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Oral history interview with Lewis A. Brandon III by Eugene Pfaff


Date: June 3, 1981

Interviewee: Lewis A. Brandon, III

Biographical abstract: Lewis A. Brandon III (1939- ), a graduate of North Carolina A&T State University, was active in several civic and civil rights organizations in Greensboro, including Greensboro Association of Poor People (GAPP) and the local CORE chapter.

Interviewer: Eugene E Pfaff

Description:

In this transcript of a June 3, 1981, oral history interview conducted by Eugene Pfaff with Lewis A. Brandon III, Brandon discusses his experience in interracial groups and organizations, his memories of the sit-ins, and his involvement in the planning and coordination of various protests in Greensboro. This includes the history, strategies, and results of Greensboro CORE and other local organizations; the role of high school students, the local community, media, and Jesse Jackson in the movement; the disintegration of the movement; and the book Civilities and Civil Rights.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: GreensboroVOICES Collection

Repository: The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Item#: 1.10.494

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 Lewis A. Brandon III by Eugene Pfaff

[Begin Tape 1, Side A]

EUGENE PFAFF:

—Greensboro Public Library Oral History Program, I'm talking with Lewis A. Brandon the third, in the library on June 3, 1981, concerning the demonstrations in Greensboro. Mr. Brandon, I wonder if we could begin by—if you could provide me with a brief biographical background about yourself?

LEWIS BRANDON:

Yeah, Okay. I was born in Asheville, North Carolina. I don't know if the date is important, but [in] 1939. I attended the public schools there, finished from Stevens Lee High School and came to Greensboro in 1957 to attend A&T College [North Carolina A&T State University]. I got my BS degree there. I went into [the] service; I returned to A&T in '66 and received my master's in biology. So basically that's my biographical background.

EP:

Had you been involved in any civil rights activity prior to coming to A&T?

LB:

Well we—I wouldn't define it as being civil rights, but there are a number of kinds of things that I was involved in, in high school, and even before we got into high school, that were interracial. A lot of that had to do with the Red Cross in Asheville. During the summers we had a group of us who worked on making favors for veteran hospitals. Also, there was the Interracial Youth Council—this was in 1953—that involved the high schools in Asheville, and each of the schools had representatives on this council. So there was a cross-fertilization—well, fertilization might not be the word, but there was an exchange of ideas among high school students.

There was also an interracial youth group that was sponsored by the Christians and Jews, and I really don't remember the name of the organization right now, but we met every Sunday at various churches in the community and talked about issues and the problems affecting youth in the community, and then we had some retreats.

That was on a formal basis. On an informal basis, some of the fellows in my neighborhood—in fact we had organized into a semi-pro baseball team by the time we finished high school. But we integrated a lot of the baseball diamonds and parks and things, just by going, simply going in and playing and using those facilities. Wherever we could play baseball, we played baseball. And if we were with black groups, we'd play; if we were with white groups we would play. The tennis courts, the city tennis courts, we integrated those by just simply going in and playing.

EP:

It sounds to me almost as if Asheville integrated easier than Greensboro.

LB:

Well, yes, because by the time, by 1960 when the sit-ins first started, a gentleman that a lot of people are familiar with, James Ferguson, who was the attorney for [the] Wilmington Ten who was also from Asheville [bell sounds]. He and some fellows, students, came down to meet with the students here [Greensboro] to plan some activities in Asheville. Those of us that were active here at A&T, when we got home for that Easter break, had a meeting with the students from the local high school there, from Stevens Lee, and, I don't know, that meeting where the information about—well, what was discussed in the meeting got back to people in the city and people began immediately to make plans to integrate. The city took to head off demonstrations, because Asheville was a tourist town and people did not want to affect the tourist trade. There was a local organization that I participated in during the summers where I was home; it was called A[S?]CORE—it was Asheville Congress of Racial Equality, and through the efforts of that organization, the mere presence of that organization forced a lot of the businesses to integrate. I don't think we picketed but one time, and that was at something like a Winn-Dixie [grocery] store-

[audio equipment malfunction]

LB:

—power to use the facility, but since there were public funds being used, and at that point the city did not want a confrontation, the facility was integrated.

EP:

When you came—you say you first came [to Greensboro] in '57. That was right about the time that Gillespie [Junior High School] was integrated here in Greensboro and Josephine Boyd was going to Grimsley [High School], and if I am not mistaken, about the time Dr. [George] Simkins and the other men were arrested at Gillepsie [Park] Golf Course. Were you involved in any of that?

LB:

Sort of on the periphery—I was interested in it. In fact, my first time really paying attention to Greensboro I think was in '55 when Simkins was arrested, I think. It was around that time. Sometime around '55—the golf course. And also, he and a man by the name of Charlie Herbin were the first to play in the city tennis tournament and they won that year. So, I mean, that kind of—my eyes kind of opened up.

EP:

Was there much activism on the campus?

LB:

There were a lot of discussions, discussion groups. I think all of us, you know, were interested because we were interested in what happened in Montgomery, and that was interesting, what happened in 1957 out in Oklahoma with the sit-ins out there at one of the Woolworth facilities [by the] NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] Youth Chapter. I have always been interested in following the works of the NAACP because, as a paperboy, one of the ladies in my neighborhood was president of the local organization. So I knew and I had a Youth membership.

EP:

How did you—

LB:

King, well, I was going to say that during my first year here Martin Luther King came to visit and so there were a lot of political meetings and things I went to, even though I did not belong to any political organizations in Greensboro at that point.

EP:

You did not join the NAACP?

LB:

Not at that point, not until 1960.

EP:

How did you come to meet the four men that first sat in at Woolworth's on February 1, 1960?

LB:

I guess just by going down and participating in the demonstrations. I think I joined the demonstration on the second or third day and began to attend the meetings, because right after the demonstrations the Student Executive Committee for Justice was organized.

EP:

Did you have an office in that?

LB:

I did not have an office, but I was a member of the Committee. I think that Pat Patterson and I joined about the same time. And so that was my introduction to Dave [Richmond] and Ezell [Blair, Jr.] and Richard and—

EP:

Did you attend any of the negotiating sessions?

LB:

Yeah, some of the earlier sessions with Oscar Burnett and Dr. George Evans and I don't know all of the other principles there but some of the meetings [were] held at the Red Cross building out on Church Street. I remember going out there.

EP:

This has been mentioned before and I'm not real sure of the time sequence. Was this '60 or later on when these meetings were held out at the Red Cross?

LB:

That was in 1960.

EP:

So, were they part of Ed Zane's committee or was this a separate thing?

LB:

Possibly, I think it was probably the same committee. I'm not so sure that—if Bland Worley was a part of that group. There were a number of people who were meeting trying to resolve the issue.

EP:

What was their attitude? Do you think they were cooperative, do you think they were trying to stave off and do the minimum possible to end the demonstrations?

LB:

I think some of—you know, there was genuine concern about what was happening and I think people had different concerns. A lot of people were trying just to get the thing over with and wanted to get back to some sort of normalcy. Then there were people like Mr. Burnett, who I thought was very sincere in trying to change things. I was really impressed by him. I mean that's why—

EP:

More so than Ed Zane?

LB:

That's why I remember him [Burnett]. I don't remember—well, I remember Ed Zane's name, but just to put a face.

EP:

Jibreel Khazan seemed to indicate that rather early on the students—the Greensboro Citizens Association acted as kind of a conduit of information between the Student Executive Committee for Justice and both the mayor's committee and the store managers. Would you agree with that, and second, was there a certain amount of resentment on the part of the students for being one, or even two, steps removed from the direct negotiations?

LB:

I don't say removed from direct negotiations because, in fact, I can remember the sessions that we had out at the Red Cross building, and there was some dialogue between and some cooperation between the Citizens Association and the student group. I think that is one of the major differences between the demonstrations of the sixties, and 1960, and the ones in '62 and '63, was that it was more student-oriented.

EP:

Nineteen-sixty was?

LB:

Yeah. The ones in '62 and '63 [were] more community-oriented, because we had more community people involved in all aspects of the demonstrations.

EP:

Were these meetings frequent and did you attend a lot of them or were they just infrequent, as demands and response to demands were [unclear]?

LB:

I don't really remember a whole lot of meetings, and I think that it was because of the few meetings that we had that the picketing began, which was sort of drawn out, long and drawn out.

EP:

Was that one arrest of forty-five people at Kress' [April 1, 1960] the only arrest?

LB:

No, because I had a roommate that was arrested for assault on one of the—but it was thrown out of court. But his name was Donald Lyons. He was arrested for assaulting one of the hecklers. What it amounted to was people being bumped into him or shoving him and then accused him of attacking them, so a warrant was served on him. I think there was one other attempt to arrest a guy for indecent exposure or something; I think it was merely tactics of harassment.

EP:

I heard that. Wasn't it a professor at A&T?

LB:

No, it was a student.

EP:

Did you go down to Woolworth's and Kress's frequently?

LB:

Yeah, once the picketing started, I was there almost all day on the picket lines.

EP:

Were students—did they have things dumped on them and burned, harassed with lit cigarettes and pulled off stools, and that kind of thing?

