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Oral history interview with George Evans by William Link


Date: November 3, 1989

Interviewee: George H. Evans

Biographical abstract: Dr. George H. Evans (1907- ) was a local physician appointed to serve as chairman of the Mayor’s Special Committee on Human Rights in the spring and summer of 1963.

Interviewer: William Link

Description:

In this transcript of a November 3, 1989, oral history interview conducted by William Link with George Evans, Evans describes Greensboro during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, especially segregation in medical and transportation facilities. He also describes the city in the early 1960s, especially civil rights demonstrations, the role of the NAACP, and the work of the committee he headed to confront race problems in the city.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: GreensboroVOICES Collection

Repository: The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Item#: 1.10.1093

Rights: It is responsibility of the user to follow the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). Materials are not to be reproduced in published works without written consent, and any use should credit Civil Rights Greensboro and the appropriate repository.



Oral history interview with George Evans by William Link

Note: No audio recording was available for this interview. Therefore, CRG cannot guarantee the accuracy of the transcript following the end of the tape recording.

WILLIAM LINK:

I'd like to begin just by asking you to tell me about your background—where you were born, when you were born, and how you came to be in Greensboro.

GEORGE EVANS:

I was born May 18, 1907, in Miowa, Tennessee, where I spent just my infancy. Later, my father, who was a minister, moved us to Nashville, where he was a pastor of a local church as well as a faculty member of a small Baptist college there at the time called Roger Williams College. In 1917, he moved to a larger church in Miami, where I spent all the rest of my boyhood and which I called home until I went away to college and to graduate school in medicine.

WL:

Where were you educated?

GE:

That's what I'm coming to now.

WL:

Excuse me.

GE:

That's all right. I mentioned Roger Williams College a moment ago. Roger Williams was a small Baptist school. It was organized just after the Civil War by some missionary people from the New Englander states. And at that time it was a very common thing for schools which were known as colleges to have high school departments as well. So I took most of my high school work and my college work at Roger Williams. After I graduated from there I enrolled at Meharry Medical College in Nashville in 1929, and graduated in 1933. I served my hospital training period at City Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, and came here to Greensboro in December of 1934, and started a solo practice of medicine, and I spent my entire medical career here in Greensboro.

WL:

What sort of initial impressions did you have of Greensboro as a city, coming from various places, Florida and Tennessee, and most recently Missouri?

GE:

My impression of Greensboro at the time was gained largely through contacts with my sister who had lived here before I came here. And she taught in the high school, a local high school, Dudley. I got the impression from visiting her and getting to know some of her friends and fellow co-workers that Greensboro was known then as a somewhat more progressive city than some other cities in the South. An impression that I came to have some doubts about after I lived here for a while, because things were so restrictive.

And although I had grown up in the South all of my life and had known something about these restrictions, by the time I was in the practice of medicine trying to make a decent living I think I probably felt the effects of the restrictions more than I had felt in my earlier years, so much so that I could not gain access to the medical staff at the local hospitals except my own Richardson Hospital. And, of course, as known generally, we could not visit local hotels, and restaurants, and theatres, and so forth. But as time went by, we felt that we were able, through the efforts of some of the very active civil rights people, the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], and Urban League, and so forth, to open up a few doors, somewhat wider than they had been opened earlier.

WL:

Tell me a little bit more about the—you mentioned the segregated health care system. Tell me a little bit more about how that worked. Was there—both in terms of patient care and in terms of the medical community, was there fairly strict lines?

GE:

Very strict lines, yeah. We were denied membership to the medical staff of the predominately white hospitals here.

WL:

At what time would that be?

GE:

That would have been largely a now non-existent hospital, called St. Leo's, and the Wesley Long Hospital, and Piedmont Hospital, also which is non-existent. Moses Cone Hospital developed later. But they had the very same restrictions that these other hospitals had had earlier. And the result was that our work was restricted to L. Richardson Hospital, which was all black at that time.

It was a very common thing in those days for many of the white physicians and surgeons to bring their black patients, the majority of them, to Richardson Hospital and to work actively at Richardson Hospital. So much so that the white physicians controlled the medical staff even at Richardson Hospital. And it was not until much later that we were even able to elect a black person as chairman of the medical staff. They carried a few of their black patients to hospitals across the city and they had some special segregated rooms where they were placed, but the majority of them came and worked at Richardson Hospital.

Now after the health facilities were integrated, as time went by, the white physicians generally dwindled in number at Richardson Hospital, because by that time they were able to carry their black patients to the hospitals across the town—Moses Cone and Wesley Long, mainly. And the result is that L. Richardson became an almost entirely black hospital. Few of the white physicians still come there on a consulting basis, but not as regular participants in medical staff work.

