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Oral history interview with Gordon R. Carey by Eugene Pfaff


Date: July 15, 1981

Interviewee: Gordon R. Carey

Biographical abstract: Gordon Carey (1932- ), was a national field director for CORE from 1958 to 1968.

Interviewer: Eugene E Pfaff

Description:

In this transcript of a July 15, 1981, oral history interview conducted by Eugene Pfaff with Gordon R. Carey, Carey primarily discusses the history, activities, and strategies of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) throughout the south in the 1960s, with particular emphasis on the Freedom Highways Project, North Carolina initiatives, nonviolent tactics, and specific CORE personnel.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: GreensboroVOICES Collection

Repository: The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Item#: 1.10.498

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 Gordon R. Carey by Eugene Pfaff

EUGENE PFAFF:

This is part of the Greensboro Public Library Oral History Program. This is being taped on July 15, 1981, and I'm speaking with Mr. Gordon R. Carey, former director of program and training department of the Congress of Racial Equality [CORE].

Mr. Carey, if I could begin by asking how you became associated with CORE—

GORDON CAREY:

Well, I practically grew up in CORE. My father was a Methodist pastor in Michigan back in the 1940s. And he was a pacifist, a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. And he helped form a [CORE] chapter in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1942 or 1943, which was way back at the very, very beginning. And so I, you know, grew up—he became chairman of a CORE chapter back in the forties in Michigan, so I really grew up in it and met James Farmer when I was about twelve years old, I guess, at a church camp.

So, it—my later interest in CORE really came from my interest in violence, generally, and in, and in pacifism and in trying to cope with the problem of how you apply nonviolence to international affairs, which was very difficult, except on an individual protest. So I became involved in nonviolent activity on the domestic scene, where you could, in fact, have some impact.

EP:

What sort of offices did you hold, and what sort of projects were you involved in prior to becoming the program and training director?

GC:

Well, okay, I—we moved from Michigan when I was quite young, out to the West Coast. And in the early 1950s, right around 1951 or so, I became—I joined a CORE chapter in Pasadena [California], later became chairman of that group. And I attended a national CORE conference in about 1954, I guess, at which time I was elected national vice chairman of CORE.

At that time, CORE was a very small organization. I believe there were only a handful of chapters around the country, maybe a dozen of them. And so I became national vice chairman, served in that capacity a couple of years.

And in about 1957 or so, CORE hired a field secretary, a new field secretary. [CORE] wanted to send him on an organizing trip to the West Coast, and because I was out there and was active and a national officer, they asked me to organize his trip, which I did.

And apparently, the national staff at that time, primarily James Robinson, were pleased enough with my organizing capacities or, you know, my organizing job there on the—throughout the West Coast. I was asked to organize at trip for Leroy Carter, who was the field secretary. And in 1958 or, yeah 1957, I guess, sometime, or early '58, out of the blue I got a phone call asking me if I'd like to join the staff of CORE. So I joined the staff in nineteen- the summer of 1958—as a field secretary. At that time, there were three other staffers plus one secretary in the office. And I worked as a field secretary for several years.

In about—I guess during 1960, during the sit-ins, or right thereafter, I was appointed field director in charge of the field staff. And then from that point became national, you know, program director in charge of program and training.

EP:

How did the Freedom Highways Project evolve?

GC:

It was a natural outgrowth of a combination of the sit-in thrust, which did take place at restaurants, and the freedom rides, which, you know, attacked segregation in bus terminal facilities. And somehow or other, some of us in the national office—and I don't really remember how it came about—but we, we conjured up the idea of, of attacking discrimination in restaurants which were not connected with interstate bus terminals. So, it just grew out of the whole public accommodations thrust with, you know, memories—the idea of the freedom ride being very fresh. You know, traveling—so therefore, we, we thought of desegregating the facilities along the US highways.

EP:

I know that the freedom rides were more or less pointing out discrepancy in these states not honoring ICC [Interstate Commerce Commission] rulings, but there was no such federal provision for the restaurants on the highway. Is that correct?

GC:

Well, that's correct. Except that in, in the—the whole sit-in movement started with, you know, Woolworth's and other dime stores. And there was no federal precedent there either. The, the standards—I guess the legal position at that time was that—well, when I say legal position—the position taken by most of the courts was that these were, this was—you know, restaurants were private property and they, in fact, could—while they might not have a legal right to discriminate, they could—they had a legal right to pick and choose their customers. And, and one was guilty of trespass if you went in and didn't abide by their wishes in leaving.

So the entire sit-in movement was an assault on that concept. And by 1963, at the time of the Freedom Highways, we won substantial legal victories, I think. And it was pretty clear at that point that any kind of public accommodation could not discriminate. So, there was no direct connection between the federal highways and these restaurants. It was just that—dramatically, you know, by referring to it as a Freedom Highways Project—it just so happens that the Howard Johnsons of this world are located on major highways. Howard Johnson was a major company. It seemed easy to assault. And North Carolina, because primarily of Floyd McKissick, was a fertile ground for—well, because of Floyd McKissick, at that time, and because of the history of the sit-ins, it seemed like a fertile place in which to work.

Incidentally, we originally had planned the Freedom Highway program for Florida, because that's where, where you had the preponderance of Howard Johnson type, Holiday Inn type of restaurants. And we had a very active CORE chapter down in Tallahassee and one in Miami. And we had previous experience in Florida with some summer workshops, training workshops and that sort of thing.

The mere idea, the mere talk about a project in Florida integrated most of the Howard Johnson restaurants and Holiday Inns throughout—you know, the major ones—in Florida prior to the time we began here in North Carolina.

EP:

So why—? Excuse me. You're about to light the wrong end [of a cigarette]. Why, then, was the shift to North Carolina?

GC:

Because the—because the, the—see, we began negotiations with the Howard Johnson chain in Boston and in New York. And we talked about roughly what we intended to do. We didn't go into details, but we indicated that we were going to mount a major program to desegregate their restaurants. And, of course, they took the position that their restaurants, they couldn't control them and many of them were franchises—and they were, some of them. But just that negotiating process succeeded in integrating for a period of time the restaurants in Florida. They began to crumble. They began to desegregate.

So that—and our local, one of our local chapters down there had begun some work. Miami CORE had begun some work with Howard Johnson restaurants. And they began to desegregate throughout Florida. So it seemed like North Carolina was the best place to go.

