime and I lived with him and I worked for the YMCA. Well I really worked for the Poverty Program under Robert Kennedy but it was--I functioned outside--through a YMCA in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area, so he would hear about my experiences at college and--and he was receptive to that. You know and being a man and my being the oldest child and I was a female he worried most about young men, so as--as long as I wasn't discussing that you know [Laughs] it--it was fine. And I--I--I admire my father because he made me more determined to see it through and--and not get caught up and become unfocused because I wanted him to know that girls could go to school, they could date, and they didn't have to drop out to get married or drop out because they only wanted a husband you know and get married. And so I--I do appreciate that and--and I was very glad that he was at my graduation from college there.

Joanne Phipps:

Now what--what study topics did you focus on?



Patricia Burden:

Math and Education--Mathematics and Education.

Joanne Phipps:

Did you know that's what you wanted to do when you went in?

Patricia Burden:

Oh yeah; when I went to school I knew I wanted to teach and I knew I wanted to teach Math; uh-huh, yes.

Joanne Phipps:

Okay; how did--how do you think you changed as a person while you were there?

Patricia Burden:

I'm going to tell you the greatest impact that--that I think I experienced at East Carolina was after I left East Carolina. I was at East Carolina and I heard this man on television every night. He either talked about Catholics and Jewish people, he talked about busing was wrong for integration and he really did not I don't think at that time believed that black students should be on the campus of East Carolina. And that was Dr. John East, and I--my second semester there my--when I picked up my schedule he was my Political Science teacher.

Joanne Phipps:

Oh dear.

Patricia Burden:

And I do not like to stand in line so I did not stand in line to try to get my class changed, so I went to class with the attitude that I'm going to see how he is and then I'll make my decision. And Dr. East had polio as a child and he wore a brace and we were in the old Austin Building; that's where his office was and you could hear him come down the hallway because of that brace on the wood floors. And he came into the classroom--well he could lecture like people singing opera but you can understand every word. He also indicated that he did not bring his personal views into the classroom. And he was a--a magnificent teacher and he didn't call on you every day but when he called on you, you had to be prepared because he would drill you almost for the full class period. And I--the rule at East Carolina was that on the day before a holiday and the day after a holiday if you missed those--either one of those days the



teacher could drop your grade one letter grade. And I went away for Easter vacation and I should have returned I guess let's say if it was that Sunday I should have returned to be to class that Monday and I had a--I was scheduled to take a bus out maybe let's say 5:30 and then they had an express bus that left at 7:30 and I was visiting my boyfriend, so I chose the 7:30 bus. Well it snowed; by the time we got to Washington, D.C., it had started snowing so they took all of the passengers off and they put all of the military on because they were bringing them to Cherry Point. So I had to wait in Washington, D.C., for them to bring another bus from the bus garage which took quite sometime. So I missed my first class which was Dr. John East's class. Now that worried me because I knew the rules and I also had this impression of Dr. East in spite of how wonderful he was in that classroom that this is not the person that you need to be putting your life in their hands [Laughs] okay as an African-American.

So I went to Dean--Dean White and she couldn't help me, and so I decided, well the only thing that he can do is say yes or no. So I went to his office and I sat down across--across--at the desk across from him and I explained to him what had happened and I said the man at the bus station is willing to verify my story that I did catch the 7:30 bus. I should have been here in plenty of time to be in class but because of the weather they took us--the civilians off the bus and filled it with military personnel. And I told him that and I said and--and you know and I went to Dean White but she couldn't do anything for me so I'm coming to you to explain because I really don't want my grade to be--to be affected. And he opened the desk drawer and he had our test scores--test papers. We always had to fold them like that [Gestures] and he pulled it out and he slid it across the desk. And so I picked it up and as I picked it up he said well I wouldn't want to hurt that grade and I saw my mid-term had been an A-grade. And he didn't--he didn't change my



grade and that taught me that a person can be prejudiced about something or someone but if they don't use that prejudice to hinder you from being the person that you're capable of being then you have to be at least respectful of the fact that you know that that's how they feel and those are their feelings but they're not going to stand--allow themselves to stand in your way--because he could have honestly reduced the grade because he had all the right reasons to do it, but he chose not to do it.

