When he was 10 years old, Stan Vickers’ family filed a lawsuit against the Chapel Hill City Board of Education to gain entry into Carrboro Elementary School where, at the time, only white students were allowed to attend.
His parents’ plea for Vickers to attend the all-white school was denied on the basis of his race until Judge Edwin Stanley overturned the decision two years later in 1961, allowing Vickers to attend Chapel Hill High School.
To commemorate the 60th anniversary of desegregating Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools this year, the present-day Board of Education passed a resolution honoring Vickers and his family, who enabled such monumental progress in Chapel Hill.
"Every child should have a right to a good education," Vickers said at a board meeting last week. "We have come a way, but there’s a long way to go."
Vickers reflects on his history
Speaking in a video CHCCS released to honor the anniversary, Vickers talked about the experience he and his family had in desegregating the local school system.
He said his family lived in a primarily white part of downtown Carrboro, where his neighbors became some of his greatest enemies in his effort to desegregate.
Vickers and all other Black students at segregated schools had a civil right to the same resources that white students accessed, he said, which led his parents to file a lawsuit against the school board.
Their family’s success enabled Vickers to attend Chapel Hill High School, rather than the all-Black school in the district, Lincoln High School.
During his time at CHHS, Vickers said he had gym, lunch and class breaks by himself.
"To some, I’m an anomaly," he said in the video. "To others, I’m a threat. To others, I'm something less than human.”
Vickers said he even became the target of a school tradition in which seniors hit underclassmen on the backs of their heads with class rings.
More alumni share their experiences
Dave Mason, a member of the Chapel Hill Nine and Lincoln class of 1961, said he fought for equal rights not because he desired to attend an all-white school, but because he did not want to be denied any opportunities.
The students at Lincoln were being taught from older books and lacked adequate resources, a Lincoln 1966 graduate, Vernelle Jones, said.
During the transition from Lincoln to Chapel Hill High School, Mason said Black students lost many things, including cultures and even teachers that cared about them, stating that very few of those carried over.
"But the thing that we lost most, I feel like, was just nurturing environment," he said.
By sharing the experiences of Mason, Vickers and Jones in the video, the Board aimed to display the emotion involved in the desegregation efforts and wanted to encourage viewers to look deeper into the district's history, said Jeff Nash, the executive director of community relations for CHCCS.
“We thought it was important to highlight and celebrate the Vickers case because it changed education in our community forever,” Nash said.
Segregation remains in present-day North Carolina
Kris Nordstrom, a senior policy analyst at the North Carolina Justice Center, said that in certain districts racial divides remain.
“Not so much Orange County, but there are other districts that seem to be explicitly drawn in order to create racially segregated districts,” Nordstrom said.
He said there are counties in the state where multiple school districts exist, including Orange County. Within some of those counties, he said, the way the school districts are divided is reminiscent of segregation — such as Halifax and Davidson counties.
In other districts, like those in Orange County, desegregation remains a challenge within the walls of the school building, Nordstrom said. This in-school segregation is an issue in places like Chapel Hill where achievement gaps exist, he said.
The challenges that persist today reflect Vickers' comments from last week's Board meeting — that education has "a long way to go."
Though the CHCCS has recognized Vickers, he said that his parents are the real heroes for starting the movement for him.
"I’m here tonight kind of for them," Vickers said. "As I say, my name is on it, but it’s them that you’re honoring, and I appreciate it."