As it stands now, Richardson Hospital is surviving, but it's been a very difficult struggle for them and maybe several factors involved in the reasons—as the reasons for that. But much of that blame has to placed on the fact that so many of the black patients are taken to other hospitals across—on the other side of town. And the result is that the census in Richardson Hospital has been very low in recent years for that reason. And of course, with the census being rather low, it means that they're struggling for survival. It's been quite a struggle all through recent years, and it doesn't seem to get very much better.

As it is now, the state authorities in Raleigh have granted Richardson Hospital permission to establish what is called their extended care facility, which is really a nursing home facility on one floor of the hospital. That part of the hospital area stays pretty fully occupied most of the time, and it is really that part of the hospital that is carrying the load mainly. The other part, which is called the acute care part of the hospital, usually keeps a rather low census, and is not paving—paying its way very well.

WL:

When you first came to Greensboro in 1934, what did you notice about the way in which the black community was structured? What kinds of forums were there for leadership? How was leadership expressed? And was this—was there strong leadership, do you think? Was there strong leadership in the black community?

GE:

In some ways I would say yes to that. There was some strong leadership. In other ways perhaps not as strong as it might have been. And most of that leadership came from the two higher education facilities here, Bennett College and [North Carolina] A&T State University, which at that time was A&T College, plus some few ministers in the area who were very active in civic matters in addition to their own ministerial work. And then I think perhaps the main factor otherwise in leadership came from civic organizations, chiefly the NAACP. That furnished quite a strong leadership, as it continues to do.

WL:

Was there a strong chapter here early on?

GE:

Oh yes. It has remained strong through the years.

WL:

Was it easy to be a member of the NAACP?

GE:

Yes, there was no problem about membership.

WL:

Was there any fear of retaliation by being a member, say back in the thirties? I know that NAACP sort of had—a lot of white people were afraid of the NAACP.

GE:

Yeah, I know, I know.

WL:

Of course, it favored integration.

GE:

Oh, yeah, of course.

WL:

A kind of radical idea, I guess.

GE:

You're very true on that point. I don't know that I saw any overt criticism or retribution for membership in the NAACP. I think it existed. But there was a sort of subtle thing that was not publicized widely, and you could feel it. You could feel it in some areas, particularly through the press. Because every once in a while, the press would come with some quotation or some news report from some organization that was opposed to the aims of the NAACP, Ku Klux Klan, mainly. And so that—as you probably know, the Ku Klux Klan is still active. You don't hear about it very often, but it's still here and I think perhaps it's a little quieter now than it was in those days.

WL:

It was much more evident?

GE:

I would think so.

WL:

Yeah. What about political involvement? There was voting? I mean, black people could vote?

GE:

Yes. Yes, we could vote. We always have been able to vote.

WL:

Always been able to vote in Greensboro?

GE:

Yes. It was not encouraged a great deal. It was discouraged in some ways, I think. But the organizations like I named—the NAACP mainly, and the Ministers Fellowship [sic, Ministerial Alliance], I believe they call their organization—was active in trying to get people to register and to vote, so that over the years voting became more widespread among black people than it had been earlier. I think there were instances, I'm pretty sure, where even though black people were able to register and to vote, there were instances where—I'm quite sure I can remember a few who probably did not register to vote because of fear of losing their work, their jobs. I don't have names but I remember there were a few such instances that—I think it's well documented in the NAACP bureau records.

WL:

Fear of retaliation?

GE:

Yeah, that's right.

WL:

What kind of sense did you have that things were going to change in the forties and fifties? Was there much of a feeling that the system of segregation was changing, was going to end, or was it, on the other hand, was there a feeling that it was going to be around for a long time?

GE:

Well, I believe I'd have to say there wasn't any sense of its being near changing for the better in those years, the forties and fifties. And that, I suppose, is one of the reasons why there was so much unrest in the early sixties— the fact that it had not changed very much as we had hoped it would. And the general consensus was that it was going to take a whole lot more than simply speaking about it and asking people to make changes, that it was going to have to be forced upon the powers that be before they would budge. So that we felt that the efforts of groups like this mayor's committee, plus the NAACP and the ministers' groups, had to assert some degree of pressure before we could get anything changed. So that it was not felt in forties and the fifties that things were changing very much.

As an example, I want to give you this one—at Richardson Hospital again. It was controlled, as I said, by the white doctors on the staff. And I remember on one occasion—I can't say just when this was, but I think it was probably late forties or early fifties—it was time for election of officers for the medical staff. And on that particular meeting night, most of the men who attended the meeting were black doctors, and there were only some two or three of the white doctors who were members of the staff who attended the meeting. We elected that night, or we nominated—we elected—one of the black surgeons, a Dr. C.C. Stewart, as a new chairman of the medical staff at Richardson Hospital. There was one of the white men who supported that move strongly. We thought we had accomplished something very worthwhile. By the time of the next staff meeting the powers that be had gotten together—that is, the white power structure—and declared the election null and void, so that Stewart was not allowed to assume his presidency of the medical staff.

