Local teacher writes novel about teaching during the integration of schools in the 60s


As we continue to celebrate Black History Month, a professor takes a look back at her time as a teacher during the integration of schools in the late 1960’s.

A story she calls an unwritten piece of history in her latest book.

“These were 9th graders; some of them had never talked to a white person before they had seen us on TV but never in person” Karen Jorgenson said.  

It was a clash of cultures in 1967 as former Pitt County Schools teacher Karen Jorgenson bonded with her new students.

She said, “Nobody would speak to me but a couple days later they kind of softened up and that was good I got to meet my homeroom students and that was a joy.”

Jorgenson’s newest novel, *Escape from the Union School* shares her experience as a white teacher at HB Sugg Union School during racial integration in the late 1960’s.

She said, “They transitioned from knowing that they would eventually all be integrated that there would be no more problems of separation.”

She calls it an unwritten page of history

And 50 years later she returns to the school and reunited with former student John Spruill.

Jorgensen and Spruill recall the day Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

He said, “You really didn’t want to talk about it because a lot of the students were so frail because MLK had got assassinated and to me it was a sad occasion.”  

With emotions running high Jorgensen says a riot broke out.

Spruill said, “We didn’t know whether we’d get shot at or hit with a baseball bat or sticks or whatever and so we started through the crowd and nobody hit us thank heaven and the minute I got through it we just gunned the motor and we left and that was the real escape from the union school.”

Jorgenson says the book has a happy ending and a powerful lesson on race.

She said, “It shows that whites and blacks can be integrated and that we can learn from each other and because of that it will certainly make a better world.”

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