When I graduated from East Carolina and moved to California a gentleman by the name of Douglas [Decent] was going to hire me to teach at his--at the Junior High School and he needed either a copy of--I don't know--a copy of my transcript or he needed to speak to a College Professor that I had and the person that I thought of was Dr. John East. So the second time around I felt like he had my career in the palm of his hand. And we called him; he remembered who I was, he remembered where I sat and he was able to talk to him about me and give me a good reference. So he later on went into politics and I think he was a Senator but he died. I think he became ill again and he died.

Joanne Phipps:

Tell me about graduation day.

Patricia Burden:

Well I graduated in--in November, got married, and started work in January, so I felt that my diploma, my degree from East Carolina had already paid off. And I probably would not have come home for graduation if it had not been that I was in distance that I would have had to pay the college if I had not participated and my mother and my father really wanted me to participate. And so my school district, which I was working in Philadelphia at the time, gave us--gave me days that did not count against me because I was going to my high school--my College graduation and so I kind of got a vacation out of it. [Laughs] So my husband and I decided that



we would go home for my graduation.

It was a wonderful day; the only problem about college graduations is you're standing around people that you might not know you know because I don't think we were--I'm not sure that we were all in departments and if we were in departments I did not know a lot of the people that were sitting immediately around me. But the graduation was a beautiful ceremony and then there were people there that I had gone to school with that I got to see and I hadn't seen since I had--left that November, that--probably November.

So it--it was a special day; I mean I feel very honored that I had the opportunity to go to East Carolina. I think that they served me well academically. I think I had good experiences there. They may have been limited because of the number of black students that were there on campus at the time and just because of the newness of having a class of students but all in all I have always spoken highly of East Carolina and the education that I received and I feel that it has prepared me for the situations that I've been in because in most situations my first Principal(ship) and my first Assistant Principal(ship) was at a high school that was probably one-percent black, 17-percent Hispanic and--and 82-percent Caucasian. So it has really served me well because I matriculated in that environment and I have worked in that environment. This is probably--this is the first assignment that I have had that is truly a segregated situation because I'm--basically my population, my student population here is about 96 percent African-American; uh-hm.

Joanne Phipps:

What things have you gone onto do since you left ECU?

Patricia Burden:

Well I taught in Philadelphia and I had the opportunity of teaching in a private school, a Catholic private school in Pensacola, Florida, while my husband was stationed there.



When I went to California I worked at the Community College and I also worked as a bank teller until I could get a job. And I was working at the Community College when they called me in at Carlsbad and they called me at Carlsbad at the same time that they called me in the Oceanside School District but I took the job in Carlsbad because they offered it first and I was working at the Community College so they didn't let me go [Laughs]. So what they did is they moved me from a day program to an evening program. I have participated in--in different organizations and I was in California for 23 years. I was the Principal of Carlsbad High School and then I later on went to the Central Office and I worked as the Superintendent's Designee and I handled long-term suspensions and at-risk programs. And then I came back to North Carolina and so I served here as an Assistant Principal at Brogden Middle School and then I was Principal at Goldsboro Middle School for about six or seven years and then I came--the last eight years I've been at Goldsboro High School.

Joanne Phipps:

Do you encourage students here to go on?

Patricia Burden:

Oh yes.

Joanne Phipps:

To college?

Patricia Burden:

Uh-hm; as a matter of fact I think I populated East Carolina last year. [Laughs] Everybody here wanted to go to East Carolina and--but yes; I do encourage students to go onto college and students who feel that they don't have the funding to leave and go to a four-year college immediately I encourage them to go to the Community College and--and do a transfer program. I encourage them to continue learning whether it you know it's to find a job that you know you can be trained on the job and maybe they will support you in additional training which could lead to a college degree or just lead to a better position within--within that company; uh-



hm.

Joanne Phipps:

Now with the--the friends and the connections you made at East Carolina do you still keep in contact with them?