WL:

Did they—

GE:

That went on for several years before they finally did agree to elect a black man as the chief of the medical staff.

WL:

They had the power just to declare it null and void?

GE:

Yeah, well they—they had been the officers and they—well, let me see how else I want to describe it. Well, they ran the show more or less, and there wasn't very much that the white—I mean, the black doctors could do that would counteract their feelings. Because they were in the majority, for one reason. And some of the men who were—the white men who were in the lead in the medical staff, as well as the regular Guilford County Medical Society, were people who occupied prominent public positions—city health officer, county health officer. It was pretty hard to counteract their feelings. So—

WL:

Is this, what you've just described, fairly typical of the way the white power structure operated in this period? I mean, not just in the cases of health care but in other areas of public policy?

GE:

At that time, I think so, yes, I believe I'm safe in saying that.

WL:

City government? The school system?

GE:

Yeah.

WL:

And the frustration you've described that boils to the surface in the early 1960s is a product of the fact that this isn't changing at all, this power structure and the relationships that come out of it?

GE:

Right.

WL:

Does the Brown [v. Board of Education] decision have any effect? What kind of effect does it have in 1954?

GE:

I don't know that it was brought out in any very vocal way as one of the reasons for some of this unrest. But behind the whole thing, I think things like the Brown decision and the denial of membership in organizations like the Medical Society and medical staff of other hospitals, all of these things contributed. But the Brown decision certainly was perhaps at the bottom of the whole thing.

WL:

So even while the Supreme Court has declared there should be equality, there's still—it's a long time after that—almost ten years [and] still no change at all?

GE:

Yeah. In that connection, I might add that even during that period back in the fifties there were a few black people who were appointed to various boards and commissions about the city, which sounded like a very good thing, and I think it was a very good thing. But it was found that when the time came for decision making, if there was a group or commission or committee that had eight members, or ten members, with one black member, there was very little that he could [do] by himself. And in one or two instances that I know about personally, there was not enough support among the white members of one or two boards that I knew about to help this one black member to do much in the way of accomplishing any changes.

One of those was the Greensboro Board of Education. Another was the Greensboro City Council. So that while some of us were members of those boards and commissions, it sounded good on paper, but it was not always as effective as it should have been. And part of that I guess is because of the fact that the power structure was such that people on the other side of the city controlled everything. And also the fact that our voting strength in those days was not nearly what it is nowadays. In recent years, of course, our part of the city has had the balance of power in a lot of elections. There was a time in those days, in the forties and fifties, when that was unheard of.

WL:

Mainly through lack of registration? Low voter registration?

GE:

Low voter registration. And low—the registered voters actually coming to the polls to vote. We had more people registered than we had to vote in many instances.

WL:

Low turnout.

GE:

Low turnout, that's the word.

WL:

Tell me a little bit more about the public forms of segregating. You've talked about hospitals. What about other public forms of segregation that existed, say about this time, in the 1950s, in hotels and restaurants, and public places, public accommodations? What sorts of segregation existed? And how did the black community—what was the experience of dealing with this sort of segregation on a day-to-day basis?

GE:

Well, let's see, I'll cite a couple of examples. Two or three examples, perhaps. It's a well-known fact that there were some public establishments around the city that had separate drinking fountains—white fountain and a black fountain. Well, that rubbed black people the wrong way, as you could imagine. It was a terrible feeling to have to believe that the water over here at the white fountain, you could not drink from that fountain because that was for white people only. And not being a black person, you can't quite imagine what kind of an empty feeling that would give you.

Another example I'll give you is the railroad station downtown, what is now called The Depot. But in those days the train service through here was very, very active, with separate waiting rooms, of course. The main entrance led right into a large white waiting room. On one side of the building was the waiting room for black people. The ticket counter was located between these two rooms. I personally have seen instances where black people would go to the counter to purchase a ticket to travel someplace. A couple of the ticket agents might be there to wait on people, and white people would come up on the other side of the counter to buy tickets, and they would wait on these people one after another. The black person over here was made to wait. Maybe some whites who'd came over the other side long after the black person had came up here, they waited on them first. And so pretty much ignored.

Another example was the bus station downtown, which has now been torn down. How long have you been around UNCG [The University of North Carolina at Greensboro]?

WL:

Eight years.

GE:

Well, you know where the old bus station was.

WL:

The old Greyhound?

GE:

Yeah, right behind the old post office.

WL:

Right.

GE:

Okay. They had the same separate facilities there, black and white. And somewhere during—I guess this must have been during the fifties—and I'm guessing now, because I don't have documentation—but anyway, some of the civic groups on our side of town, I think largely NAACP, raised a good bit of protest about the separate facilities at the bus station, because the area where blacks had to go in was around—you go in the driveway and walk around to the backside of the station to get into the black waiting room, whereas the white waiting room entered right from the main street.