EP:

I know that one of the newspapers said that at the beginning of the Freedom Highway Project, at least the field secretaries expressed surprise when their—the second phase of the program—the first phase, rather, going around and testing—they were refused, because they thought the negotiations in New York had resulted in Howard Johnson agreeing to desegregate their chains everywhere. Was this true? Was this a misconception, or was this just for public consumption?

GC:

I don't believe Howard Johnson ever agreed. I was in those negotiations and I led a lot of them. I don't believe that they ever said they could desegregate them. I think they took the position that they were bound by local law, by lots of other factors. And that many of them were not owned by them, and they couldn't do it. I think what they said was that they, as a matter of national policy, would require or attempt to require, as far as feasible, that their restaurants should integrate. But I don't believe that, that they ever stated that, that in fact, you know, they could or would force them to integrate.

EP:

Speaking with some of the leaders of the sit-in movement in Greensboro, they said that they were—they had formed an organization called Student Executive Committee for Justice at A&T College [North Carolina A&T State University]. It said that they were approached by a number of outside organizations, including CORE, but at that time they politely declined because they wanted: one, to keep it student locally, student-oriented; and secondly, to try to downplay as much as possible the charge of outside agitators, or outside influence. Do you recall if CORE approached A&T in the first few weeks of the sit-ins and attempted to—

GC:

Sit-ins?

EP:

Yes, back in the spring of '60, and attempted to make it a CORE project, or did they send reps as kind of unofficial advisors?

GC:

Now you're talking about Greensboro in 1960. Well, I'm very well acquainted with what happened there, although I'm not terribly well acquainted with the incident that you mentioned.

At that time, there were two of us in New York in the headquarters of CORE who were field secretaries: myself and James T. McCain. We got a postcard from George Simkins. And on the postcard, he said that they were involved with some sit-in activity in Greensboro, that someone at the American Friends Service Committee [AFSC] had given him literature about CORE, and that he had read the literature. This was literature with particular[s] about a Baltimore—a brochure about a Baltimore assault on dime store lunch counters which took place back in the forties some time, late forties, or maybe fifties—I can't recall for sure. And what impressed me about that brochure was the fact that New York CORE, at that time—back in the forties and fifties, whenever it was—had, had picketed Woolworth's in New York to assist the Baltimore project. So what George was essentially asking us in this little postcard, and in a subsequent telephone conversation, was could we do the same kind of, of thing.

I was the one that talked with him on the phone after receiving the postcard. At that time, all we knew was from reading little tiny squibs in the New York Times about the fact that there would be sit-ins going on down there. We had no contact with anybody in Greensboro.

And I believe I must have gotten that postcard on about the seventh or eighth of February 1960, or the office got it and then it was referred to me. I called George Simkins and discussed it with him, as I mentioned. I told him, yes, I thought we could do something like that. And in addition, we could send someone down to talk with them and see if we could be of any help. He said he thought that'd be a good idea.

Now back in those days, we had very limited budgets, and we traveled by bus. I got on a bus and came to North Carolina. I think I arrived here on about the thirteenth of February or something like that. But the day before I left, or a day or so before I left—Greensboro—all the lunch counters in Greensboro had closed down. And so there was no activity in Greensboro.

EP:

You mean they'd already—they'd gone into a hiatus that lasted about three weeks, I think.

GC:

That's right. So, you know, the lunch counters, they just closed all service at them in order to solve the, you know, to solve the immediate problem. So, I never got to Greensboro. I stopped in Durham instead.

And on about the thirteenth or so of February in 1960, I arrived in Durham. I was picked up at the bus station by Floyd McKissick and went to his house. And he told us that kids in Durham were getting ready in the next day or so to start sit-ins there. So I never got to Greensboro til much later.

EP:

And this is just before this thing really took off and went to all different cities in North Carolina and the United States.

GC:

That's correct. That's correct. I think, I think the sit-ins at the lunch counters in Durham began almost two weeks to a date, I guess, from the original one on February one, in nineteen—you know, in Greensboro.

EP:

Was CORE surprised when this thing became so widespread?

GC:

Oh, absolutely, absolutely. Because, you know, we'd been—CORE had been having sit-ins in restaurants and in places of public accommodation since early 1940 and in 1958 and '59 had had major sit-ins in Florida. And, you know, we—CORE had a long history, long knowledge of this sort of thing, but it had never, you know, become a national movement; it had been, you know, city by city.

EP:

And when CORE sent representatives such as yourself to areas to—did you go down there to organize a CORE chapter or just to serve as an advisor with whatever organization was conducting the demonstration?

GC:

Okay. CORE's, CORE—you have to understand CORE was unique at that time amongst civil rights organizations, because in most organizations—like you take the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] structure, for example—the local chapters really serve to support the national organization. And the national organization mounts educational and legal programs, et cetera.

In CORE, the whole philosophy was quite different. The guts of CORE was always the chapters, and the national organization existed only to support chapters. So chapters set all policy. They initiated their own activities. And instead of the chapters of CORE being the support for the national, it was quite the opposite. The national organization existed solely to serve them.

Now this same philosophy then went over in to helping other organizations. Now, naturally, nobody who works for an organization is going to completely ignore his own organizational interests. Sure, you have an interest in promoting your organization because, at that time, you know, CORE was the only organization involved in nonviolent direct action. And we—it was a very interracial organization. It had a long history of nonviolent action. And we believed in what we were doing. So naturally we tried to, to promote nonviolence.

EP:

Would you say, though, that given the fact that the national office had about this twenty, twenty-five year experience—well, at this time, I guess, twenty-year experience—that the local chapters from sheer inexperience, if nothing else, tended to go along the guidelines of the national office?

GC:

Well, it wasn't quite guidelines of the national office. The way CORE was set up, it held a national convention each year. And the very name Congress of Racial Equality used to be the Congress of Committees of Racial Equality. Each local organization was called a committee of or on racial equality. Those organizations sent delegates to a, to a national convention. And those delegates ran the organization. They set policy. And from the early forties until Jim McCain and Jim Robinson and I and Marvin Rich and others became the staff, and, and, and 1960 sit-ins, you know, thrust us into, into national prominence, the national organization, the national staff of CORE, never had more than, say, two people.

Usually, the national organization of CORE through all those years was essentially a voluntarily organization. At times it had a full-time field secretary. One of them, whose name I've forgotten right now, was field secretary for maybe five or six years during that period. He worked on a voluntary basis. He was a full-time volunteer. And he got sustenance only, subsistence only. He didn't get paid. So, you know, that was the kind of organization CORE was.