LB:

Yeah, well, my roommate, Donald, I can remember him being burned with cigarettes. Other folk would have lighted cigarettes, you know, stuffed in their pockets, and there was some jostling and shoving. I can remember the day that--because there was a lot of that going on then, in the first two or three days. I can remember this Saturday morning when they closed the counters, things were very tense that day. And I was in Kress's; we were standing around. And I remember looking up and all I could see were blue and gold football jackets. And some of the white bullies began to move, kind of move out because the football team had come down. And, you know, at that point we had some guys weighing as much as three hundred pounds--that was the Stanford brothers from Jersey, I remember them, there was three of them.

And then we left there. One of my homeboys, Wilbur Matt, who was one of the centers, he and I left there and went up to Woolworth. And so as we went through, there was kind of jockeying for position, that kind of stuff. And then on our way back, when they announced that the counter was closed, we marched back to campus. And as we passed the King Cotton Hotel, people began to throw water and stuff out of the windows.

EP:

Jo Spivey says she remembers that some girl, I think—she didn't know if she was an A&T or Bennett [College] student, got her teeth knocked out. Do you recall that? Right there at the King Cotton.

LB:

I can't remember, but there was a lot of—there was some incidents right there.

EP:

Do you think that the police did a good job of separating the two groups, or not at all?

LB:

I thought they did—there was one police officer and I've been trying to remember what his name was. He had salt-and-pepper hair. He essentially played the role that Captain [William H.] Jackson played during these—and he had rank, and when we got back, he had lost his rank. I don't know whether it was because he was too friendly, you know, he was too cooperative or what. But I can remember seeing him on the Square directing traffic. And I can't remember his name.

EP:

So, you think that he might have gotten demoted because of his—

LB:

Of his, yeah. He was awfully cooperative and his attitude was very good, quite positive.

EP:

As I understand the sequence of events, principally from Bill Chafe's book [Civilities and Civil Rights] and newspaper accounts I've read, things kind of calmed down or quieted down when A&T and Bennett students went home and most of the continuing picketing was carried out by Bill Thomas and high school students from Dudley.

LB:

Yeah. One of the things that we—I guess, near when school was closing—you know I mentioned earlier about this basically being student-oriented, and really it was basically college students, because the people who were involved with all the picketing and demonstrating were people from Bennett and A&T, and there were really no high school students really participating. And at one of our meetings we discussed what was going to happen after we went home and who would be there to carry on the movement.

So, I guess the four guys, myself—I can't remember if Pat was with us or not—we went to Dudley and we had a meeting in Ezell's father's shop with some of the people: Bill Thomas, his sister Anthanette, Billy Joe Foster, Paula Jewell and some other people—to discuss their taking over the movement once we left Greensboro. That was the first time that I met Bill Thomas was at that meeting.

EP:

What was your impression of him?

LB:

I liked him because he had been involved at some level with things in his community. His father had been very active in the NAACP, so there was some carry-over there. He was highly intelligent and we became the best of friends. In fact, I spent most of my time with his mother. She sort of took us in after the—during '61, '62, so I've been—

EP:

Did you stay in town or did you go back to Asheville?

LB:

My first summer of staying here was the summer of '61.

EP:

You don't see anything in the newspapers after Kress and Woolworth's announced that they were going to integrate [in July 1960].

LB:

I know. What happened was that when we got back to Greensboro that fall, there wasn't anything going on. Then there was a movie that came to town starring Pearl Bailey. What was it?

EP:

Porgy and Bess?

LB:

Porgy and Bess, [January 1961]. Bill Thomas and myself, my roommate Donald Lyons, and Charles Alston, we went out to the theatre on Tate Street.

EP:

The Cinema?

LB:

Cinema. We went up and were refused tickets, so we began to picket the Cinema Theatre. We picketed it for several months, and we were joined by students from Guilford and Greensboro colleges.

EP:

Did you continually picket the Cinema or was it a one-time thing?

LB:

No, we picketed out there for, I guess, two months, then we moved from the Cinema to the downtown theatres. We picketed the National, which was on South Elm Street, and the Carolina Theatre. We picketed that until over into December, January of '61.

EP:

Was this on a daily basis or just every now and then?

LB:

A nightly basis, and it was a lot of the fellows from my home town, including my brother, and some students from—some young ladies from Bennett carried it on, with people from Guilford and with people from Greensboro College.

EP:

Were you heckled or harassed?

LB:

Initially, there was some activity from the Klan. This was out at Tate Street. We didn't have any problem once we got downtown. Folk were coming up with their robes and things and this was a guy named Dawson, who was later identified as being an FBI agent. But it was some of the people he had organized and it was kind of a joke.

EP:

Was there actually any confrontation?

LB:

No, we would walk along beside each other, laugh and talk. The only thing that they did that might seem provocative was taking license plate numbers, that kind of thing. But on the line, there was nothing. People just thought they were one big joke.

EP:

The idea of them taking license plates, I guess, was to give you the idea that they were going to come and get you later?

LB:

Yes.

EP:

Did any of that ever happen?

LB:

No, not to my knowledge.

[pause in recording]

EP:

You were telling me about shifting from the Cinema to the downtown theatres about December or January of '61.

LB:

Sixty, and it went over into sixty-one.

EP:

Was this just an informal group of people? Obviously, it wasn't CORE [Congress of Racial Equality] yet.

LB:

Yeah, it was basically informal. My roommate, Donald Lyons, kind of headed up the group, and there was a counterpart on Bennett's campus. And so we just kind of went along.

EP:

Would you meet on the campuses or was it private homes?

LB:

No, most of the meetings took place on Bennett's campus during this period.

EP:

Did you have any overall purpose in mind? Was it right from the beginning total desegregation of Greensboro's public facilities, or was it kind of a target-by-target thing?

LB:

Well, the focus at that point was just really on the movie theatres. The facilities downtown had already opened up, in terms of the lunch counters. And so the focal point there was nothing broader than that [the theatres] at that point.

EP:

Did you have any meetings with the Greensboro Community Fellowship? Specifically, people like John Taylor, Warren Ashby, McNeill Smith?

LB:

I knew them; I knew all of them. In fact, Warren Ashby and I were asked out of the King Cotton. [laughs]

EP:

Oh really? What happened?

LB:

We went in and asked for service. This was once the larger demonstrations had started. The meetings with John R. Taylor-Well, I attended some of the Fellowship meetings—this was when they were being held out at the Holiday Inn South—and on occasion we would use the pond out at his [Taylor's] house for retreats and little get-togethers.

I really met him through a friend, a fellow we met while we were picketing on Tate Street, Dick Ramsey, who worked for the American Friends Service Committee. I don't know if you've come across his name or not.

EP:

I saw of picture of him in the newspaper.

LB:

Dick was very active in CORE and he was very active when we were picketing against the theatres. He was one that was very instrumental in recruiting some of the students from Guilford and Greensboro [colleges], because he was the secretary of the College Committee for the Friends Service Committee, so he was working with a lot of college students at that point.

EP:

One think that interests me about Bill Chafe's book and other things is that Ed Zane seemed surprised when, after the lunch counters opened up, there were further demands for like the Garden Room and Meyer's [Tea Room] to be opened up.

LB:

Yeah.

EP:

He [Ed Zane] says, “Now wait a minute. You said you wanted the lunch counters. Here you are.” He [Ed Zane] didn't seem to understand that—well, Eric Goldman once said that it never was just a cup of coffee, but he [Ed Zane] seemed to think that that was as far as it went. Do you think that most of Greensboro didn't perceive what the overall goals of the movement were?

LB:

Yes, because had they, then other things would have opened up about the same time. You see, if you look at most of the exclusive restaurants [in Greensboro], they didn't make that move. The cafeterias didn't make that move. We had to come back to them and, hence, the larger demonstrations. These were kind of the private domain, the supper clubs. They really weren't that public.

EP:

Was this your goal from the beginning, to open all the areas of the public facilities?

LB:

Yes. Once we got into it, the thing was to go after all of the public facilities. See by that time—I need to get my dates right—well, over into '62—well, when CORE began to come into the area.

EP:

Can we get into that? How did CORE begin to come into the area?

LB:

There was a man by the name of Marion Jones, who was a United Church of Christ minister, and his nephew Wendell Scott. They were same members of the church that Cox, B. Elton Cox from High Point; Cox was then the Field Secretary for CORE, working primarily in the South. The freedom rides had already taken place, and CORE had a project then called Freedom Highways, which was basically going around to the Howard Johnsons throughout the South. So we began to meet at Hayes-Taylor [YMCA] to form a CORE chapter. And Wendell was sort of the first chairman that we had. Elections officially took place in the summer of '62 I tihnk.

EP:

You might be interested in that we got six reels of microfilm of the CORE papers relating to North Carolina here at the library.

LB:

I'd like that, is that the Corelator [CORE newsletter]?

EP:

We don't have copies of the Corelator. These were just correspondence—mostly memos. Which is why I got into this—what I was going to get into. You mentioned B. Elton Cox and Wendell Scott and I had a few names of some people who were listed as early officers, including Evander Gilmer.

LB:

Yeah, he was our treasurer.

EP:

And you were listed as vice-president, I think.

LB:

Yeah.

EP:

Could you give me the sequence of these officers? I have kind of a rough idea from—

LB:

After Wendell, after the initial organizing, Bill Thomas was elected the chairman, I was the first vice-chairman, Pat Patterson was the second [vice-chairman]. Betty Wall, who was the daughter of Marion Jones and cousin to Wendell Scott, was the secretary; Evander [Gilmer] was the treasurer. Those were the initial officers and I guess all of us remained officers through '63.