The answer that the bus authorities and whoever on the city government who was controlling these transportation things, the answer to that protest took the form of one of the silliest things that I've ever seen. And that was instead of black people having to walk all the way around to the back of the building, they set up on the front side of the sidewalk, right at the entrance to the driveway, a separate doorway with a glass door there, and above this thing called a waiting room. And [when] you go through that doorway, you were right where you were beginning on the outside. There wasn't a thing up there but a door. And you opened that door, you still walk all the way to the back to get into the waiting room.

WL:

On the outside of the building?

GE:

Yeah. The silliest thing. But that was there. I saw it. And it stayed there a good long while, too. Of course, things have changed now and you wouldn't know it was like that, but I saw it and I know it was there. So it's been a long, hard struggle to get things of that kind changed. But those are some of the examples.

WL:

And in that case it became sort of absurd, really?

GE:

Absurd was a good word for it. That's a good description. Very absurd.

WL:

Restaurants were—practiced a policy of exclusion.

GE:

Yeah.

WL:

You didn't have separateness, you had exclusion.

GE:

That's right.

WL:

All white restaurants were all-white.

GE:

They were all-white. Yeah. I don't know of a single one. I've heard that there was—that Meyer's Department store had a dining room that would serve a few black people if they knew you. I never was up there so I don't know that first-hand, but that's what I've been told. But by and large, the general black population was not welcome. You just didn't go there.

WL:

Was there much testing that went on, say, in transportation, or any other types of public accommodations, segregation? Was there a feeling that things needed to be tested? Or was there general acceptance?

GE:

Well, I wouldn't say it was accepted. No, I'm sure there was a feeling that it needed to be changed. Now, whether there were many instances of actually testing—my memory is not too clear on that point—but there are one or two of the people that I named to you a while ago that will tell you much more about that than I can. George Simkins, for example, he can tell you the whole story. George is much younger than I am and he has a clearer picture of what went on, because he was the leader of the NAACP chapter here for many, many years. He was involved very closely with all of this.

WL:

Let's talk about the 1960s and the period of activism and demonstrations. Let's begin really with February 1960, with the sit-ins, the Greensboro sit-ins. What kind of effect [did this] have on local leadership in Greensboro? And to what extent were the sit-ins begun by the A&T students worked out in consultation with local leadership in Greensboro? Is it something that took people by surprise?

GE:

It took people by surprise. Would you mean white people?

WL:

Well, either white or black. I was thinking—I'm wondering how much support there was coming from—I guess that's what I'm getting at. How much support there was coming from—

GE:

Well, there was a very large amount of support from the general population, and of course from the younger people at the two colleges. They supported it whole-heartedly. I think the leadership for the movement was provided by the NAACP, and that these younger people from the two colleges, and many kids from the high schools, as well—or from the high school, I should say, because Dudley High School was the only [high school blacks] could attend in those days. I think they were actually following the leadership of the NAACP, because the NAACP was out in the forefront. But there was very strong support for the movement all along.

WL:

How did the NAACP work in this case? I get the feeling that their leadership is very much behind the scenes, advisory. The NAACP is primarily a legal organization, legal and political organization. It tends to work through, you know, established legal channels.

GE:

And civic organizations, too, you better add that. Because a lot of their work involves civic things, but they resort to legal counsel and leadership if it's a case where they are contending for something and they are not making much progress, and then it becomes a legal matter and they do fight through the courts then. Yeah. So I think I could say that it is legal and civic.

And you were saying something about working about behind the scenes, but while they work behind the scenes to some extent, it is not very much behind the scenes because they are very much out in the open with their protests. I should say “we are,” because I'm a member of it and I participate—not as actively as some of the younger people do, but I am a member and I support the program. But it has not been behind the scenes as much as you might think. And if you go back to some of the news accounts during those days, you find a whole lot of material in them about the activities of the NAACP and these connections. And the demonstrations were led [by] the NAACP organization with the support of all these others I've talked about.

WL:

So it was directly involved?

GE:

Oh yes, very much so. Very, very much so. Yeah.

WL:

And provided advice and leadership, and direct involvement?

GE:

Absolutely, oh yeah. And of course, the fact that they were fighting pretty hard for better recognition in all of the areas of living caused some hardening in some areas of the white community against the NAACP actions. They felt the NAACP was pushing too hard, too fast, and all of that. But the general feeling behind those movements at that time was that, “Well, we have been trying for years and years. We've got to do something about these things. And we're not doing anything, so we need to push. We need to get out and press forward on a more aggressive basis than we've done in the past.”