So, the delegates at conventions would decide whatever national policy there was. There was no national policy set by the national organization, because the national organization didn't really exist except at times of conventions.

EP:

So what sort of things would you do once you got to an area such as Durham?

GC:

Well, this was unusual down here because, typically, before that time, what we would do, we would go around and—as a field secretary I would go around and, and consciously try to organize CORE chapters. That would come about usually because somebody in Norfolk [Virginia] would write us a letter and this would, would typically be a contributor to CORE.

See, we didn't raise money from our chapters. Our money came from a national mailing list of people. We didn't—our chapters did not send us money. We sent them money. So our money came from direct mail solicitation, not from chapters.

Well, what would happen would be that because something would be occurring in say, Norfolk, for example—what it—usually one of our national contributors would write a letter to us and say, “Look here, we got some problems. And, you know, maybe we could organize a chapter down here, or maybe you could come in and help us.”

We would then respond to that and go into the community and generally start out by writing a letter to all the contributors in that area, send them a little questionnaire, asking if they'd be interested in participating, you know, personally and actively in a CORE chapter. You'd get back some responses that would say yes. And we'd call a meeting of those people and we'd say, okay, you, you say you have some problems. Do you want to organize to do something about them? And of those that really were serious, we then would form a CORE chapter. Many CORE chapters had like, to begin with, five or six members. I mean these were not big organizations. The organization was very Gandhian.

The only national policy that CORE used to have until the 1960s was what was called a discipline, a national discipline. That was the—every word in that discipline was voted on by the delegates at these national conventions and was published in a little pamphlet, just a little eight and a half by eleven folded over. And on the front of it was, you know, a portrait of Gandhi.

And there were—among the disciplines were that, that before direct action could be initiated there had to be negotiations, for example. Negotiations, you know, had to take place. You had to notify people that you were going to take direct action. You know, very, very Gandhian.

Now, 1960 upset all of that because Greensboro kids didn't negotiate. And there were a lot of people in CORE who felt this was wrong. You know, we should not be responding to this because they didn't follow the Gandhian procedure. They didn't go in and announce what they were going to do in advance. They didn't go through, you know, all these various stages that our discipline required. Most of us, however, felt that we should abort that and proceed, you know, because this was a grassroots movement, and we should give them whatever help we could.

EP:

I gather that, from what the people who were in Greensboro CORE said, that it gradually evolved through a couple of CORE members who were on a swing through the South. They hadn't come specifically to Greensboro. But that they were in Greensboro, and they, in talking around or something, determined there was an interest, so they held a public awareness or public information meeting or whatever, at which members of the principally Bennett [College] faculty were elected. You don't happen to recall this?

GC:

I don't think I was involved in that. I don't recall that particularly, no.

EP:

Well, from the correspondence of the chapter, I gather that they did eventually, some time in early spring of '62, write the national office and ask for a field secretary to be sent. And I gather that that field secretary—perhaps not the first one—was B. Elton Cox from High Point. Does this sound plausible?

GC:

Yeah, I guess—yeah, it does. And I probably even sent—I think at that time I was probably field director and I probably, I probably sent Cox there, or asked him to go, you know.

EP:

I'm interested in Cox. You know this microfilm of the CORE archives, you know, it shows how they sent their application form in, or their bio-file sheet. And he seems to have risen rather rapidly through the structure—

GC:

Well, he—

EP:

—into a position of responsibility.

GC:

He was a very dynamic individual. And, you know, we were not very bureaucratic in those days. And, you know, [if] people wanted to work, were willing to work, you put them to work.

EP:

Did he, as a field secretary, and—well, field secretaries in general—were they more or less free to do or initiate whatever projects they thought would work in their area?

GC:

Well, yes and no. In theory, the field secretary was, was supposed to work through the chapters. In other words, he was not supposed to be an independent agent of either himself or of the national organization. His job was to, was to organize, support local organizations, local chapters, I think.

Now, in the case of B. Elton Cox, you—he was not very amenable to discipline. And Reverend Cox would pretty much, pretty much do what he wanted to. So he caused a lot of problems in, you know, for the national office, in the sense of, in the sense that he was off doing things that might not have been known about in advance or officially sanctioned. But, nevertheless, because of his popularity and his dynamism and so on, he was well-liked. But, he did not fit in to the typical mold of field secretary.

EP:

I gather that just prior to when the focus was on the Freedom Highways Project in North Carolina, CORE concentrated down in Louisiana. And at Plaquemines Parish and he was arrested when—

GC:

I'm—I'm sorry. It was not Plaquemines Parish. Plaquemines Parish is where the famous—well, it was the—the focus of CORE activities in Louisiana was in Iberville Parish in the town of Plaquemine, not Plaquemines Parish. And, yes, he was active down there. And then he was arrested there, correct.

EP:

When you were made a field secretary, are you kind of freewheeling and sent to wherever the trouble spots are, or do you have a region?

GC:

Well, we began to have regions. When I was hired as field secretary, there were only two of us, so we had the nation as our region. We didn't hire any additional field secretaries until 1960. And what we did then, we began to pick up people from the sit-in movement and—

EP:

Were they recruited or did they volunteer? Did they have to write and say I would like to be on—

GC:

Either way. I mean, you know, people they, they approached us and, and, and we approached people who, that we thought would be good. And we still have—you know, we didn't have an awful lot of money but I, I suppose between 1960 and '61 we must have hired, you know, we hired a lot of field secretaries. I don't really remember now. But we must have—by '62 we probably had a dozen field secretaries.

EP:

Why was Greensboro selected as the workshop prior to initiating the Freedom Highway Project?

GC:

Well, as I said, we were very Gandhian, and we were very—Gandhi was very much interested in symbols. And we became very much interested in symbols. And I think—and I could be wrong with this—but my recollection is that Greensboro was chosen simply on the grounds that it was the historical spawning ground for the national sit-in movement.

EP:

Several people suggested that perhaps part of it, too, was the fact that Bennett College—besides being openly sympathetic—was independent of the state, and therefore not subject to the pressure by the state legislature, such as A&T was. And that, I believe, this is where the meals were served and the people—at least, some of the people found rooms.

GC:

That may be, yeah. I think that might have been a factor.