Patricia Burden:

Some and some I have lost contact by the wayside over the number of years that I was gone but there are a few people in Greenville that I know and--and I have contact with. And there are--there's a young lady who is in New York that I went to school with in--at East Carolina. And sometimes we have lost some classmates that were in that group. We have lost some classmates and I've been informed about those people as well so not as much as probably I would like to. I'd like to see us all get together at least one more time to see how everyone is doing and how we've progressed. But as I've traveled over the State of North Carolina to different conferences and training sessions I have come in contact through other people who say I'm on my job and I met somebody and I told them I was from Goldsboro and they ask about you and so then you make connections that way; uh-hm yeah.

Joanne Phipps:

As a bit of a wrap up question, how do you think ECU now impacts the way--the way you do your job and see your life now?

Patricia Burden:

When I was at East Carolina we were just--I think they had just gotten an approval for the Medical School. And you want to know how East Carolina--when I went there impacts my life now? Okay; well as much respect as I have for historically black colleges I always allow my--I want my students to pick the school that they want to go to. Sometimes people have a concern about that because they are African-American. But because they have been in a segregated environment here I see it as a wonderful transition into



the real world. And that's what I see East Carolina--I think that East Carolina was for me; it was a very good transition into the real world, because by the time I graduated from East Carolina schools were integrated, so they really were not all-black schools or all-white schools unless they were private institutions. But it also helps me in terms of relationships and respect for differences in people whether it is religion or racial or socio-economics. Being in that environment and doing the things that I did while I was there, doing my student teaching at Charles B. Aycock; it was a Junior High School at the time, all of that kind of opened you up to--to new experiences. I think I was a risk-taker before I went there [Laughs] just from participating in the Civil Rights Movement and I think I have continued that format and that has been very beneficial because in education you have to be a risk-taker sometimes to do the things you need to do in order to enhance the way that you serve your student population. And the value of networking--when I went--when I left here and I went to Philadelphia, when I went to Philadelphia in September before I graduated and I went to their--their Board of Education to see about completing an application to be hired as a teacher they did not have a transcript on me; they did not have a diploma on me but when I told them that I would be graduating from East Carolina University they interviewed me on the spot and they gave me a job and all I had to do was send in the paperwork.

Joanne Phipps:

Wow.

Patricia Burden:

Yeah; and I know that--that had a lot to do with this young black lady as a graduate--graduate from East Carolina University. And so it spoke volumes for me and so it you know--it paid off; uh-hm, yeah. I guess if I had to do it again I don't think I would have done it any different. I think that there were--there were 15 of us and I think that we've gotten scattered but I think that if I had gone to another school I might have been scattered in the same way. And so I value what I feel that East Carolina gave to me and I saw myself as a contributing factor to East



Carolina because I hope that students that I came in contact learned from me and were able to reevaluate maybe their opinions, uh-hm; so I think it was a give and take, yeah.

Joanne Phipps:

That's really good.

Patricia Burden:

I had--I had a wonderful time there, I mean you know. My first dance I remember they closed the date out with Dixie and I just could not believe people would close a dance out playing Dixie. [Laughs] And when we first got there, there was nothing in the Library that we saw--no black--no magazines that we were used to, and all of that is different, so--it was some impact yeah; uh-hm. And I think the school has really opened up. Mrs. Lee was one of my Dorm Mothers and she used to tell me that I was really ahead of my time going to East Carolina because I expected things to be the way that I thought was fair and--and I guess East Carolina as well as that group of 15 black students, we were all learning at the same time and making it work but it did work and I think that East Carolina has grown and I think that the number of African-American and other students who have come out of that school have really benefited from that and I benefited for the four years that I was there. Those experiences I think made me a stronger individual and more confident because I was able to go there and be successful and graduate with a Degree from there.

Joanne Phipps:

Well excellent; well thank you very much.

Patricia Burden:

You're more than welcome. I hope I've done justice.

Joanne Phipps:

Oh I think you did great.

[End Patricia Burden Interview]

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