And incidentally, I'd like to add that in the protest that was organized by my committee, the mayor's committee, we had a feeling that whatever was to be accomplished could be accomplished by more than one approach. Some of the more aggressive elements in the community were all for fighting, protesting—almost violently in some cases—while some other elements were for a more gradual approach, behind the scenes, under cover, and so forth. Our position was that we needed some of each. And we felt that if we could support these people who were pushing more aggressively, but without any actual violence, and yet negotiate with the powers that be in the hotels, motels, and restaurants, and so forth, that we could accomplish more that way. And you should know also that the work of groups of this kind was resisted pretty strongly by our own people, because they felt we were not moving fast enough.

Along the way, of course, some knowledge of what me and my committee had been doing leaked out, and a few people knew about some of our work, and I have some communications now. Some of my files [consist] of people who were so opposed to the way we approached that they were hard on us. We had a whole lot of opposition from people who felt like we should get out and fight more strongly. But we felt that we could do something—we could accomplish more by the way we approached it.

And incidentally, the way we did some of this was to establish some of these sub-committees' work by means of gradualism, they called it, or we called it, in which we selected a group of youngsters, students, as well as some citizens, who were issued, in the case of, let's say, theatres, were issued—we were given, say, a group of—a batch of ten tickets, or twelve tickets, to let this small number of people into the theatrds, as a sort of—I'll guess you'll call it a trial balloon. And they wanted to see how it would work.

Well, one of the things that we felt—we ran across in the opposition was that they'll say, “Well, doctor, the theatre is not large enough to accommodate all of those thousands of students that A&T and Bennett have to send down here to go in. There wouldn't be any room for our regular patrons.” What they did not know, or didn't realize at the time, these students didn't have the money to go into the theatres. There wasn't this large influx of people. But it worked out well, to such an extent that two of the people particularly—I remember a man who was a manager of this—it was this small theater out on Tate Street, not far from the UNCG campus—I've forgotten the name of it now. It isn't there any longer. There's something else in there.

WL:

The book store's now there. Right on Tate.

GE:

Yeah. Right near the campus. He was one of the people who told me afterwards—and one of the motel managers also said to me, “Well, Doctor, if we had known that the efforts toward integrating these facilities was going to move as smoothly as it did, there would never have been near the amount of resistance to it that there was.” But we worked it out without any severe or outstanding incidence or trouble at all. So we felt that our method worked fairly well, even though there were elements who didn't think we were doing right.

WL:

So there were important, significant differences about strategy?

GE:

Absolutely. Oh yes. Yes.

WL:

Some people wanted to push farther and push harder?

GE:

That's right.

WL:

And even wanted to go into extralegal sorts of—

GE:

Yes, that's right, extralegal is the word.

WL:

Tell me more about the background of the 1963 street demonstrations, how they began and what the atmosphere was when they formed.

GE:

Well, again, I believe that largely these efforts were organized mainly by two groups: the NAACP and the ministers—I don't know whether they called it the Ministers Fellowship, or the Minister's Forum, one of the other. The ministers' group, most of them were very actively involved in the organizations of these demonstrations. And I know that they had mass meetings with flyers advertising [that] these mass meetings were going to take place at such-and-such church, on such-and-such day, or such-and-such night or hour, and we would leave the church in a group.

One of the churches has since been torn down and a new church built on the site. But one of the larger churches here then was called Trinity A.M.E. Zion Church. And we marched from Trinity Zion Church right down Market Street, which at that time was a two-way street. [We] had the cooperation of the police department in that they furnished officers to patrol the streets, to control the crowds as far as they could. [We would] march right on down to the heart of town and down Elm Street, and there were no problems, as far as unrest or violence was concerned. And there are pictures of some of those marches in the files. One of them I remember particularly—George Simkins likes to brag about it now—my wife was right at the front of the group, just marching away.

Well anyway, those demonstrations were organizing that way. And they went on several occasions and I think they were very telling. And as I said, we had pretty good cooperation from the officers. There were some few elements that wanted to carry it a little farther than just marching though. And a group of them, youngsters mainly, went out to the mayor's home and demonstrated out in the street in front of his house. Well, some people have conjected that that's what lead to his death. He had a rather sudden death, [David] Schenck did, a heart attack. But I don't know if that was true. But anyway, it caused some concern, not only in the mayor's case, but in the case of many of our citizens who felt that that was carrying it a little bit too far. But I guess maybe it did have some effect. We got things moving better, after that happened.

But the demonstrations went on and on, and while that did not pay off immediately, we certainly believed that by the time '63 rolled around we were able to get a little bit more recognition in the downtown area, where we hadn't got as much as before that time as we thought we should have.

WL:

Was there a cross-section of people who participated in the marches?

GE:

A few whites. Not very many. A very few.

WL:

What sort of whites participated?

