J. Roy Vorhauer (Educ '67, '77) worked for 27 years as teacher, coach, principal, and professor, trying throughout his career to improve race relations in schools. At UVA he was influenced by Professors James Bash and Nathan Johnson, who founded the Curry School Desegregation Center. The Curry School created the center in 1967 to support public school districts in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and Washington, D.C. by training teachers and administrators in schools being desegregated.
Vorhauer recently published his first novel, Unshackled, the story of Jack and Tamara, an interracial couple in 1958, soon separated by their families. In the 1970 Jack’s and Tamara’s jobs bring them together to confront the very thing that drove them apart: racial intolerance.
We spoke to Vorhauer about his book and his work in desegregation.Q: What prompted you to write the book?
A: Friends of mine have always told me I ought to write a book about my experiences. Well this book isn’t about my experiences. But it’s about the kinds of things that we dealt with. I spent my entire career as an educator trying to do things to improve race relations, and it probably started for me in 1964 in Charlottesville, at Albemarle High School, and with Professors Bash and Johnson. The school went from having a few black students in the school one year and the next being totally integrated. And the difficulties that came from that, kids would get upset because they were excluded from things. I remember two of my best students, African-American girls, came crying to me that they were having a National Honor Society meeting and they weren't included. And that kind of got me started dealing with things.Q: How did you find out about the the Curry School Desegregation Center?
A: Well I had those two professors for classes. I never went there as a participant in their organization. My school system did not hire them, which is the only way their center would get involved. The thing that happened with those two girls was the first time, I think, that I really recognized that something was really wrong. And it upset me. And I was surprised, because I had never seen it or paid that much attention. And all of a sudden I started being aware of comments people would make. And the more I became aware, the more I began talking with these people about things, and then when I got an internship. The Ford Foundation provided some money for a program where they were trying to train administrators to be instructional leaders. And I got selected the last year of that program to be in it. I had Professors Bash and Johnson from UVA come up and speak to a group of interested people, and we had a room of about 40 people in there who were very interested in hearing what they had to say.
Q: Tell us about some of the methods you used to help black students at newly integrated schools.
A: A lot of times it’s amazing how much you accomplish dealing with students individually, the one-on-one dealings. I found out that I didn’t have to quit the contact with kids because I was administrator. That was my biggest fear when I went into it. I created a reading program for kids who had low reading scores, but on test scores, including maybe an SAT, looked like they had the potential to be really successful—these kids obviously had aptitude. I came to believe over the years that the principal’s most important job was to create the climate in the school, because if the climate is not right, everything else is going to suffer.
To read an excerpt from Unshackled, click here. The book is available for purchase in the UVA Bookstore and on Amazon.com.