EP:

I notice that the names of Evander Gilmer, Wendell Scott, and Betty Wall disappeared kind of quickly. Did they leave CORE?

LB:

No, they stayed on. Betty—in fact, she is still in Greensboro. Evander lives in Washington, works for the Navy Department, I think. I talked to Wendell's uncle a couple weeks ago and I think Wendell is somewhere in New Jersey, but he left Greensboro shortly after the formation of CORE and I think he went into the service, I'm not sure. But Evander stayed around as remained as the treasurer, he just—I don't know—because I was looking at some checks and I know he signed some checks as late as '63.

EP:

Did the officers—did the same people tend to get reelected every year?

LB:

Through the period—well, yeah, because—[pause in recording] We probably had just two elections.

EP:

Sounds like a close type group.

LB:

Bill Thomas left during the summer of '63. I sort of chaired things, but I was finishing school at that point myself and was leaving.

EP:

I noticed in the paper that as a result of—or in connection with the Freedom Highways Project, Bennett sponsored a CORE training session and out of that—or during this time came the picketing and desegregation of the Howard Johnsons, I believe.

LB:

Yes, because I know right after we formed our chapter we participated in a big demonstration in Durham. There's a Howard Johnson between Durham and Chapel Hill. Is that [15-]501? I'm not sure. On the highway.

EP:

Who was responsible for getting the training session here at Bennett, do you know?

LB:

I don't really know.

EP:

Were you in on the planning of that and the picketing of Howard Johnson?

LB:

No. The Howard Johnson—what do you mean? Here?

EP:

Here in Greensboro? Or Hot Shoppe, I guess it was.

LB:

No, that had taken place before the organization was formed by us.

EP:

I guess this is what sort of confuses me. I have certain dates and I understand this—what we're talking about now took place in July of '62; does that sound right?

LB:

Yes. It might have been a little earlier. I have a couple photographs from that. That's the only thing I have left over.

EP:

So you didn't participate in the picketing of the Hot Shoppe?

LB:

No.

EP:

Did you have any dealings with Armistead Sapp?

LB:

Yes.

EP:

Could you tell me about those?

LB:

The most vivid one was the debate that we had on A&T campus with him.

EP:

I read about that—

LB:

On the merits of—we challenged him to a debate. Bill Thomas participated, Jesse Jackson, myself, a fellow by the name of Rodney Davis, [and] one of the Stanford brothers, one of the football players, I'm trying to remember—Carl Stanford. It took place in the library. He had made some remark about students, the mental level of black students or something, so we challenged him to this debate. A fellow by the name of Donald Addison, who was a professor of sociology, kind of prepared us for the debate. He gave us a short course in logic. A lot of people said that Sapp really didn't believe all of the things that he said, that he was really a devil's advocate. I'm not sure.

EP:

Do you think that he was just looking for publicity points? To get in the paper, being S&W's attorney, and that sort of thing?

LB:

I'm not sure what his motives were. But I know he was—if you read some of the things he said, he really pushed the line of his client. One would just have to assume that a lot of what he said, he believed. I'm not sure.

EP:

I gather that there wasn't a lot going on except some individual testing of different stores. Students and members of CORE were going up to different businesses and asking for service and being refused up until October of '62, when CORE started picketing in force of S&W [cafeteria]. Does that sound right?

LB:

Yes. The biggest thing up to that point was the arrest on Thanksgiving Day. That kind of exploded into something much larger because we branched out from there to the McDonald's and the—

EP:

How was that organized?

LB:

Which?

EP:

The arrest on Thanksgiving Day.

LB:

We decided that—well, we were looking for activities and some things to do. We were planning demonstrations and there was this ad in the newspaper: “Come to S&W for Thanksgiving Dinner, bring your family.” So we decided that we would go. We went in and got into the line and [were] arrested shortly after that for trespassing.

EP:

Did you get served and sit down or were you arrested in the line?

LB:

No, we were arrested in the line.

EP:

I understand Reverend Brown was arrested right around that same time for holding a—for praying on the street.

LB:

Yeah, right there by Belk's.

EP:

And that was all part of the same [demonstrations]?

LB:

No, that was separate. That was on his own; it had nothing to do with CORE.

EP:

I kind of get the impression—and please correct me if I'm wrong—that there are these points of intense activity like the sit-ins in '60, Freedom Highway's Project about '61 or '62, and then the Thanksgiving arrest. Were they periodic like that or was something going on in between these points?

LB:

There were meetings, small meetings of the organization. Well, you are probably correct about what happened in '60 and '61, but from early spring of '62 on, that was planned. I mean people began to plan or plot course of action relative to attacking the problems with desegregation in the city. So then by the time we got to November [1962], the thing was to increase and to apply more pressure to the city and to the establishment owners by continuously picketing and demonstrating in front of their establishments. The other thing was to cover as much territory as we could with the forces that we had.

EP:

So you didn't just focus on the downtown?

LB:

No. Well we did, because we expanded to McDonald's and Biff Burger on Summit Avenue.

EP:

Oh, I hadn't heard about Biff Burgers. Was that successful or not? I know that McDonald's agreed after about four days of demonstrations.

LB:

The Biff Burger fell in line shortly after that. They were about a block from each other, I gather.

EP:

What were the various alternatives as to the courses of action and long and short term goals suggested in CORE, specifically the Executive Committee?

LB:

The long term? The long range? Short?

EP:

Well, both the long and short term.

LB:

The short range [goal] was to have some immediate successes to build for other attacks within the city.

EP:

I suppose what I had in mind was I gather that opening of the facilities were sort of short term goals. Were there long term goals like better employment, better pay?

LB:

Yeah, okay.

EP:

Did these come later or were they right from the beginning?

LB:

I think that they came much later, because the immediate focus was to dwell on public accommodations, but, kind of viewing that at some point, we would be involved in employment. Because there was some picketing at Wachovia around their hiring—refusal to hire a [black] teller or something of that nature. Another thing was that once we got the public accommodations, if you did this then this would make it easier to get to the employment and jobs and wages. One of the things that we did immediately after returning to Greensboro in '63 after the March on Washington was to begin a massive voter registration project.

EP:

Had there been earlier—some of the other actions that I have notes on about the CORE being involved in were earlier voter registration drives and getting merchants to remove separate signs on water fountains and restrooms.

LB:

Yes. One other thing that I particularly worked on with [Bennett faculty] Dr. [Elizabeth] Laizner, which was really our focus that summer, in addition to the voter registration, was organizing—community organizing, and the target area at that point was the Gillespie Street area—Gillespie Street, Spencer Street and Gant Street—at that point.

EP:

Was this after the demonstrations?

LB:

Well, the demonstrations ended in the early part of the summer—the massive demonstrations with the sit-down at the—downtown, then there was a period of some negotiations, I guess, and then the March on Washington, people coming back to begin to participate in the voter registration drive, which was sponsored jointly by the NAACP, the [American] Friends Service Committee, and the Greensboro Citizens Association and some other folk. That planning took place earlier while the demonstrations were going on, because there were meetings to plan the summer project.

But this was, here again, was spearheaded by Dick Ramsay through his College Committee. He was able to get folk to come in from around the country, recruit college students to participate. It was an interracial group that was housed at the Old St. Stephens Church on Gorrell Street. But—that also—with that taking place, we also began to meet—and this is where I first met Reverend Frank Williams, because he had a little small church on—I can't think of the street right now, it runs parallel to the cemetery, Maplewood Cemetery—but he had a small church there. We were using that facility to hold community meetings and we would meet with people from the city and the Redevelopment Commission to talk about street improvements—because all the streets at that point were dirt streets—improving the houses, bringing houses up to code, putting in streetlights, and the conversion of the city dump— the land adjacent to the cemetery, which had been a city dump— converting that into a city park, a park for the community.

EP:

Dr. Laizner indicated that CORE deliberately didn't exactly get out—down-played its role once the neighborhood organization or the committee was organized because they wanted it to be a neighborhood thing rather than something run by CORE. Is this right?

LB:

Yes, basically that's accurate. We did not identify ourselves as just CORE and the people who really took the lead in that particular community were people who lived in that community. Our chief role was to be facilitators and to be resource people in terms of getting the authorities to the meetings, that kind of thing.

EP:

If I could back up a little bit—were most of the decisions in CORE made within the Executive Committee?

LB:

Yeah. And then formalized by the larger body.

EP:

Were decisions of the Executive Committee always then taken to the full membership to be voted on, or were they sometimes put into practice just from the Executive Committee?

LB:

Both. And the Executive Committee had the authority to make decisions for—

EP:

So not every question was brought before the membership?

LB:

No.

EP:

How were decisions made as to strategy and targets and that sort of thing within the Executive Committee?

LB:

Through long discussions, long debates about what would be the best and most logical way of producing change. For instance, the decision to sit-down [in the Square]—I mean that took almost two weeks.

EP:

I wouldn't say there's quite—for instance Pat Patterson said that he didn't, he didn't approve of that and as a matter of fact, that very day, he went to New York to take a job. Lois Lucas said that she was against it, too.

LB:

What, the sit-down?

EP:

—in the square.

LB:

The first one or the second one?