GE:

Well, mainly college people. People, say, in the kind of position you're in. But not very many of them, of course. [I] think there were a whole lot of others who were sympathetic to what was going on, but that perhaps did not want to get involved locally and openly with it because they knew that what we were doing is what you would consider to be right. There was nothing wrong with what we were attempting to do because it was a matter of what you as a historian know more about than I do. What is it? Without—[pause]. A matter of being able to vote and use public facilities and all of that? Taxation without representation. That's the term I'm trying to come up with. We pay taxes just like everybody else. But we couldn't use public facilities. If you got on a bus you had to sit way in the back of the bus—let me turn it off for a minute. I want to give you—

[recorder paused]

WL:

We were talking about 1963, and you were discussing a little bit about the response of the white community to the demonstrations. What was the attitude of the city government toward the demonstrations? The main purpose of the demonstrations is to accomplish desegregation of public accommodations. How did the city government fit in?

GE:

The city government was not very responsive. They were very slow. We think that they dragged their feet badly. And as I guess you would expect, they were political people, and they were fearful—some of them were, I'm sure—fearful of some retaliation against them and their political ambitions if they come out too strongly in favor of what we were trying to accomplish. So that they played a very low key part and didn't do very much. If they had moved, there wouldn't have been all that need for the demonstrations or the efforts of our committee toward trying to get something done. But they didn't move. They just let things slide along, largely to save their own skin in some cases. That's a pretty strong statement, but I believe it's true.

WL:

They were afraid of a political backlash?

GE:

That's what I'm saying. Yeah.

WL:

I'm also interested in the downtown community. The white merchants. They seemed to be afraid too.

GE:

They were. Very much so.

WL:

Over similar sorts of things? White backlash?

GE:

Yes. One outstanding example that comes to my mind of what we were talking about there, with the downtown merchants, took place at a restaurant downtown that was known as the Mayfair Cafeteria. You know that name?

WL:

Yes.

GE:

It was out of existence, though, when you came here, I'm sure. But my wife was in a group of people who went down that way one of those days to go in and have something to eat. The manager of the establishment [Boyd Morris] stood in the door, like the governor of Alabama did many years ago, and wouldn't let them come in, for fear of retaliation from his regular customers, I guess. And it wasn't very long after that before the restaurant closed its doors. I don't know the story or the details about why it closed, but I have a feeling that had something to do with it. He never did reopen.

WL:

Was this kind of attitude typical of other merchants? More extreme, perhaps?

GE:

I think that was perhaps one of the more extreme instances that I can recite. Some of the other merchants had the same feeling. And an example is the way the city has developed down there at the Woolworth store. They were resistant to serving black people at that counter. And of course you know the rest of that story about how those four young men went in there and sat down, and that's where it got its name, the sit-ins. So Woolworth was one example of what we're talking about. I think perhaps clothing stores might have been different, because they were wanting to sell clothes and there was no problem about mixing the races in that case. But other public places like restaurants, and the five-and-ten stores, and places of that kind—

WL:

Theatres, as well?

GE:

Theatres [did] the same thing. You could go to the Carolina Theatre, but there was a balcony way upstairs. You had to go around to the side door to go in and up some steps to get up there. The National Theatre [was] the same way.

WL:

What about the mayor, Mayor Schenck? How would you characterize him as a leader? Was he pretty much like the rest of the city government in his slowness, what you've described as slowness? Was he a little different?

GE:

I think Mayor Schenck, at heart, was a good person who wanted things done right. But again, he had to think, I think, of his constituents. So they probably did not move as fast as he would liked to have moved. I want to believe that he would have moved more rapidly, more aggressively, had it not been for some thoughts of retaliation. Because the city fathers otherwise, many of them were resistant to change. They didn't want to hear any parts of it. So by and large I think that he, I believe, knowing him as I did, I believe he would have moved a little more rapidly than he did, if it hadn't been for the fear of some retaliation.

WL:

What ends the street demonstrations? Do they end? They go on for several weeks in large numbers of demonstrators every day.

GE:

Well, some of them were every day, I believe. Some of them probably not every day. But at the height of the demonstration, I think they did take place every day. But somewhere along the way—and this is a little hazy in my mind now—they did not take place every day. But as I remember, it seems to me there were some few of the people who were involved in the efforts to get things opened up who did on their own, small groups, go in and let their feelings be known. But the larger demonstrations did not take place every day.

WL:

I see. They were every several days?

GE:

Every several days I'd say.

WL:

A regular pattern?

GE:

Yes.

WL:

Is there any point at which they end? Did they peter out?

GE:

It's very hard to set a time when they ended up.

WL:

Did they go on through the summer pretty much?

GE:

I don't believe they went that long. Because by that time things had quieted down some, even though there was not a whole lot of progress towards getting things opened up. I don't believe that the demonstrations went on as much during the summer months, largely because the students were gone home, and they were the biggest participants in it. The unrest was still there. But it was not voiced as openly or loudly, I guess, as it was during the height of the demonstrations.

