It had been 15 years since the Brown v. Board of Education decision that struck down segregation in schools.
But in 1969, most public schools in North Carolina were still segregated, so when Dudley Flood was called to desegregate every school in the state, he was overwhelmed, but he was not skeptical.
He had learned from his tiny hometown in northeastern North Carolina that education could be the great equalizer.
Flood went to what is now C.S. Brown High School in Winton, N.C. It was founded by Calvin Scott Brown in 1886 as a regional African-American boarding school.
"It had a historic insistence about education, that education was a salvation, which I still believe," Flood says.
"I always knew I would be a teacher. I didn't know where, how or when, but I always knew I would be a teacher."
He and fellow educator Gene Causby spent 1969 through 1973 crisscrossing the state, with the profound task of bringing bitterly divided communities together.
One of Flood's teaching tools came in the form of a small, rubber ball. He bought a paddle ball toy on the way to a particularly heated discussion in Hyde County, where everyone from students, parents and teachers to the Black Panthers and Ku Klux Klan was expected to show up.
"I noticed (the ball) was multicolored. One side was green and the other was red," Flood says.
"When we got to the gathering I held that ball up and I said, 'Before we begin, will you tell me what color this ball is?' They said, 'red.' I said, 'no, it's green.' We argued a while and I turned the ball around and said, 'tell me what you see here.'
"Here's what we want to do. We want you to understand until you shall have seen how it looks to me on my side, you can't convince me that you know what you're talking about, because this ball is going to be red on this side and green on that side until the day it dies. Now, if I'm willing to come around here and see how it looks to you, and if you're willing to come around here and see how it looks to me, we can reconcile that."
The result was a new foundation for public education.
Host Frank Stasio talks with Dudley Flood about his life and work as an educator in segregated and integrated schools in North Carolina.