EP:

The second one. On the idea that by that time, a lot of the students who had been in the movement for several years and had experience—

[End of Tape 1, Side A—Begin Tape 1, Side B]

EP:

—were kids from Dudley and members of the community who hadn't really had much experience in nonviolent direct action, and I think they indicated they were afraid that there was going to be some kind of violence.

LB:

Yes, well I think that might have been a legitimate concern of Lois and some other people. But here again, high school students—and I mentioned earlier that this was a community event; people from all walks of life were participating in the demonstrations, and there had been a lot of high school students all along who were participating and who were very active, who were very vocal in the meetings and who—there was a lot of leadership from the high schools that were participating in CORE and revolving around the Executive Committee, so I don't think that—to me, that was not a real factor; the question was, was really whether some nut was going to do something that would hurt anyone.

I mean I can remember some—that was one of the real questions, because see that was not the only thing people were considering. One of the things was being considered was flooding the stores like Belk's and just having a massive sit-in in the stores. Another thing was to organize the students so that at a given signal, all of the school kids would walk out of the schools on that day. There were a lot of different kinds of things that were discussed. With me, and with some of the other people, the real question was if you did have the sit-down in the streets, how would you guard against somebody just driving through the crowd—not whether the people were high school students.

EP:

How would you guard against that?

LB:

In reality, there was no guard against that. I mean—

EP:

Just assume that the police would—

LB:

—would be there and protect, because you couldn't really guard against that.

EP:

But there is always a risk, like up in Detroit when the minister was run over by the bulldozer.

LB:

Yeah, well see there was always a risk of anything happening with demonstrations.

EP:

There seemed to me, if I could get into several key changes in strategy—and, of course, one of them was going from picketing the theatres into going to McDonald's and then broadening it to S&W and Mayfair in May of '63.

LB:

We had already been to S&W.

EP:

Right. Were you surprised at the turnout or was it planned that there be a massive turnout for the—when you went to McDonald's?

LB:

Well I think—well, I think we had been building and so the thing at S&W was an impetus for building and for other people to come out and be involved. And so the more things that we could get people in—you know, we were out recruiting on campus, getting students involved. In fact, one of the nights—one of the first nights at McDonald's, I had a group of people, I guess about ten people, who were new recruits, and we had some incidents. We had some rocks thrown, people were driving through campus that night afterwards to throw bottles and rocks at the dormitories and that kind of thing.

EP:

I'd like to get into that because the paper doesn't touch on that at all. I kind of got ahead of myself a little bit—for instance Elizabeth Laizner mentions that after arrests of Thanksgiving [S&W demonstrations] the mayor's committee asked CORE to suspend demonstrations while they came out with a report, which CORE agreed to. And subsequently the report did come out in February of '63, and in effect she says it all sounded good, they supported the concept of equal opportunity, equal access to public facilities until the last line, which said unfortunately we have not the power to demand these things or something, and the CORE geared up again. I guess what I wanted to ask is one, does that sound right, and two, how did the CORE decide to agree to the suspension of demonstrations in the late fall of '62?

LB:

Well see, one of the things is that we had always decided that—I mean, we have always done this. One, was to—I guess a part of the nonviolent technique is to give people a chance to resolve things and to give people an easy way out. So, we were consistently—I mean in the sixties there was always these moratoriums, when people asked to—for a time to, for cooling off and for giving them a chance to work things out. We constantly did that. That wasn't inconsistent [with the way] we had operated in the past. But at some points you always kind of know in the back of your mind that nothing is really going to take the place, so you have to be ready to move beyond that point.

EP:

So this was a logical step in—saying, “All right, we made them aware of the core of the problem. They now know it is not going to go away and we're going to give them a chance to do something.” Did you really think that something would come out of it?

LB:

Well, you know you kind of hope. But see, but in case that it doesn't, you always have the picketing and the mass demonstrations to fall back on, and that was one of the things that we had going for us. I think one of the things that we did to try to move people off-center was when there was this lull and drag, that it was decided that Tony [Stanley] and Bill [Thomas] should be arrested to draw people back.

EP:

So they consciously made decisions about who was going to be arrested?

LB:

We—some of the members of the Executive Committee made that conscious decision that—I think that it was one Sunday morning we decided that—that there should be arrests, and that Bill and Tony, since they were the most visible people, should be arrested.

EP:

I gather that—Elizabeth Laizner said that there was a big meeting in early May, a called meeting, and she thinks it took place at Pfeiffer Hall on Bennett campus, and she said she can remember Bill Thomas leaning against a piano and saying, “All right, do we do something now or do we plan over the summer for something big in the fall?” And the decision was debated back and forth, and finally it was decided to do something at McDonald's. Does this sound right?

LB:

I'm not—I vaguely remember meetings, because there were a lot of meetings at a lot of different places. Well I think that the real conscious effort to make a push was the arrest of Tony and Bill. I think that was when the decision was made to make the major push and to not let up.

EP:

But there were some people who wanted to wait until fall?

LB:

There may have been people. Because people—with a lot of—with students and with some adults, the theory was that we needed students for—

EP:

Troops.

LB:

—for troops. And that's what we needed [to do], to wait until the students get back. But given the fact that we had organized high school students, and people from the community would point out there was no real reason to wait until the fall—

EP:

So with the local high school students, you didn't worry about things falling off in the summer.

LB:

No, because at this point we had begun to build to the point that we could get people out.

EP:

So CORE wasn't really surprised when, like, after word of the arrests at McDonalds, students started flocking to the meetings.

LB:

No, we weren't, we weren't, because really we had, just in the CORE chapter itself, at one of our meetings, we could have in excess of a hundred people, just with members alone. So then as things began to snowball and students began to come out—the problem of recruiting to me was not really a major problem.

EP:

I gather that—were the targets pre-selected? I mean you had already been picketing S&W and the theatres. It seemed, just from reading the newspaper accounts, that there were—usually the four places that were picketed were the Center, the Carolina, the S&W, and the Mayfair. Why were these four selected?

LB:

Well—the centralization of their location. It was easy to get people there. Most of the activities took place because downtown was very viable at that point, so people were coming downtown. You had much more protection in the downtown area than you would in an isolated area. Like going out—because I remember in '60 we did picket out at Clark's when it was way out on Market Street and also there was a barbecue place out there that was owned by a black man, but it catered to whites, that we picketed.

EP:

Did they open up or did they remain closed?

LB:

They did not open up. Well, Clark's didn't open up until after when everybody else was opened up during '63-'64.

EP:

Was this idea that you just mentioned of protection the reason that you didn't have a concerted campaign at places that were pretty far out?

LB:

Right. One reason—the problem of traffic and transportation, transporting people there, and then your defense or your protection was far less.

EP:

Its kind of interesting that this—what the paper calls—what usually they referred to as the Coordinating Committee, but I gather the full title was For Pro-Integration Groups. How did that come to be formed?

LB:

The Coordinating Committee?

EP:

Yes.

LB:

One of the things that we were concerned with [was] being able to draw upon all of the resources in the community. So all the organizations that were involved in civil rights in the community or involved with the problems of the community came together to try to facilitate the demonstrations. It was sort of a loose-knit kind of thing with Father Hicks being the chairman of it, initially.

EP:

I gather—correct me if I'm wrong again—it seemed to me that there was a kind of a mutual benefit, mutual need here: CORE wanted the support of the black adult community and the black adult community—at least that's characterized by Bill Chafe's book—had been pushing for a good twenty or thirty years at this point, and that, they said okay if we're going to get these things we've been pushing for all these years, we have to join this movement of the students. We can't let this die out. Does this sound fair?

LB:

I don't know—I don't know if I would make that assessment. I think that we needed—we needed, we really needed the support of the adult community because there is, when you have the backing of the ministerial group, there is a certain amount of legitimacy that you don't have if you are outside of that group.

EP:

I remember you said that, you said you wouldn't necessarily agree with that assessment. What was the part you wouldn't agree with?

LB:

Chafe? The adult community using us to push—

EP:

I'm still saying that, from my point of view, saying this would seem to be a reason for their participation. Am I right or wrong?

LB:

I was saying that—my thinking would be that people were genuinely concerned about eradicating segregation and everybody, all black people, had a vested interest.

EP:

You were going to mention Bill Chafe's book. I gather there are a few points that you don't agree with there. Would you like to go into that?

LB:

I didn't think that I was mentioning his book, I was just trying—we were talking about the Coordinating Committee and why—but then you mentioned it. You referenced Chafe.

EP:

Right. Was there a close working relationship between CORE and the Coordinating Committee?

LB:

We were a member of the Coordinating Committee.

EP:

I guess what I had in mind was I remember Reverend [Otis] Hairston said that, “well, we agreed that we'd speak as one voice and so that there'd be unity and no possible misquoting or misunderstanding of the press.” But, I suppose what I have in mind is CORE was a separate entity and I would assume that they would say, “Now look, we are not going to get swallowed up by this. We're participating in this, but we are keeping our options open.”

LB:

Well, the NAACP was a separate, autonomous organization. The Citizens Association was autonomous. The Pulpit Forum was autonomous.

EP:

Was there the feeling that, “We'll participate, but if you do something that we don't agree with, or we want to do something that you don't agree with, then we'll go our way and you go yours”?

LB:

Well I don't think, I think that there was a concerted effort to work within the group and people did—

EP:

So there wasn't a kind of rivalry there?

LB:

No, because I think—well really, the Coordinating Committee came about at the insistence of CORE.