WL:

In September, what you've mentioned already, the mayor's Special Committee on Human Rights was appointed. You were appointed on that committee. Tell me a little bit more on the background of that committee and what Mayor Schenck wanted.

GE:

Well, Mayor Schenck had reached the point where a lot of the black population, especially the students, were still rather restless and pushing for better and more recognition, which we were not getting. And that was during the time that some more of the demonstrations were going on, and he couldn't get the city fathers to do much of anything about it. So as a last resort he appointed this committee.

And during that time the city fathers, or I guess the police department, arrested a large number of the demonstrators—I guess you knew this—and incarcerated them in areas around the city: what was then called the old polio hospital, where there is now—I don't know what's in that place now—it was a polio hospital at—or before that time. After that time it became a nursing home, right out here where Market Street—gosh, I can't recall the intersection, near where Market Street bears around the right and there's a street that goes straight ahead called—what is it? It's not Market Street Extension. Well, anyway, it's out here, you know—do you know where the county—not the county—Gateway, do you know where that is?

WL:

Oh, yeah.

GE:

Do you know where that is?

WL:

Yeah.

GE:

Well, right in that area, before that place was built, there was a large establishment there where they had a whole lot of space. They arrested a lot of these students and put them up. And of course there was a lot of unrest because the students' parents—places away from here—were upset, naturally, and some of them came here to see what their children had done. Some of the authorities from the two schools were busy carrying food and clothing and so out to these students while they were incarcerated. And so that, all of that lead up to the formation of our committee. I guess that I'll have to put it that way.

But the demonstrations just—I guess they died out gradually, after things began to open up. I can't pinpoint any particular time that they stopped. But when things began to look somewhat better and they were able to say that these hotels and these restaurants and so forth will admit black people—and after this trial basis that I told you about a while ago, they began to admit people on an open basis without a reservation, then there wasn't any need for further demonstrations. But even after that, there were continuing efforts to keep the pressure on the city fathers to continue opening doors.

WL:

I see. The demonstrations were the main point of pressure?

GE:

That's right. Yeah.

WL:

Was the committee's purpose to implement desegregation? Was it to find a way in which the business community could be persuaded, or white merchants could be persuaded—

GE:

I think that was the ultimate aim, yeah. I think Mayor Schenck was interested first and mainly in trying to find a way to quiet the students' demonstrations down. And in doing so, at the same time, asking us to find a way to get merchants and operators of these public places to consider some degree of satisfaction on the demands.

WL:

There were sixteen members of that committee?

GE:

Sixteen members.

WL:

And you were at the first meeting—you were telling me before we turned on the machine you were elected chairman at the nomination—who nominated you?

GE:

Bland Worley. I'll never forget it. And I want to add, too, that in addition to telling you about the work of the subcommittees, I think it's worthwhile saying that most of whatever we were able to accomplish in the committee was done by the subcommittees headed by Oscar Burnett and Ed Zane. Those were the two men who did most of the actual legwork that led to some success.

WL:

What were their subcommittees? What were they?

GE:

Oh, I don't know that they any particular names. They were just committees that were assigned to this area. Hotels, motels, theatres, and restaurants, and so forth.

WL:

So they worked in those areas, Zane and Burnett?

GE:

Yes.

WL:

Worked with—when you say they were most successful, you mean they were most successful with hotels?

GE:

Yes, and getting things opened up. That's right.

WL:

Both of those men were committed to change, you think?

GE:

Yes, I think they were. I don't know if it was a matter of their philosophy about the whole situation or whether it was a matter of expediency. Where they probably felt that for the good of the city that this is something that needed to be done. Now it might have been some of both. The fact [is] that they were committed to changes. I'm quite sure Oscar Burnett was, because I knew him better than I did any of the other people. But in addition to their feeling that this is one of the things that should be done, I'm quite sure they were interested in trying to protect what they called the image of the city, to keep it from being such a black mark on the city's reputation.

WL:

And that image then would be tarnished?

GE:

Absolutely. Yes. Because, you see, the news about these demonstrations were all over. Not in our country alone, but it was broadcast world round. And that did not go well for our reputation.

WL:

Was there a fear of Greensboro being turned into another Birmingham?

GE:

I never did hear of anything that sounded quite that extreme.

WL:

Quite that strong?

GE:

No. I don't think so.

WL:

But it might—the fear—the concern was that the Greensboro image was something less than progressive?

GE:

That's right. Absolutely. Yeah.

WL:

It had long prided itself for being progressive.

GE:

Yeah, it had. And I often made the remark that the reputation of that kind was—as being progressive—was sort of a misnomer in some regards. It wasn't as progressive as it was pictured as being. It took something of the kind that went on, the demonstrations and the work of these committees, to change a whole lot of that, too. I don't think it ever would have changed on its own without some pressure. I don't think so.