EP:

If Greensboro was selected symbolically for the workshop, why then—of course, during the workshop they did picket and succeed in desegregating the Hot Shoppe in Greensboro—why then did it shift to actually initiating the program in Durham? Why didn't it begin in the same city where the workshop was?

GC:

Okay. Two reasons. I guess—see, the dominant CORE person in North Carolina in those days was Floyd McKissick. And now he was, he was active both in the NAACP and in CORE. And I think this gave NAACP some problems because, you know, NAACP youth groups became both youth—both NAACP chapters and CORE chapters simultaneously. And, and this didn't bother us. But I think the NAACP was a little more conservative or bureaucratic than we were. And—

EP:

Resented this intrusion?

GC:

Well, I don't know. But anyway, my point is that Floyd was both, was involved both in NAACP and CORE. He was the—I think at that time state NAACP youth advisor. And he was also the leading proponent of CORE activities in the state. So, he was the most active person we had around. And I think that it just—our activities tended to, you know, draw us toward where he was.

We eventually moved our operations to Durham primarily on the basis of economics. It was too expensive up in Greensboro.

EP:

What, to live, find lodgings and so forth?

GC:

Lodgings, food, et cetera, was too expensive and we didn't, we didn't have money in those days.

EP:

How successful—in assessing it—how successful was the Freedom Highways Project?

GC:

Well, I guess it was quite successful. You know, we made major strides in integrating, you know, public facilities here.

EP:

I recall—looking in the correspondence—you sent a letter of congratulations to Mr. McKissick when they did desegregate, before the end of '62—they—I mean a lot of these targeted businesses—and you expressed surprise that Howard Johnsons throughout the state—I think in September there was some notation that ten had desegregated and ten remained segregated.

And why was it, though, terminated in the early fall? Or I get the impression that it was. Most of the members of the task force were sent elsewhere and—

GC:

I think it was only originally planned to be a summer project, is my recollection of it. And the task force—what happened was that there was so much demand for CORE services in those days. And we didn't have enough money to hire field secretaries, so we instituted a program of having, you know, essentially volunteers. And that was the Freedom Task Force or whatever we called it. And those were mostly college students, young people who, who became, in effect, staff of CORE, like field secretaries, except that they were not paid. They were given, you know, expenses. And maybe they got a small stipend or something. I really can't remember now.

EP:

Do you think that maybe those were the major tactical errors of those businesses or chains that were diehards that—not realizing that the bulk of your workers were college students and that the thrust would have to be when colleges were not in session, principally the summers?

GC:

Well, the opposition—the businesses and communities that fought integration—were never terribly clever, it seems to me.

I mean, you know, generally, the civil rights movement—whether it was CORE or SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] or Southern Christian Leadership Conference[SCLC]—most of their successes were based on, on impressions and, and illusions of strength and this sort of thing. I mean, you know, we were not nearly as effective and powerful and, you know, as people gave us credit for.

But, but the idea of an assault, you know, frightened people to death. And, and they very often did the wrong thing because they either reacted—either overreacted by becoming very violent, which played into our hands, or they capitulated. So—but there was very little community-wide or industry-wide conscious, thoughtful planning on the part of the opposition. I mean there was none. We were organized. They were not.

EP:

I gather that there was a great deal of trouble with organization in North Carolina. At least, the correspondence back and forth seems to indicate that somewhere around, I think, October, you sent a rather extensive letter to, I think, Ike Andrews—Ike Reynolds—and he—you suggested about six steps for reorganization. Among them being you, you felt that you had selected too many cities to begin with, that you should have focused in one, two or three where there were really strong CORE chapters, that personnel were moved around too often and too arbitrarily. And, well, these were two of the points that stick out in my mind—that targets perhaps weren't selected carefully enough. Do you recall this difficulty?

GC:

Not really. I vaguely remember that. You know, now that you talk about it, I vaguely recall this. And, you know, essentially, we were all amateurs. I mean, you know, there was—[laughs] you know, organization—well, I think we had a lot of good organizers. We were not a—you know, we weren't General Motors. And we weren't—we didn't have a tremendous—

EP:

Well, you had taken on some pretty heavy opposition, these statewide, national chains.

GC:

Well, they're the easiest ones to deal with.

EP:

Because you can hurt them economically in a large area—or why?

GC:

Well, go back to 1960 for a minute. Lunch counters. As you recall, the sit-in was started at a Woolworth lunch counter. That, that, that was pure chance. That was because the four people there decided to go to Woolworth. They could have gone to Kress's or someplace else. The movement rapidly spread to, to all types of lunch counters, privately owned ones, chains, Grant's, you know, every, every chain was involved.

There was a conscious decision on CORE's part to, to isolate Woolworth. And one factor in that was that, one, Woolworth was the largest; two, in fact, they had the best record of integration. They were the most cooperative of any.

So, you know, if you're going to fight somebody, you might as well fight somebody against whom you have a chance to win. And that was, that was a pretty basic part of the CORE philosophy. You know, you pick targets where you can't lose very easily.

EP:

And the Howard Johnson, was that because you felt you had made some significant gains both in Florida and in the New York negotiations?

GC:

Well, yes. Howard Johnson's was a national company. It was located in Boston and New York. You could effectively hurt their image nationally, whereas, you, if you went to the—you know, there was a few restaurants in North Carolina called Harold Johnson restaurants. There were four of them, I think. And they were old Howard Johnson restaurants that broke away from the chain.

Well, how can you affect Harold Johnson restaurants? You might win a battle at four of them. You might integrate all of them. What have you accomplished?

You know, it's public relations to a large extent. You, you take on those people that you have a chance to beat. And ironically, the bigger they are and the more national they are, the better chance you have.

EP:

I gather that in order to make this more effective, there was a letter where the people you sent down to, to North Carolina—names come to mind such as Moon Eng, Claudia Edwards, Isaac Reynolds, several others. You had said, well, let's give these people a, a specific designation, and let's give them a subsistence allowance rather than it going through the expense accounts. I gather that's where the term “task force” evolved.

GC:

I think so. What happened was that—first of all, the idea of a subsistence allowance instead of an expense account, we didn't have the bookkeeping staff to handle expense accounts, and it was very messy. And we had, we had so many people in the field at that point that it wasn't easy to process things. So we just decided—we started giving people money. And said, okay, that, you know, X dollars a week, or a month or whatever it was, that's your expenses. You know, that's—we don't care what, what you do with it.