EP:

So CORE actively sought the formation?

LB:

Right, initiated it.

EP:

Because that of course is not clear in the paper, but that is understandable why it wasn't.

LB:

And really [the Coordinating Committee] did not actually try to control us because really, the chairman of the committee was a minister, who was then Hicks, Father Hicks, from the Church of the Redeemer.

EP:

Did CORE meet—of course the Coordinating Committee met on a regular basis; Did CORE also meet on a regular basis?

LB:

Yeah. We still had our on going meetings. In fact, at that point—well, after the Coordinating Committee was formed, we moved from Providence Baptist Church to Church of the Redeemer and actually set-up a full operation down there. We had an on-going operation there, which was manned almost twenty-four hours [a day].

EP:

When the demonstrations took place, were they planned and carried out by CORE or the Coordinating Committee?

LB:

Now we did maintain control of the demonstrations and took chief responsibility for planning the demonstrations.

EP:

How?

LB:

—but we did touch base and apprised people of what it was that we were doing, and when the Coordinating Committee suggested that we have a moratorium, we agreed to that.

EP:

It seems for a while that—a number of people talk about this famous either Wednesday or Sunday march where the adults, for the first time, came out in large numbers.

LB:

It was a Sunday march, I think. Oh, what—okay, wait a minute now—march to where because there was a—

EP:

Just downtown.

LB:

Okay that was the—

EP:

—it was separate—

LB:

What do you mean separate? Which one?

EP:

From the students.

LB:

No, I don't remember anything being separate from the students. We had large—we had a Sunday march down from the church—from the old Trinity Church downtown which was both students and adults, and all of the other marches I remember it being—involved adults as well as students. Because see, here again, CORE was not all students; McMillan was not a student, Laizner was not a student, Charles Davis, Reverend Julius Douglas, [Rev. James] Bush, [Rev. John] Hatchett, all of these people were members of the organization. And there were a number of adults who were involved, you know, in CORE, and participated in the activities and planning of—

EP:

A lot of the structuring of my questions is coming from the interview I had with Dr. Laizner, who was one of the first people I interviewed. And she says that right after—when they were—Bill Thomas and Reverend Hatchett, Reverend Bush—the four people who were arrested at—Pat Patterson I think—at McDonald's, one of the ministers [Douglas] came and said, “Now, you've got something going here. Keep it going and I'll have a mass meeting at my church and we'll turn out the adult community.” And that there wasn't much adult participation until that big march. This is the way she characterized it. Does this sound right or plausible, or is she forgetting something?

LB:

I'm not sure.

EP:

How about the decision to shift to the “jail, no bail”? Was that a controversial decision? Or was it pretty—

LB:

I think it was a pretty unanimous kind of decision. I don't remember any big discussion about that. I think students, you know, people who were arrested were kind of—that was the attitude, in fact, that was the attitude—I don't know if it even started here, It might have started some place else and people picked up one it.

EP:

Was it a result of the mass arrests and of them saying: “Okay, if they are going to arrest us en masse, process us, immediately turn us loose, we are going to put pressure on them”?

LB:

Well the “jail, with no bail” thing started before the mass kind of thing, because I think that was the attitude of those of us that got arrested at S&W in the fall of '62. When our trial came up the thing was to refuse to leave. It's just that the judge decided that he wasn't going to lock us up, but we had already decided that we were going to refuse—if we were locked up, we were going to refuse bail.

EP:

So this wasn't a brand new tactic?

LB:

No, it wasn't, and it really did not start in Greensboro. If you go to the other areas where people were arrested, that was sort of the attitude.

EP:

Now Lois Lucas, in her interview, said she was against it unless the membership—leadership also agreed to go down and get arrested and not come out. And that she felt that a lot of these particularly high school kids didn't really understand it, that “after the initial enthusiasm wears off, we're going to stay in jail,” and she sort of thought that you were against it too. Did she misunderstand?

LB:

I'm trying to think about what period you are talking about because see—

EP:

This would have been like the second week of the demonstrations in May [1963] when everybody was first taken—you know they were locked up and finally they were taken that Saturday to the Polio Hospital?

LB:

Well, that Saturday—

EP:

Now I may be misquoting her; I'm paraphrasing her. One thing I noticed how she characterized you was she said that Lewis Brandon was the kind of person that would say, “Now, wait a minute, don't do something just to be doing something. Have a plan in mind.”

LB:

Yes. I was opposed to going—well, yeah. One of the things was that there were a lot of people using arrest as a means of—well, I was just against being arrested for the sake of being arrested. But I don't think that—because see there were a lot of people who, in other areas—not here—who were getting arrested and then they would be out and folk going around putting notches on their belts for the number of times that they'd been arrested. Those kind of arrests didn't really mean anything.

EP:

So in effect, make the arrest mean something.

LB:

Yeah, that was my position on it and—but you see at the time of the mass arrests, there weren't any—I won't say any high school students [but] the bulk of those kids were college kids, Bennett and A&T students. I think the arrest of the high school kids came with the sit-ins in the streets, as opposed to being arrested off the picket lines.

EP:

I'd like to get to that, but first: when the A&T students were sent back to the campus on the governor's orders, it looked at first like a defeat for CORE because they were staying in, [saying] “we're going to keep the pressure on until they agree to serious negotiations at least,” and here's the governor saying “I authorize you to take them back to campus.” And then, as I understand, the Coordinating Committee, that same evening, about one or two in the morning, had an emergency meeting and called mayor pro tem—

LB:

No, that was with the very first arrest. See, that was before that had taken place. The first night—the first time we had a mass arrest [was] when folk blocked off the whole downtown area and [police] first treated the students as criminals was when that meeting took place, at one or two o'clock in the morning at the Church of the Redeemer. That was where [William] Trotter, who was the mayor pro tem, decided that he would create this committee that became, eventually, the Human Relations Committee.

EP:

So you're saying that was before the A&T students were taken back to the campus [from the Polio Hospital]?

LB:

Yes, that move to bring people back to campus was much later. Yeah. I don't remember exactly when but it happened sometime after that meeting.

EP:

Okay, I got that wrong and I'm glad you straightened it out for me, because I thought the way the sequence was that they moved them out late at night, deliberately, and that word got back to the Coordinating Committee [that], “Hey, they're turning the kids loose.” And they had a meeting and told Trotter, “All right, if you don't want trouble—” You're saying that's not how it happened?

LB:

No, people were up because this was the first time that people really were treated as criminals. What they did, they took—the jail was over here, right? They blocked off the whole downtown area, brought buses in. Some folk were down viewing that and went back and called people together and said, “Look, we're not going to stand for this kind of thing.”

Now, I don't remember the exact date when they brought—they began to dump students out because that particular night I was manning the headquarters. And Darwin Turner—because, in fact, I took the call, a call from somebody, I don't know who—the call came in, but called saying that there was a problem on campus, that lot of chaos because people were being brought back to campus and being let out, carloads of police were doing this.

EP:

The date that I have is the twenty-first or twenty-second, does that sound about right?

LB:

Of May?

EP:

Yes.

LB:

Yeah. So the other meeting with Trotter took place much earlier. But Darwin Turner, who was chairman of the English department [at A&T], and I were both there because he had a little newsletter called the Candlelight. I don't know if you've seen copies of that.

EP:

Can I borrow your—I've heard a reference to it but I haven't seen it.

LB:

Well I have some copies of it.

EP:

I'd like to see it.

LB:

Okay. But anyway he was the one who was responsible for putting that together, editing it, and getting it circulated. There was a telephone committee and another committee that was responsible for circulating that paper. But anyway, he and I both left and went on campus. By the time we got there, I think Ezell [Blair] was there, Jesse [Jackson] was there, and Major High, who was an attorney, showed up. Dr. [Lewis] Dowdy [of A&T] was there; he had tried to talk to students, and the students wouldn't listen. They didn't listen to much of what anybody had to say. Jesse tried and Ezell tried, but Turner was the one who really took over and talked to the students and calmed them down and suggested that they go back to the dormitories and sleep on it, take hot showers and get a good night's sleep. And that next day, people were back on the picket line getting arrested again.

EP:

The way Ezell told it, he mentioned—he said that Jesse Jackson was asked to speak by some people and, for some reason, either because he froze or he didn't want to or whatever, he didn't speak. And so he [Ezell] said he spoke, and he mentioned, was it Dr. Darwin Turner?

LB:

Yeah.

EP:

So he was on faculty?

LB:

Yeah.

EP:

The impression that I got from Ezell was that they said, “All right, we've proved our point. Exams and graduation's coming up, parents are coming up for graduation; let's calm it down instead of going right back to jail tonight.” Is that—

LB:

Well, see, at one o'clock in the morning, you know, one, two o'clock in the morning, there wasn't much to do. But we had massive demonstrations that next day and people—most of the people were back in the lines because what we had was a booth here [at the theatres] and we sort of had a revolving picket line; people would go up and ask for tickets and continuously go up. So when you go up the police would pull people out and what they began to do then was take people and put them in the patrol car, drive around the block, and let them out.

EP:

[laugh] Oh really?

LB:

And people would simply come back. At one point, before they began to do that, they would—things were so massive they had gone out to set up facilities out at the coliseum to process people through the arrests. It was so massive [that] what they began to do was to pick people up, put them in the cars and drive them around the corner and let them out. And those people [would] just simply come back and get back in line.

