Students of Chapel Hill’s segregated schools make up for lost time, and pay it forward

‘Thrill on the Hill’ former Lincoln High School fight song

Former students of Lincoln High School, Chapel Hill's black high school during segregation, lead a sing-along of their fight song.
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Former students of Lincoln High School, Chapel Hill's black high school during segregation, lead a sing-along of their fight song.

Two years ago, Dr. John Allcott started thinking about the kids he used to play football with, the ones that didn’t look like him and went to a different school than he did.

“I would play pickup football with fellows who were white and black, and then I went on to have no contact with [the black kids],” said Allcott, a graduate of Chapel Hill High School in 1963. “It made me think, wouldn’t life be better if we started talking to each other?”

It led him to look up former classmates at Chapel Hill High and peers that went to Lincoln High, the black high school at the time. He and his CHHS friends hadn’t made an effort to get to know the Lincoln kids when they were growing up. Now they would make up for lost time.

A steering committee called the LHS-CHHS Joint Alumni Association formed, composed of five former students — Allcott, Carolyn Daniels, Richard Ellington, Jock Lauterer and David Mason Jr. — some of whom were soon talking with each other for the first time.

Lincoln closed and the two schools integrated in 1966.

For Lauterer, a CHHS graduate and an adjunct journalism professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, the meetings were as much about getting to know each other as taking action.

During the meetings we realized we had been in the same places,” he explained. “In 1964, Dave Mason and I were marching in the same civil-rights demonstration.”

With $3,000 from Allcott, the group decided to create two scholarships for current high school students helping to improve local race relations.

“Let’s find some black kids and white kids who are building bridges,” Lauterer said.

Jock Lauterer, David Mason and Richard Ellington together at the Northside Elementary “Thrill on the Hill” cookout, photographed on Monday Aug. 2. They were instrumental, among others, in starting the group that Trent Brown

Racial reconciliation awards

The idea of awarding two scholarships quickly became three when the group realized it couldn’t narrow down the contenders that far.

Corrina Johnson, Matthew Atisa and Nicole Bell — recent Chapel Hill and East Chapel Hill High graduates — each received $1,000 last month for their contributions to their schools and communities.

Their work included starting a class for white teachers to better understand minority students, creating a youth orchestra for minority students and creating an after-school STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program at Smith Middle School.

Atisa, who started the youth orchestra, learned how to play the cello after a teacher gave him one in middle school. He later noticed there were other minority kids who played instruments but weren’t in orchestras.

Asked about the awards and those who gave them, Atisa said, “I thought it was really amazing that people were able to put their differences aside.”

Lauterer said classes from the two schools are raising money for more awards.

Alumni coming together

Lincoln High alumni throw a “Thrill on the Hill” cookout every Labor Day for all former students, and this year there were a couple of new attendees.

Ellington and Lauterer were brought on stage to be named honorary Lincoln Tigers in front of more than 100 alumni of the former black high school. Mason, the president of the LHS alumni association, presented Lincoln High pins to them.

David Mason Jr., President of the Lincoln High School alumni association, presenting Jock Lauterer and Richard Ellington with honorary Lincoln Tigers pins, photographed on Monday Sept. 2. Trent Brown

“There’s how things were and how things should have been,” Ellington said. “We’re not going to make it right, but we certainly hope we can make it better.

Allcott, who practices internal medicine in Eugene, Oregon, said on a phone call that this was “one of the great opportunities of my life, to get to know people I didn’t know.”

When Mason talks about Alcott’s contributions, he likens it to a tale he once heard about two brothers who lived side by side and didn’t speak to each other any more because of a disagreement.

One of the brothers asked a carpenter to build a wall between their properties, but the carpenter built a bridge instead. When the other brother saw his sibling had built a bridge between their land, he felt welcomed and they started talking to each other again.

“Dr. John was the carpenter,”Mason said. “The schools are the two brothers.”

“I wish that he had been around back at that time.”

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Trent Brown covers the Town of Cary and other odds and ends. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2019 and is a Collegiate Network fellow.