EP:

Speaking of this, I gather that a large part of your job was trying to straighten out these, these expense account messes. Letter or memo after memo going through the field secretaries was, “Now there's a discrepancy here of forty-two dollars,” or “So-and-so says that he spent only thirty of the forty-two, could you please account for the remaining twelve?” and so on.

GC:

Right. What would happen would be that, naturally, our accountants and bookkeepers would want everything, you know, beautifully maintained, and we did, too. But, in fact, what happened was that you sent a field secretary out—and Jerome Smith, you know, you send out to, to a project some place. And someone needs, you know, twenty dollars. And he handed them twenty dollars.

Well, ideally, since that's expense money and not income, he has to get an accounting for that twenty dollars from that person and then submit that up to us. Otherwise, in theory, we're supposed to charge under the IRS [Internal Revenue Service] rules, you know, that as, as income payment. If I give you money and you don't account for it, it's income. If you account for it through business expenses, it's not income.

So we were trying to, you know, control it. But it was uncontrollable, because field secretaries would be in situations in which, you know, they're paying off money for food for people, for bond for people, for all this sort of thing. And there wasn't time to keep records.

EP:

Did you ever, indeed, get in trouble with the IRS or did the government try to crack down on you in this—

GC:

Never, never.

EP:

I've been throwing out these names right and left, and you submitted one, Jerome Smith, yourself. I gather that he was an effective one. I gather that Moon Eng was well thought of. Who were the people connected with the Freedom Highways Project, and maybe others in the South, that were particularly effective field secretaries and organizers?

GC:

Rudy Lombard.

EP:

I've come across that name.

GC:

Ike Reynolds, Jerome Smith, Tom Gaither. The one you mentioned earlier was on the freedom ride, Hank Thomas. Geraldine—what's her name—and another freedom rider—. There were a lot of them. I don't know, you know—

EP:

I suppose what sticks in my mind is it all seemed to go amazingly well, given this loose structure you've described.

But there was one point. There was one rather strong letter that you wrote Ike Reynolds. I remember it because it was so strong. He was going to organize a series of meetings on the A&T campus, either under the guise—either consciously or unconsciously—giving the people the impression that he said FSC, which you replied, “I assume that means AFSC.” The other one was the Southern [Conference] Educational Fund.

And you really came down on both feet verbally, saying, “stay away from these people. CORE knows all about them. We want nothing to do with them.” I think you said they were the Braden people. Could you explain this?

GC:

Well, CORE, rightfully or wrongfully, took the position that we had, we had to go to great lengths to protect our image.

Back in the old days of CORE, in the forties and fifties, for example, it was required that when you went on picket lines, you couldn't have a beard. We, we would not let people with beards on picket lines in those days. I have a beard now. You had to—men had to go in coats and ties, white shirts or dress shirts. Our picket lines were, were exemplary.

Now, likewise, we felt that we wanted to keep as far away from politics as possible. Therefore, we would not permit, as CORE members and activists in CORE, persons who were associated with, let's say, the Stalinist movement or, you know, communism, and so on.

Now, part of this came from the fact that many of the early leaders of CORE were really socialists, you know, democratic socialists. And socialists, traditionally, have had no use for, you know, Stalinists or Trotskyists or other more radical types of socialists called communists. And the Southern [Conference] Education Fund had a, in our estimation, had a long history of being too closely aligned with certain Stalinist organizations and individuals. So, CORE, as a policy, did not cooperate with them.

EP:

What did you mean by that they were an organization of the Bradens?

GC:

Well, Carl Braden and his wife [Anne] were the, were the primary—they, they were the leaders of the Southern [Conference] Educational Fund at that time.

EP:

You mentioned he also wanted to make contact with a Reverend Fulgham, F-u-l-g-h-a-m.

GC:

Yeah.

EP:

And you were very, also—very adamant for him not to pursue this, particularly out of an experience growing in Hickory. Could you describe this?

GC:

Well, no, I don't care to go into it. I knew Reverend Fulgham. And—and I simply felt that it was—we would be better off in that particular instance not to, you know, be working with him. That's all.

EP:

I don't want to get into personalities. But in, in—

[End of tape 1, side A]

EP:

It seems to have been with Dr. Hawkins, down in Charlotte—apparently, CORE found it very difficult to work with him. Was he affiliated with CORE, or was he NAACP?

GC:

Reginald [A.] Hawkins, you're speaking of?

EP:

Right.

GC:

He was—he was with the NAACP. I don't remember any particular problems with him.

EP:

Well, what I'm getting so much is not from what you said about him as so much as correspondence of a couple of the field secretaries.

In one instance, a field secretary in Charlotte authorized a number of about five thousand pamphlets to be printed. And they were stopped after about five hundred or a thousand. And the expense was to be shared by CORE and NAACP. And Hawkins apparently refused to come across with the money. I think eventually they did pay.

And I think more or less the choice of language—the field secretary tried to be very diplomatic. But they would say, this person, Hawkins, and obviously the implication is that he was being very difficult and uncooperative.

GC:

I'm not acquainted with that, or at least I don't recall it. And you know, it may be that, that when the arrangements were made, they weren't specific enough so that everybody knew what everybody's role was. And—or maybe they didn't know what the cost was. I have no idea what, what the circumstances would have been. But we worked with Dr. Hawkins, and, you know, he continues to be a friend. I don't know the basis for that.

EP:

Oh, well, I'm going on a letter to you from John Schaeffer in which he says they will either come to some sort of working agreement with the man which he will honor, or get enough people and a bankroll to buck him.

GC:

I would probably think that Schaeffer was being a little bit arrogant.[laughter]

EP:

Why was Statesville made such a major thing with CORE? I know that in these revamping suggestions, you said that maybe we put too much effort in certain cities, Statesville being one, Hickory being another, without following through to completion. And separate brochures were apparently printed up about this Statesville movement.

GC:

I wrote that one, I think. Yeah.

EP:

Why was Statesville such a centerpiece?

GC:

It was a coincidence, I believe, because they happened to arrest some people there. And the people they arrested happened to be the wrong people. And I guess they went on a hunger strike or something in the jail. And, I think it just was circumstances.

EP:

The wrong people?

GC:

Well, the wrong people in the sense that, that from their standpoint, they arrested the wrong people. They happened to arrest some people there who, who were going to cause them difficulty, who were going to sit in jail and cause them difficulty.

