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AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Time now for StoryCorps. In 1964, William Weaver was a high school sophomore. That fall, he and 13 other black students integrated the all-white West High School in Knoxville, Tenn. At StoryCorps, he remembered his first day.
WILLIAM WEAVER: As soon as we got into the school, the principal was calling the roll. He said, Bill Weaver. And I said, my name is William. And he said, oh, you're a smart N-word. I'd been in school maybe 30 minutes and he suspended me. I don't remember a day that a teacher did not tell me that I didn't belong. We'd have a test and they'd stand over me then to snatch the paper out from under and say, time's up. The first report card I got all F's, including phys ed. So I've gone from being a good student to starting to think, well, maybe I don't belong. Maybe I am dumb.
I was home one evening, wondering what I'm going to do, when there's a knock on the door and it's my seventh grade science teacher from the black school, Mr. Hill. He said, you know, I understand that you're having some trouble. Then I said, Mr. Hill, I think they're trying to run me away. And he said, what I need you to do is to come back to the junior high school after school every day and Saturday mornings. He said, can you do that? I said, yes, sir.
And so every day waiting for me would be Mr. Hill with assorted other teachers - the English teacher, the math teacher. And they tutored me. And once I got past those F's, I stopped doubting myself. But learning became almost a spiteful activity to prove the teachers at the high school wrong. And no matter what I did academically or athletically, I was never recognized at that school. I never had a conversation with the counselor about going to college. But during my senior year, I got a letter saying you've been awarded (laughter) a scholarship.
So I ended up going to Howard University. And 37 years after I left high school, I'm at my older brother's funeral talking to Mr. Hill. And I said, you know, Mr. Hill, if I had not gotten that scholarship, I don't know what would have happened. And I don't know how I got the scholarship because I never even applied for it. And he said, I know because I filled in the application and sent it out for you.
So Mr. Hill stepped in and, I believe, saved my life. And at the time, I didn't realize how much I was being helped. And that's the ignorance of youth and the wisdom of age when you look back on it and you say, how did I get here? How did I make it? Because people help you whether you knew it or not.
CHANG: That's Dr. William Lynn Weaver remembering his teacher, Edward Hill. Dr. Weaver is now the chief of surgery at the Fayetteville, N.C, VA Medical Center. His interview will be archived in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
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