EP:

But people were not taken en masse again to the—[Polio Hospital]?

LB:

No.

EP:

So CORE didn't view this returning students to campus as a defeat of their tactic of mass arrest?

LB:

No, because we—no, because we seized upon the opportunity and, in fact, people were back out there the next night. It happened so fast people really didn't have time to react to it, because when we got the call it was early in the morning—one, two o'clock.

EP:

As I understand it, there was Wednesday of—for instance, the arrests at McDonald's took place on the eleventh of May and about Wednesday, the fourteenth or fifteenth, was the first mass arrest.

LB:

Downtown.

EP:

Right.

LB:

Okay, and that is probably the time we met with Trotter.

EP:

And was it at that time that you agreed to set up the committee that was chaired by Dr. [George] Evans?

LB:

Yes.

EP:

So this idea that I got in my head that the—he agreed to it as the students were being released did not take place?

LB:

No. You said the release came around May the twenty—

EP:

Twenty-first or twenty-second.

LB:

So you are talking about a whole week.

EP:

Right. How did the—I understand that there was a moratorium or a “truce” from about May twenty-second 'til June third. How did that come about? Was that to give Dr. Evans committee a chance to—?

LB:

His committee, and also, more than just Evans' committee—that, and also to flush [Mayor David] Schenck out. See, we had not been able to do anything; I mean he was always unavailable. Even at—he was supposed to be out of town that night that Trotter came to the meeting. So the aim, really, was to force Schenck out and make him to take a position and meet with us to discuss and try to resolve the issue.

EP:

Forcing by the mass arrests or—

LB:

Mass arrests, so and that was what the two sit-downs was attempting to do. That was the first time that he really agreed to sit down and talk was after the sit-ins. He had avoided any discussions up to that point.

EP:

Was Jesse Jackson's role pretty much cosmetic?

LB:

Yes. Have you gotten that in any other discussions?

EP:

Yes. One thing that puzzles me is that Lisa Waits characterizes in the paper that the truce was in effect, had been started about May twenty-seventh. And then Jesse Jackson led a demonstration downtown about June third. When interviewed by reporters, he said, “Well, it's true CORE has agreed to a truce, but CORE doesn't speak for the whole community.” In effect, what he seemed to be saying was that he was doing this in defiance of CORE.

LB:

But it was still CORE; I mean we authorized it.

EP:

So he didn't just lead a maverick group of students down, they had—

LB:

In fact, in that demonstration there were the same people, most of adults and everybody else who had been involved in the demonstrations all along.

EP:

So what appeared in the paper, him rebelling against CORE wasn't—

LB:

He may have said that and he may have thought that he was, in fact, doing something, but we were not about to let any personality run the operation.

EP:

Was there points of friction between Jesse and some members of CORE, or did he understand that his role was cosmetic rather than genuine?

LB:

He had to, because was not a part of the Executive Committee, so he was not in on the planning sessions or planning of the activities. In fact—

EP:

He wasn't even a member of CORE was he?

LB:

He got involved very late. In fact, I insisted. It was because of a dare—well, dare is not the word—but in a discussion he and I had I told him to put up or shut up. One of those kinds of things.

EP:

Either join or get out?

LB:

No. Don't criticize if you're not going to be in on what you are criticizing. That was the kind of discussion that he and I had. So he decided to come and get involved at that point. You see, we had been demonstrating a long time and we had been doing things.

EP:

This is what Ezell said really, he said, “After all,” he said, “People really looked to the leadership, to people that had been in the movement since '60 and '61, and a lot of people didn't even know who Jesse Jackson was until he ran for president [of the A&T student body].”

LB:

Yeah, well, his run for president came after his initial— after his coming out. It was easier for him to run for office once he—well, Jesse and I had been friends all along. In fact, I was his campaign manager for student body president. One of the things, you know, was that if you [were] going to run, you [are] going have to be involved with other students and other students are out involved in demonstrations. So either you do or not do. It was that sort of thing.

EP:

The decision—the paper seems to indicate that things were really coming to a point, to a boil here. Reverend Tony Stanley was quoted in one meeting saying, “Now look, if something doesn't happen by Monday”—meaning June third, I think—he said, “we're going to go get arrested.” And the way he was quoted in the paper anyway was saying, “Let you radicals take over.” Was there that sense that things were really coming to a showdown one way or the other? That either there was going to be some compromise on the part of the city or there was going to be violence?

LB:

Well, I don't think that people were talking about violence. There was something that was going to be dramatic, that there had to be a showdown, that we had to force Schenck out and make him take a stand.

EP:

Was there certain pressure because the semester was coming to a close and there wouldn't be these thousands of students to call upon?

LB:

No, you see, because one of the things we were planning and one of the things, once you begin to read the Correlator—I mean not the Correlator, the Candlelight—we were recruiting families to house students over the summer. That was one of the things that Darwin Turner was actively involved in, getting people to house students to keep the demonstrations going.

EP:

Why was there the decision for Jesse to lead the students onto Greene Street and sit-down for the prayer? I assume that that was carefully planned rather than spontaneous.

LB:

Yeah, people had decided about that. Jesse just happened to be in the—and he, up to that point, had been the person doing all the praying and leading the prayers. There was one instance where he lead—and nominally, he was at the head of the group with the cross. On that particular day, he did not lead the march; there were two small young ladies—

EP:

I've seen that picture.

LB:

—leading the march. It could have been anybody who got arrested that night because I remember Captain Jackson coming up to me and saying to me, “You've got five minutes to get—move people out of the way.” The only person that you really—since Jesse was the most visible person at that point, the decision to arrest him was the one that the city made.

EP:

I was talking to Bill Thomas on the phone and he said that Captain Jackson came up to him the next morning and asked him if he knew where Jesse was, and he said no, and then CORE found out that they [the police] wanted him for arrest. So what they did was they printed up these brochures [saying], “They Have Arrested Your Great Leader,” and they planned for when Jackson did arrest him. They had a camera and so-forth there. How was that set up?

LB:

Once we found out what the people wanted, we staged a media event; [that's] what it turned out to be. There was a cameraman at Channel 2 that we had a very good rapport with. I don't remember his name now, but we could always call him and he would be on the spot. But what we did, here again, we needed something to hit and to get people out and to really put more pressure on the city. And so the plan was to have a little rally in the chapel at the church there, with people in there getting ready to see Jesse go off to jail, and stage it so that it would be on the news by twelve o'clock so that people would see it, and that people would be out for the march.

I called Jesse at Mr. Corbett's house and told him what was going down, and folk went and got him and brought him back to the Church of the Redeemer. The leaflets had been prepared by that time, and the TV people had been called. In fact, Jesse got up and made a statement to the folk who were sitting in the chapel. Captain Jackson and his people had arrived by that time and would not come into the church. The pictures that you see of Jesse coming out shaking Jackson's hand did not show friendship. That's what people suggest, but Captain Jackson was really shocked. I mean, he knew that he had been set up, when he-because, see, the first thing when he did that, see, a man was on top of him with a TV camera. Now, you don't see that in the picture, and you really see Jackson kind of pulling back, Captain Jackson and Jesse coming out. We had all kinds of people out in the street that night.

EP:

So it was a real shot in the arm? They made a really colossal blunder arresting him?

LB:

Oh, yes.

EP:

Did he really write “Letter from a Greensboro Jail?”

LB:

Yes.

EP:

Do you know what happened to it? Any copies around?

LB:

You won't find any copies of it. It was destroyed.

EP:

Was it released to the press or had things snow-balled by that point?

LB:

No, it wasn't released.

EP:

Was that something [that] was CORE's idea or his idea?

LB:

That was his thing. It had nothing to do with us.

EP:

To emulate King's [“Letter from a Birmingham Jail”]—

LB:

Yes.

EP:

Was the sit-down in the Square as carefully planned as the night before, or was that kind of spontaneous?

LB:

Kind of, I guess—well, there was some discussion about it. I think that it was inevitable that it was going to take place. We had been talking about it all long, and there was nothing else to do but to do it.

EP:

So this was really escalating it?

LB:

That was the climax. It had been building to the point that we had to do something very dramatic.

EP:

Was it as tense and potentially explosive as the paper indicates? Could something have [EP snaps fingers] set it off?

LB:

It was tense, but as to how explosive it was, I'm not sure, because the police had pretty well sealed off the area.

EP:

Was there a lot of discussion about this pro and con, as to whether this was a wise thing to do?

LB:

Yeah. In some of the earlier meetings in May, there was a real discussion—there was the Executive Committee along with [Floyd] McKissick. Something had to happen, something very dramatic had to happen to break the city. That's when I mentioned the earlier [events] we were talking about. One was flooding the stores downtown to take them over with people sitting in the stores. The thing of trying to get the students out to move at all one time, to walk out of the schools. Something very dramatic.

EP:

So it had been discussed beforehand? It wasn't like the morning of June sixth?

LB:

The sit-down at Greene Street probably was more spontaneous, because there was no real discussion about Greene Street. The discussion was always sitting down at the Square. The discussion was always centered around that, the pros and cons about that.

EP:

So actually there had been more discussion of the next night than the night that Jesse got arrested.

LB:

Yeah, the first night. Yeah, we were more concerned—yeah, I mean that was kind of spontaneous. But that one at the plaza, yeah, that was the one that was discussed.