EP:

I gather Statesville was a successful project, or was it?

GC:

Well, I think so. I don't really—and, frankly, I can't remember now the details in Statesville. I can't even remember exactly, you know, what the campaign was there. But I know it became a cause celébrè at some point because of the resistance of the local officials and jailing people and that sort of thing. And then there was quite a bit of community support there. But, in all honesty, I really can't talk, you know, at this point, to it. I'd have to repress myself about it.

EP:

I gather that one of the successful test cases that was argued, I believe, all the way up to the Supreme Court was State verses Avent [Avent v. North Carolina (1962) regarded a local ordinance requiring segregation at public eating establishments]. Do you recall that? I think it grew out of the Durham—

GC:

Yeah. I think McKissick was the attorney there or one of the attorneys in that. Yeah. I know something about it.

EP:

Was this a—well, since it was successful, can you give me the particulars of it, or should I get that from Mr. McKissick?

GC:

I think you can get it from him better.

EP:

Did some of the people sent in to areas simply not work out? I get an impression from the correspondence that in some cases people had to be sent home.

GC:

Oh, yeah, sure.

EP:

Were these personality differences, or was it because they really didn't follow the guidelines of CORE, couldn't be depended on to be nonviolent, that sort of thing?

GC:

I don't think there was any of that. I don't think we ever had any instances of our staff or volunteers becoming violent. But I think it's just a matter of some people are not very good organizers; some people can't get along with other people very well.

Like anything else, in any company or any organization, you hire people; a certain number of them are not going to work out. I don't think there was anything in particular about it. I would guess that in fact we had a very low rate of persons, either on staff or in key volunteer positions, who did not pan out.

EP:

Now I gather that—did field secretaries stay on staff for a long period of time? It seems to me there's quite a turnover of them. You see their application forms and you see correspondence for them for six months, a year, two years, and then you see their resignation letters.

GC:

Well, many of them were college students in those days. So, you know, they got into the movement and then at some point, you know, they began to realize, and they were encouraged by a lot of their friends and associates in CORE and elsewhere to, you know, you got to get back to college. You got to do something, you know. This is not a lifetime proposition.

And also, I think that back in those days, everything was very dynamic. I mean, you were in the midst of a mini-revolution. And, you know, people were in and out of it.

People, you know—you—nobody could—it was just a very dynamic situation, very changing, so—

EP:

So, as I gather, the national office or a few full-time people, such as yourself, Jim McCain, Mr. Farmer—but most of these, even higher level staff people, were just—well, I say temporary because they eventually did return to school or volunteer—predominantly young, early to mid-twenties. Is that correct?

GC:

Yeah. There was quite a bit of stability in the national office. But you know, I think, take myself as an example. You know, I—it began to add years on to you. And you don't relate to college students and to the kinds of activities as—you know, like you used to. And I think I was with CORE for about six or seven years, something like that. That's long enough. You got to make, got to make room for new people to come in.

EP:

Let me give you a little scenario in my mind that evolved out of Greensboro and ask you if this is a—what you would consider an accurate assessment or not.

Greensboro seems to me a kind of a testing ground for direct action—nonviolent direct action. And, of course, the city administration wanted to respond nonviolently, too, because they had this moderate image to live up to. Also, the—Birmingham [demonstrations] had just taken place in April [1963], and things really got big in Greensboro in May. And they wanted to avoid that image of hoses and dogs and so forth.

So it was kind of point-counterpoint, kind of ploy-counterploy in their maneuverings. And that Greensboro was successful in putting this pressure on the city because the city did—was in the midst of trying to attract industry. They wanted to get this thing over with. Apparently, they were—CORE was successful in hurting the downtown area economically to the point of putting pressure on them.

But that they're lucky they did it right then, because within a few weeks—or a few months, actually—municipalities and states came up with some pretty strict picketing and crowd control ordinances that would have made this kind of thing impossible. And that things shifted to—well, people knew the civil rights bill was going to come out of committee and probably pass in '64, or certainly '65. And things shifted into negotiations and a shift to kind of long-term economic goals, so that, really, the dynamics of direct action were very short period of time.

GC:

Well, but I don't attribute that in any sense to the fact that, that crowd control ordinances and this sort of thing were passed. I don't think that, that it was a factor. I think the, the primary factors were the passage of the civil rights bills [Civil Rights Act of 1964], the March on Washington kind of thing, where, in effect, you had a big celebration—we've won. The battle's over.

Also, by licking the public accommodations battles, which we did substantially—I mean, within a very short period of time all public accommodations, you know, 98 percent of them nationally, were open. Well, public accommodations are very easy things to tackle. Your problems with employment, voter registration—these are not nearly as easy.

EP:

Did CORE shift to these kind of harder areas?

GC:

It tried to. I would guess that the fact that CORE is no longer a viable organization would indicate that it did not do so successfully.

EP:

I'm going to come back to this, if I may. But since you brought up this point: Roy Innis [director of CORE since 1968] continually in all kind of legal problems, and a recent broadcast in which they analyzed the charges that were brought against him personally, and CORE as an organization, on 60 Minutes—what has CORE evolved into?

GC:

Well, it's basically a New York organization. It doesn't have a chapter structure to amount to anything. And it has—it bears no relationship, it seems to me, to what, what it started out to be.

I mean it's, it's no longer interracial. It's no longer nonviolent. It no longer is grassroots-oriented. It's a different organization with the same name.

EP:

Now, you say you got out of it because you figured it's time to move on to something else—to use your words, you put a few years on. Did you get out purely for these personal reasons, or was it the fact that there was kind of a—even in CORE, this kind of a black nationalist impulse coming up through it, the kind of split that drove James Farmer out of it? Or it didn't drive him out; he left.

GC:

I wouldn't say it drove him out of it. No. And I don't think it was—I don't think there was a racial thing or a black nationalist thing—factor.

EP:

But did not CORE, indeed, become more militant, though, in the, say, '66, '67, '68 period?

GC:

Well, I don't know what you mean by militant.

EP:

Kind of downplaying nonviolent direct action—more aggressive tactics.

GC:

Well, sure there was a—sure, there was a—sure. It moved away from nonviolence, yes. I don't equate that with being militant but—because, to me, nothing could be more militant than the early, early days of CORE when people, strictly using nonviolence, were, you know, up there on the front line and in much greater danger oftentimes than folks in latter days.