WL:

What happened to this committee? Did it prepare a report to the mayor?

GE:

I gave the report myself to the city council.

WL:

In writing?

GE:

No, it wasn't in writing. It was a verbal—it took, oh, it was a long report. But it was in verbal form. It took, oh, some time. It must have been twenty-five or thirty minutes long. And as I said earlier, that lead to the formation of this permanent commission.

WL:

The Human Relations Commission?

GE:

The Human Relations Commission. Yeah, that's the outgrowth of our committee.

WL:

How did the city council take your report? What was their response?

GE:

Well, I don't know that I can answer that, because they received it as information and there was no action taken on it. In fact, it wasn't necessary, I suppose. Just a matter of accepting it. But apparently they must have thought well of the work of our committee, because that lead on to this other commission and they made it a permanent thing.

WL:

And your committee went out of existence?

GE:

Yes.

WL:

After giving your report?

GE:

Yes. That's right.

WL:

You mentioned earlier that you thought once merchants understood how easy integration was, it would happen quickly. Was that the case? Did Greensboro desegregate fairly quickly?

GE:

Yeah, fairly quickly after that got started. That started the ball rolling. It wasn't any big problem after that time.

WL:

Were public accommodations desegregated before the federal government required them in 1964 in Greensboro?

GE:

Yeah.

WL:

They already had been?

GE:

They started out in '63 while our committee was still at work. That's what started it all.

WL:

So a lot of this was done at the local level, through the work of your committee?

GE:

Oh, yeah. Yeah.

WL:

What do you think about the last couple of decades, just as a final question here? How do you think race relations have gone? Where have they gone in the last twenty-six years, since 1963? Has there been change? Has there been little change? What are your impressions?

GE:

Well, I don't have any doubt that it has changed for the better. We could go almost anywhere we want to go nowadays in terms of public facilities: restaurants, hotels, public places like the library and so forth, without having to observe segregated facilities. The bus station, whatever. So I think I'd have to say unequivocally that things have improved considerably from what they were in those days.

And in my own profession, facilities at the hospitals on the other side of town are wide open now for any black doctor who's qualified to join their staff and work in those hospitals, just like anybody else who's trained. And in that connection, we have more people who are involved in government now in responsible places. If you go into the City Hall or the county government downtown now, you find a whole lot of black faces in positions of prominence. They were unknown, unheard of, in the earlier days. For example, the clerk of the Guilford Superior Court is a black woman. She's an attorney. The person who is director, I don't know the exact title, but community relations department of the police department is a black person. There was a black man who just retired a year or two ago, and now a black woman is in that position, in his place. And the chief of police is a black person. Well, that would have been the most distant thing in a person's mind, prior to recent years, so we have made progress.

And as is true in almost all of these situations, a whole lot more needs to be done. In the public schools, for example. Before the integration of the public schools, you yourself probably wouldn't believe the lack of such things as typewriters, adding machines, in the business education department at Dudley High School, for example. After integration they all had the adding machines and typewriters, and other computer things nowadays, that other schools had in those days. And in my earlier years—by the way, I was a member of the city board of education for a time, did I tell you that?

WL:

No.

GE:

I'll tell you more about it in a moment.

WL:

When were you a member?

GE:

When?

WL:

Yeah.

GE:

Let me see. Let me go back a piece. I was appointed by Mayor Ben Cone in 1947 to the Greensboro Housing Authority. I was commissioner of the Housing Authority from 1947 to 1960. In 1960 the mayor then was George Roach, a real estate man here now. They asked me to let them transfer me from the Housing Authority to the Greensboro City Board of Education. I was a member of that board for ten years, 1960 to 1970. And then [I served] later on on this committee here. And in the meantime I was a member of some other smaller—not smaller, but less well-known things, like the board of directors of the local chapter of the Red Cross, the local chapter of the Cancer Society, and such things as that. But getting back to the board of education.

Before I was appointed to that, I lived on the other side of town, over near A&T campus. There was a young man who was the principal at one of the elementary schools, he was unmarried at the time, he roomed with us. He showed me books that his elementary school pupils had, some of them, that were tattered and worn and had been used in the elementary schools on the other side of town for some years, discarded when those schools got new text books, and sent to our side of town. They were almost worn out. And that's not hearsay, I saw it. Things of that kind. Well, now they don't have any of that anymore. And we like to say that it's things of that kind that are improved largely, typewriters and so on. They are in abundance now because these schools across town have white students in them.

WL:

It would not have been possible without them?

GE:

But it happened. It wouldn't have happened.

WL:

The only way to get equality was to have integration?

GE:

That's right. Now integration works both ways though. There is some disadvantages in it. And you probably know more about that from an educational standpoint than I do. That's neither here nor there.

[End of Interview]