EP:

Where were these people taken that were arrested? Were they, like you said, taken around the block and dropped off?

LB:

No, these people—people were jailed because some of these people were taken to High Point to jail.

EP:

But they weren't put back in the Polio[Hospital]?

[End of Tape 1, Side B—Begin Tape 2, Side A]

EP:

—arrested in the—

LB:

No, we talked earlier about my views on arrests. And one of the things was that we had decided early on, particularly when Tony Stanley and Bill Thomas decided to get arrested, that we were not—all of the leadership would not be locked up. Some people would be left out in order to run the operation. And essentially that is what I did. I stayed back and did the leg work.

EP:

Could I get a sense of the various tactics that were employed. For instance, Bill Thomas and Elizabeth Laizner and a number of others told me that first of all they were marshals who were in charge of making sure that people got across intersections as a group, that there was order in the lines, that would keep things cool, and that people were assigned to specific targets such that—or else they followed their group leader and if their leader went to S&W, they went to S&W and another leader went to Carolina [Theatre]. Did they go to the targets simultaneously?

LB:

Well, it wasn't all simultaneously because of the situation, how things were situated. So as you're moving along you would go—people would leave and then people would go to wherever they were designated to go. So you were going, basically, at the same time, but, I mean, you would probably arrive at the points at different times because of the where things were situated.

EP:

Was it predetermined how many people would get arrested at a particular site?

LB:

No. That was—

EP:

Just however many people felt—

LB:

That was basically left up to you, because you could always get—when you asked to get out of line, [you could] get out. And a number of people who sat down in the streets when asked to move, moved, rather than getting arrested. That was a conscious effort on—I mean, that was a conscious decision on the part of the person as to whether they wanted to go to jail or not. We did not say people had to go, we did not try to force people to become arrested; that was your decision.

EP:

Was CORE here pretty autonomous from the national office [CORE] in New York? I know James Farmer came down a few times.

LB:

No organization that has a charter can be autonomous, because you really have to adhere to the guidelines of the parent organization. And a lot of the mandates—a lot of the things, types, decisions that you make are made within the framework and guidelines of the organization.

EP:

After the demonstrations, things, at least in the paper, wound down kind of quickly. The mayor issued a statement, he had a couple of meetings with some of the leading businessmen, the Human Relations Commission was set up under [Western Electric executive] W. O. Conrad, in which I believe Dr. Simkins, Reverend Stanley, and Reverend Hairston took part. And then there was periodic statements that so many places were desegregating. Did things fall into line that quickly? Were significant steps taken that quickly?

LB:

One of the things that we began doing after the demonstrations was to go around to the facilities to make sure that the people were complying.

EP:

Did a number of places open up?

LB:

Yeah, most of them opened up, in fact, right away. The only person that did not do that [were] the people at the Mayfair. In fact, they went out of business.

EP:

Did—one thing that struck me as odd is that there were reports in the newspaper that Bill Thomas and Reverend Stanley were dissatisfied with the lack of progress of the Human Relations Commission. What Conrad went around doing was saying, “Well, what you've got to do, instead of demonstrating, you've got to get blacks into vocational education, you've got to prepare them to be clerks in stores.” And this, that, and the other. What comes to my mind is kind of a suspicion. Was this kind of a smokescreen for not really doing that much right away? Was it just a new wrinkle of the “well you've got to move slow and wait and in the fullness of time” kind of argument, or do you think that Conrad and his Commission were sincere in trying to move ahead in some of the—not only opening the public facilities but getting better jobs, blacks getting in managerial positions and that kind of thing?

LB:

Well, I think that position would be reflective of people who were on the—on the Commission, particularly Simkins and other folk, were interested in people having jobs as clerks and cashiers and that kind of thing. I mean, the whole employment spectrum became important. At this point—because, in fact, I had mentioned the NAACP had already been involved in picketing against Wachovia to get people hired as tellers and things.

EP:

I guess one of the reasons I mentioned this is that I guess one of the witnesses who came before the Commission was [jewelry store owner] Arnold Schiffman, and they said “well, why don't you have black salespeople in your store?” And he said, “well, they don't deal with money that well and they don't speak well enough for our patrons.” That sounded like the same old argument that had been used for about twenty or thirty years or more. But, you feel that Conrad was sincere in trying to overcome this?

LB:

I don't know how much Conrad was sincere or how much other folk, but I'm saying that position probably was reflective of—you know, was a position of the black membership.

EP:

Did CORE's influence decline after the demonstrations?

LB:

After the demonstrations, CORE's role changed. There was no real need at that point for mass demonstrations, and hence, we changed our focus. And that was we began to center our activities around community organization. And I mentioned the Gillespie Street area, where we began—we conducted a survey of the community about the needs that people felt needed some attention.

EP:

What was the result of that?

LB:

Well, there was a community organization that was set up and people began to push for having the streets paved, houses brought up to standard, streetlights put in. There was a meeting with people from the Redevelopment Commission about the community; there was a push to get a park put there.

And that—I mean, this is the point that—and that carried over not only in the summer but over into the fall and over into the spring of the following year, along with massive, again, massive voter registration—you see there was also voter education that we were involved in at that point—that summer, it was a summer project. And then in the spring of '64, there was another massive voter registration drive sponsored—well, under the sponsorship of the [American] Friends Service Committee, the NAACP, the YWCA; because students from all over the country came in to work on that drive. After that point, I can't talk about much else that happened, because I left to go into the service in '64.

EP:

You went into the service in '64?

LB:

Yes.

EP:

I was about to say that it seemed to me the leadership—within a year, the leadership that had carried through the demonstrations was gone. Bill Thomas was gone, you were gone, John Hatchett was gone, and [James] Bush was gone.

LB:

Right, Pat Bush was gone and I think Pat Patterson was gone.

EP:

Yeah, Pat Patterson was gone. What happened to CORE?

LB:

Bill's brother [Alvin] maintained remnants of the structure for a while.

EP:

But membership fell off?

LB:

Yes, I guess. I don't know because I really can't speak to that because what happened after the summer of '64, I'm not sure.

EP:

I do want to bring this interview to a conclusion, rapidly, but there were two things that Elizabeth Laizner said that intrigued me. And again, it may have just been her impression because Lois Lucas expressed great promise for her but said she tended to, well, melodramatize [sic] things. But she [Laizner] said that Pat Patterson and Ralph Lee were up for nomination for the presidency and that this was kind of a split in CORE that they didn't understand, that—well, supposedly, Ralph Lee said that if he had known Pat Patterson was going to be nominated, he never would have, you know, let his name be put in the nomination. She kind of felt that there was some ill-will or misunderstanding, or hurt feelings coming out of this. Did you know anything about this kind of rivalry?

LB:

Not really. I'm not sure. I don't know how much of that was really created by Dr. Laizner and her push to have Ralph as the president [after Bill Thomas]. I don't know. Did Ralph not become president?

EP:

This is what is hard for me to ascertain because the CORE records don't show it and—

LB:

Because I had, I really—

EP:

Do you know who became president after Bill?

LB:

[pause] Ralph may have, I'm not sure. I had really forgotten about Ralph until you just mentioned him. But he could very well have become the president because at this point I was gone.

EP:

And I understand that Alvin Thomas became president at some point?

LB:

Yeah, I think he did. I am almost certain that he did.

EP:

Did it more or less dissolve by, say, '65, kind of similar to the parent national organization?

LB:

Well, we ran it well—well, yeah, on paper we maintained an organization, because even when I got back out of service, I sort of maintained the organization on paper. There was no real effort as an organization to do anything because, here again, everything—demonstrations, at this point, were not the way that people were doing things. Negotiations and other tactics were being used.

EP:

Dr. Laizner was arrested in Chapel Hill, and out of that I assume came charges that she was a communist, and—

LB:

Charges by who?

EP:

She said that it was listed on her—

LB:

Arrest record?

EP:

Right. And I'm not sure, and I think on her passport, she claims. Is this not true?

LB:

I'm not sure. I don't know. I don't remember. I was with her when she got arrested.

EP:

You were over at Chapel Hill?

LB:

We were all over—most of the CORE chapter was over at [the University of North Carolina at] Chapel Hill for that demonstration. We went over on a number of occasions to participate in the demonstrations with the people at Chapel Hill.

EP:

[Durham civil rights attorney] Clarence Malone kind of indicated two interesting things. One, that CORE nationally was kind of playing down the demonstrations because they said, “Look, we've got the test cases we want before the Supreme Court, we know the Civil Rights bill is coming out some time this year or next year at the latest.” They said there weren't really that many blacks involved in the—at least, the leadership of CORE over there, that it was mostly white middle-class kids. Do you think that this is a fair assessment? This was kind of like the last dying gasp?

LB:

That was true of Chapel Hill, because basically the activists in and around Chapel Hill were white kids. So you saw a lot of white people involved. That was true of SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee]; there were a lot of white kids involved in that up until the move by Stokeley [Carmichael] toward black power, and at that point they purged all of the white people from the organization. Those who left that created another organization called COFFO, C-O-F-F-O, and I ran into them down in southwest Georgia because I had a cousin living in Americus and they were having demonstrations there. I went up for one of the demonstrations and there were a lot of [white] people who had been in SNCC and who had been purged who were down there. But you found a lot of white students involved in the movement in Chapel Hill because there wasn't really a large black population to draw from.

