Former teacher remembers the integration of schools in Pitt County

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A professor takes a look back at her time as a teacher during the integration of schools in the late 1960’s.  It’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,” said Karen L. Jorgensen. 

A clash of cultures in 1967 as former Pitt County Schools teacher Karen Jorgensen bonded with her new students. 

“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,” she said.  

Jorgensen’s newest novel, ‘Escape from the Union School’ shares her experience as a white teacher at H.B. Sugg Union School during racial integration in the late 1960’s.

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

She calls it an unwritten page of history.

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

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

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

With emotions running high Jorgensen said a riot broke out. 

“We helped Ms. Jorgensen and her friend go to the office, me and a couple of girls, because all the guys wanted to beat them up,” Spruill said.  

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

Jorgensen promises the book has a happy ending and a powerful lesson on race. 

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

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