But, no, the organization changed. And the change came about as a result of the sit-ins and the freedom rides, all this sort of thing. It became a different kind of organization.

The young people came in, and they took it over—and that's good. Because if the people who had been running it back in the forties and fifties had still run it in the sixties, then CORE would not have been a force in the whole civil rights movement.

EP:

Now, I know, of course, it had been in effect since 1942, but do you not think that CORE, by its very nature of its activities, was kind of a short-term dynamic organization?

GC:

No, it didn't—not necessarily.

EP:

Well, I know I'm looking at it from the wrong end of the telescope. What I've done is interviewed people from the Greensboro CORE. And what they did is they said they chose CORE over NAACP because it was direct action rather than going through the courts.

GC:

Right.

EP:

It seemed to be student and youth-oriented. But these people didn't stay with it because they were going about—they said, well, it's time for me to develop my own career, my own future. They became lawyers. They became doctors or they went with some other kind of more bureaucratically structured organization—to helping poor people in terms of rent controversies, that kind of thing. This is what I mean—

GC:

Well—

EP:

—that it was depending upon a temporary platform.

GC:

If you're asking whether—if you're asking whether it's too bad that CORE no longer exists in the way it did then, back in the early days, I would say no.

I mean, yeah, sure it's temporary in the sense that— organizations, it seems to me, you know, have a life and death like people do. And sometimes if they, if they—especially if you're talking about cause-oriented organizations—you know, they ought to grow, and then they ought to die. Because otherwise they tend to become very bureaucratic and, and very top heavy and, you know. Some of the labor unions might be better off if they died.

So, I don't regret the passing of CORE in that sense, no. So, I guess maybe it was, you know, transitory. Maybe it only existed for a season.

EP:

I saw a notation that, in a correspondence, you said that it's very important to succeed in North Carolina because a lot of people in the National Action Committee were very skeptical about using volunteers in the South. Can you elaborate on this skepticism and, and what they would have preferred instead?

GC:

Well, I can't recall exactly. But I know there was, there was quite a bit of resistance within the hierarchy of the national CORE to working in the South at all, really.

I mean, CORE traditionally utilized a disciplined form of nonviolent direct action, and whether or not the South was ready for and amenable to the kinds of activities that, you know, CORE had been used to, was an open question. And I think—

EP:

In other words, there would have been just too much violence.

GC:

Yeah. I think, think there was a certain amount of fear of that they were going to have people hurt, you know. It's, you know, too many people who—because there was not the same kind of discipline and so on.

You know, in the old days CORE was made up of hardcore pacifists almost. People who, as a matter of principle, would, you know, die before they'd commit violence. And that wasn't what the movement of the sixties was all about.

EP:

Of course, there was a good deal of obvious violence in the freedom rides, and individual instances on picket lines. Not like the burning the bus and when they drag them off. But do you think that the CORE experience proved the lie to this worry—that they did indeed behave with discipline and nonviolence?

GC:

Oh, yeah. We had a fantastic—fantastic discipline. Because I think that some of the old CORE leaders, the pacifist type leaders, you know, misread history, because if you look at the Gandhian movement—and they were supposed to be scholars of Gandhi and followers of Gandhi—Gandhi didn't require the troops to believe in nonviolence except as a tactic. Now, he may have been dedicated to a nonviolent philosophy of life, but he did not require that of his followers.

In fact, he was very conscious of the fact that you couldn't get enough followers if you did it that way. So he used common, ordinary people.

And what you did was you, was you—they could believe in violence. It didn't make any difference. But you got them to accept as a limited goal, the—and as a tactic—you got them to accept nonviolence as a tactic toward achieving a limited goal, that's what I'm trying to say. And we did the same thing.

EP:

Obviously, I have focused on Greensboro CORE. And it's become a big thing with me, because I've narrowed my focus to that. But in the overall scheme of things, how important was North Carolina and Greensboro CORE to the national office?

GC:

Well, I can't speak about Greensboro CORE to any great extent, because my involvement with the CORE chapter there was quite a bit removed from, you know—I didn't work with the Greensboro chapter personally to any great extent. However, I would say that North Carolina, as a whole, including Greensboro, was very important.

For a period from 1960 until I left CORE in nineteen—end of 1965, the—those states where CORE was most active in the South were North Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida. And those three states provided the bulk of the volunteers, the bulk of the activities, the bulk of the energy, wisdom, genius that came out of the kids.

EP:

Was it just fortuitous that these people who happened to be sent were good organizers? Was it designed that the best organizers would go there? How selective and strenuous were the screening of these people before they were made field secretaries?

GC:

No, I don't think it was because of the quality of field secretaries. I think it was partially because North Carolina, in particular, had a long history of good government and people trying to be, you know—it prided itself in not being backwards like Mississippi or some other states. And so I think that you had generally a government that wanted to look upon itself as being somewhat progressive.

I think you had—the fact that you had a lot of universities and colleges in North Carolina was important. The fact that you had more black colleges in North Carolina than anyplace else—

EP:

You could draw a lot of manpower.

GC:

Draw a lot of manpower, a lot of them were independent, they're church-related. That was important. The fact that, you know, you had major businesses here, big banks, big companies that have a—you know, nationally big. I mean big on a national scale.

EP:

Why was that important?

GC:

Well, these things tend to make a state more cognizant of its image. And the, you know, the, you know, Wachovia and NCNB [North Carolina National Bank], they are a couple of some of the—they're in the top twenty banks in the country or so. And they—biggest banks in the Southeast.

Now they didn't have any direct role. I'm not suggesting that. And we didn't even talk to them in those days. But I'm saying that when you have a business community and which is—wants to be responsible, and you had governors and people in office, by and large, who wanted to be responsible—you had some good newspapers here. Charlotte Observer was one.

EP:

Did you—

GC:

And, you had a lot of good local leaders who were adults, people like George Simkins, Floyd McKissick.

EP:

How about [state NAACP leader] Kelly Alexander? Did you work well with him or not?

GC:

Well, yeah, I worked well with him. But he, he belonged to—you know, he didn't—he wasn't actively involved in the kind of things we were involved with. Yes. It was a very good relationship with Kelly Alexander.