EP:

Mr. Malone indicated that the judge, Raymond Mallard, was—it was his [Malone's] feelings and he said other peoples' feelings that he [Mallard] was deliberately appointed by the powers that be in North Carolina to deliberately: one, humiliate people in court; two, hand out such stiff sentences that they'd be appealed and the appellant process would break the back of CORE financially. Did you feel this way?

LB:

This guy was—he was real bad as a judge. I mean this guy—I don't know about breaking the back of CORE, but his sentencing was unbelievable.

EP:

Were you in court when these people were sentenced and handed down these six months and two year—

LB:

No, because I think I was out of the area at that point. By the time the trials got around I wasn't in the state.

EP:

Had you been arrested at Chapel Hill?

LB:

No, I didn't get arrested in Chapel Hill, but we went up there for the demonstrations. There were a number of demonstrations—see that day, there were demonstrations all over the area, and I think that Dr. Laizner was arrested sitting on a highway. Our efforts were concentrated in the downtown area.

EP:

Have you read The Free Men [by John Ehle], which is a study of the Chapel Hill demonstrations?

LB:

No.

EP:

By way of conclusion, you had said that you were going to talk about the positive and the negative things of the demonstrations. Would you care to elaborate on that?

LB:

What I meant was that I didn't want to get into a lot what Dr. Laizner had assumed was going on in terms of politics of the organization, and whatever differences she thought may have occurred. What I was wanting to talk—would be willing to talk about was how effective the organization was in bringing about social change in Greensboro, and I think that's what we did.

EP:

How effective was it?

LB:

Well, I think that it was effective to the point that we were able to desegregate public facilities in Greensboro. In terms of bringing about changes in social attitudes, we did not succeed in that. Really no organization, up to this point in Greensboro, has been able to do that. Greensboro still tends to be a very racist city, still tends to be controlled by the mill interests. Really to me it is still a mill town, for all practical purposes.

EP:

Controlled by a few very powerful economic—

LB:

Economic individuals, yes. To that end, we were not successful. But in terms of our primary goals of desegregating public facilities, we did that. We were able to organize communities to do that—and I haven't seen that done in Greensboro since—and set up networks for communicating, distributing, and disseminating information.

EP:

So you think that it takes certain crisis points like the sit-ins, the demonstrations, what happened down in A&T in '68 and '69 to make the city aware, to bring about these kind of ad hoc committees?

LB:

I have been in Greensboro since 1957 and I have not seen one change take place that was not the result of some direct action. I can think of nothing that occurred in Greensboro.

EP:

Do you think city council, the [Greensboro] Chamber of Commerce or was it just a few individuals [that] did an effective job of facilitating the institution of massive busing in '71 here in Greensboro, because there seems to be a minimum of the anticipated violence?

LB:

I think that the chamber, through their leadership, decided there wasn't going to be any violence. Where violence occurs, I think that's a conscious decision on the part of the power structure that it should occur. It was not to the city's advantage to have violence occurring around busing in Greensboro because there had been too much negative publicity already around what happened in '69 and some of the other, larger demonstrations that had taken place. The person who made me aware of that was a guy from South Carolina, and I could never get his name, he was a poet—his name was James McBride, James Dabbs McBride or James McBride Dabbs—but he was speaking to a group of us at Greensboro College during the initial phase of the '62 demonstrations. Here again, Dick Ramsey had invited him to come up to speak to a group of kids, and he was talking about what happens in Little Rock and what happens in the other places is that the decision as to whether people will attack or be violent or not is based on how the power structure wants people to move, and they have certain key phrases that they use to incite people to make those moves.

EP:

So it's how you choose the language as to what happens?

LB:

Yeah, yes.

EP:

Do you consider the—what has been called the “November Third Incident” in 1979 to have been racist or not?

LB:

[pauses]

EP:

Of course, deciding—of course, blacks and communists have always been two of the targeted enemies of the Klan so maybe separating them is artificial. But, was it primarily a political thing against identified communists or do you think it was racial, in that it took place in a black neighborhood?

LB:

Well, it was both political and racial. It's difficult at times to separate because racism is a political tool. And [like] when we were talking about it earlier, the powers-that-be decided that they wanted to play one race against the other.

EP:

Well, like in '60, '61, and '62, there was a concerted effort by the civil rights organizations to disassociate themselves, particularly from the communist and other left-wing groups. As a matter of fact—

LB:

The Smiths. Who was it, the husband and wife team?

EP:

Jerome, [Progressive Labor activist] Alice Jerome? For example—But right now, correct me if I'm wrong, it seems that at least the most vocal activism is coming from such groups as the CWP [Communist Workers Party] or the RCP [Revolutionary Communist Party], not just left-wing groups, but avowedly identified as Communist. Does this do a real disservice for the continuing [civil rights] movement, because you know what that does to the general populous and the white power structure, it just turns them [snaps fingers] completely off.

LB:

What it does in some instances is it makes it easier for us to do work and make gains because [we can say]: “Who are you going to deal with? Are you going to deal with the Communists or the other folk?”

EP:

A-ha.

LB:

And so we have been able to meet and sit down and talk with people where before this, people had just sort of ignored us [saying] “We're not going to talk to anybody.” But now, you know, we're the lesser of two evils; you're going to have to talk with somebody, so you're going to talk with these other people here.

EP:

Would you essentially agree with the major points made in Bill Chafe's book, Civilities and Civil Rights?

LB:

Yeah, I think that we've been discussing the book. In fact, Nelson and I, Nelson Johnson and I talked about it the other night. As an informational piece of material, it's excellent; there's a lot of history in it and something that people should read. But on the other hand, Claude Barnes, from a political scientist's viewpoint, thinks it's lacking in a lot of instances. He's really critiqued the book. He thinks that it should be read and there's a lot of information in it, he just takes issue with some of the conclusions and things that Bill makes. But most of the people that I have talked to think that it is a book that merits reading, that it's really a good book simply because—for no other reason than the information that it provides.

EP:

It shows that the sit-ins [at Woolworth's] weren't spontaneous, that they were building on other things.

LB:

In some of my talks and even before I talked to Bill Chafe, I do a thing showing how people arrive at a given point—

EP:

Locally or nationally?

LB:

Basically, I show, using Greensboro, all the activities that led up—going back to '54—and showing all of the activities that occurred in Greensboro. But also—and show that, well, if you look at other areas sit-ins occurred, and they didn't last very long. What was it about the nature of the students of A&T that sustained this kind of movement? So you have to know the history of the students at A&T—

EP:

There is a history of activism?

LB:

Yes.

EP:

There's one—

LB:

And—okay, and also their background: the rural areas that they came from, the kinds of programs that they were in like 4-H, and New Homemakers of America, and New Farmers of America—organizations that taught people to be—well, taught them the political process, that they were part of a system. So you had—you talked about parliamentary procedures, you talked about the political process so a lot of these people, when they came to A&T, were politically oriented.

EP:

Also used to organizational structure.

LB:

Yeah, that was a big thing. At the time that I arrived at A&T, since public accommodations weren't opened up, everything, every state meeting that took place, took place on A&T's campus.

EP:

I wanted to ask you about what was your attitude on Dr. Dowdy's position of accepting the students back onto campus and issuing at least a surface call for dismissal if you continued to participate [in demonstrations]?

LB:

I don't think that he made that statement.

EP:

Was he kind of caught between a rock and a hard place?

LB:

The statement that you made, where did that come from?

EP:

The newspapers.

LB:

Well I don't think he said that. I talked to him that night. I was there when the students were coming in and I don't remember him making that statement. He considered resigning rather than being pressured into doing something like that.

EP:

Several people said that look, his job was to get money for the college, it was our job to conduct the demonstrations. And Reverend Stanley said that when he was kind of humiliated by that state legislator—

LB:

Yeah, Carr.

EP:

Right, Carr. He said that his response to that was most deliberately ambiguous answer, and he said deliberately so and he considered it a maskful statement by Dowdy. Treading this line of not cracking down on students but seeming to submit to the governor's—

LB:

Well there really wasn't no real need for Dowdy to do that because Dowdy was not, in fact, the president of the school. [Samuel] Proctor was the president of the school, Dowdy was only acting. So he really didn't have to—

EP:

He could have refused?

LB:

Yeah. I mean, you know, the thing that was making him buy into pressure was, I mean, you know, he wasn't the president, so he didn't have to do that. And he didn't as far as I'm concerned. I think people tried to force him to do that, but I think he was as surprised as anybody else about the move the governor made on that night.

EP:

Okay, I guess the reason I ask this is because the assistant attorney general is reported to having to come to Greensboro to more or less facilitate this, and I got the impression that they worked closely with Dowdy. But you're saying that's not really true, the governor just sort of went on his own.

LB:

Well, if you look at Chafe's book, it sort of indicates that the governor went on his own. I don't remember Chafe mentioning anything about the attorney general.

EP:

No, that's something I got out of the newspaper. So, just to sum it up, you left the area in '64 and returned when?

LB:

September '66.

EP:

And by that time, CORE was just pretty much a paper organization?

LB:

Yes.

EP:

And did it just sort of die away gradually?

LB:

Yeah, I suppose. There was no—when I got back, there weren't any meetings or anything going on. There was an office still available, over on Gorrell Street, which was a joint office between the NAACP and CORE.

[End of Interview]