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StoryCorps Griot: First Day at School

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StoryCorps Griot: First Day at School

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StoryCorps Griot: First Day at School

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Time now for StoryCorps Griot. Each Tuesday, we bring a story from this project that's recording African-Americans across the country.

In the fall of 1965, Mweupe Mfalme Nguni was about to enter the third grade. As part of voluntary integration, Nguni's parents enrolled their 9-year-old son in an all-white elementary school in Malvern, Arkansas. Here, he remembers his first day.

But before we play that, here's a warning: This piece contains language that will offend some listeners.

Mr. MWEUPE MFALME NGUNI: We were getting ready for school and I remember my mother was buttoning my top button on my shirt. And she must have noticed something was wrong with me and she asked me what was wrong. And I told her that I was scared. I was afraid. And she said, of what? And I said well, suppose one of them called me (bleep). And she said, look, if a kid called you (bleep), I want you to go and tell the teacher.

We went to school. This was the third grade and the first, recess came and the boys had a football. And they were throwing it back to each other. And they would call, like, Bobby, Bobby, Bobby and they'd throw him the ball in; Johnny, Johnny, Johnny and they'd throw him the ball in, and I would call them and they wouldn't throw me the ball.

So at - after one point, you know, I stopped calling, you know? I'm just standing and watching. And one of them missed the ball and it came close to me, and I picked up the ball and I'm - waited for someone to call me so that I could be a part of the game, you know? And one of the kids ran over and he said, give me the ball, and he snatched the ball from me and he said (bleep) -like that.

So I went and told the teacher, and she went over to the little boy and she said - I can see it just like it was yesterday - she said, did you say that, wagging her finger right at him. He didn't lie. He said, yes, he said it. And she told him, I'm - as I stood there she said, listen, I don't ever want to hear you say that again.

At this point, I'm feeling pretty good, you know? I've been vindicated. Then she said, he can't help it that he was a born a little (bleep). And it's just by the grace of God that you wasn't born a little (bleep).

Now, at the age of 9 years old, it was, like, thank you, I think. In her mind, she did what she thought was right. In the little boy's mind, he had been chastised. He didn't go away, you know, happy. He went away quite contrite. She had bawled him out.

But I knew even the, at that young age, there was something with that - I never, you know, if it was just by the grace of God that he wasn't born a little (bleep), God had no grace upon me. And the effects that that have on a youngster can still be felt today at 50.

CHIDEYA: That was Mweupe Mfalme Nguni at StoryCorps Griot in Oakland.

The StoryCorps Griot booth is on the way to Memphis.

All the Griot initiative recordings are archived at the Library of Congress and a copy of each interview will also go to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

To find out how to record your interview and to hear more from StoryCorps Griot, go to

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CHIDEYA: That's our show for today, and thank you for sharing your time with us.

To listen to the show or subscribe to our podcast, visit our Web site, No spaces, just To join the conversation or sign up for our newsletter, go to our blog at

NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

Tomorrow, we start our month-long series on the black family.

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CHIDEYA: I'm Farai Chideya. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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