EP:

Well, I wondered, because, you know, it's difficult to work with two different organizations to coordinate activities in many cases. And there was one letter that you wrote—again, I'm not trying to pick out the bad things—but this is a quote that—a letter to you—to McKissick from you, [dated] October 1962, in which you said: “I was disturbed by the friction which appeared to be created by certain members of a national staff of another organization.” You said, “Sometimes we have been too prone to work for the movement and not concerned enough with our own structure.”

GC:

Okay. Well, this had nothing to do with Kelly Alexander. This had to do with some national NAACP staff people who were down there. And it wasn't connected with Kelly.

EP:

Did this come about through conflict with major points of strategy, or were they just small, the smaller inevitable points of friction that come out of things like this?

GC:

Well, the NAACP for many years was almost opposed to direct action. Officially, that's their position. Thurgood Marshall, now a great Supreme Court Justice, made some remarkably strong statements about, you know, these kids who were sit-in folk at one time. Now, later he changed, I think.

But, you know, there was—the NAACP was pretty much against nonviolent direct action. They felt that the proper course of, you know, proper way to induce social change in this arena was through the courts. That was their mode of action.

I like to think that we were a little more generous in our thinking than they were, because we recognized, I think, that there was—that it was good that you had moderate organizations like the Urban League. And that you had legally-oriented organizations like NAACP. We felt that there should be a plurality of different types of civil rights organizations. And these should be people who were—you have to have a fringe. You have to have a cutting edge. And you have to have, you know, the Urban League standing back there as a moderator. And I think that we saw a role for all of these organizations. But some of them—not the Urban League—the Urban League—Whitney Young, I think, understood the role of all these organizations, and he supported the kids, the students more than the NAACP. The NAACP, I think, was a little bit stodgy and was a little bit too involved in protecting its own bureaucracy.

EP:

Well, most of these—well, they're not kids now. They're in their late thirties and late forties. But when they were kids, were kind of politely trying to say that, well, after all, we had gone out through the NAACP Youth Chapter and everything. But really these are kind of old fuddy-duddies. And if we just listen to them, nothing's going to get done and changed.

GC:

And that's—and that's true and that's the way they should have thought. But at the same time, I know we tried.

Floyd McKissick was—used to make the point very clearly to kids. He said, “Look, we wouldn't be here if it weren't for the NAACP.” You know, they, historically, they have been probably the most organization—the most important organization in the, in the evolvement of the black community—outside the churches, you know. So, you know, that's got to be recognized. But that does not do away with the fact that they also got very stodgy sometimes and fought progress, at least as we saw it.

EP:

I notice that right away, very early in the interview you picked right up on George Simkins. Obviously, he was an exception to this, even though he was president of, or chairman of one of the NAACP chapters. By this, do you think he was more dynamic, more in tune with the wishes of the kids?

GC:

Oh, he was very much in tune with the wishes of the kids. I mean, after all, he was the one that was responsible for bringing CORE into North Carolina.

EP:

There were examples of where, apparently, CORE just had to refuse to participate in some things, either for finances or otherwise.

For instance, there is a letter to you from McKissick in which Reverend Cox wanted to initiate a suit against theatres in High Point. The point of contention here being that the city had leased the building to a private organization, therefore making it in some way involved, perhaps indirectly.

And he had tried, you know—at first pointed out to them, well, we have a very similar suit which may indeed have been State v. Avent. And they said, well, we need to go ahead and do it now because it'll look like—we have to stop picketing because picketing's not working. If we don't pick up with a suit, it's going to look like a failure. We want CORE to look dynamic in our community in High Point and not just foot dragging, say, behind the NAACP.

And, of course, you responded that McKissick would have to tell them that this would have to be locally funded and that the attorneys' fees, et cetera, could not come through the bookkeeping department of national CORE.

GC:

Pretty much as a matter of policy, national CORE did not get involved in lawsuits. We felt that the NAACP Legal Defense Fund was much better qualified to do that sort of thing. They knew what they were doing. They had funds and attorneys and a rich history of litigation. We had none. And we used lawyers only for defensive purposes. Now, I'm not saying there might not have been a case or two that we didn't initiate, but I can't recall any.

EP:

So, mainly the—CORE was—it restricted its legal activities to bailing out people once they were in jail?

GC:

Well, and defending them. I mean, not just bailing them out but defending them if—you know, even in their defense, if we could get the NAACP or ACLU to do it, we would prefer that they had counsel outside of ours because we didn't—we only had one full-time lawyer on our staff. And most of the time, we didn't have one full-time lawyer. We had—in fact, I'm not sure we ever had a full-time lawyer on our staff. Because the guy I was thinking about was not on our staff.

EP:

With the Greensboro demonstrations in the spring of 1963, I talked with Clarence Malone, known locally as Buddy Malone, who more or less took over the Greensboro situation from Floyd McKissick when Durham also blew up. And he also defended, in 1964, the kids in Chapel Hill. And he had some very interesting things to say about it.

He said that CORE really didn't want to get involved in that one. They said, look, we've got enough cases pending before the Supreme Court that something's going to come out of this. We know the civil rights bill is right on the verge of being passed.

He also said something very interesting. He said not that many blacks were involved in the Chapel Hill thing, at least at that time—that a lot of these were white middle-class kids. And whereas municipalities said they understood the wishes and, and anger of the blacks, young blacks, that they came down with an extremely heavy foot on these white middle-class kids. And, he said, so CORE reluctantly got into that.

You know, they felt they couldn't leave them, you know, in jail and abandon them. And that what came out of it was that Raymond Mallard—it is Buddy Malone's contention that [Judge] Raymond Mallard was sent by the powers that be in the state to put an end to this once and for all by dealing out extremely harsh sentences, not only as punitive measures, but calculated to produce appeals. And through appeals, they wanted to financially break the back of CORE. And he said they came damn close to doing it if it hadn't been for [Governor Terry] Sanford's executive clemency.

GC:

I just can't comment on that. I think Buddy is generally correct about the posture of CORE. But, I'm just not well acquainted with that litigation and so on to—

EP:

Well, was this, in general—do you think it would have been—if this was indeed the tactic used by the, I guess, staunchly segregationist powers, would this have been effective? Handing out these harsh sentences, a certain number of them would have to have been appealed, [and] the appeal structure would have just broken the back of CORE financially?

GC:

Well, I doubt it, because they tried that when they were in Mississippi in the freedom rides. I mean, that was a major push there, and it backfired. Yeah. The litigation became very, very costly. And it did hurt desperately. But I think that, you know, the harsher the treatment by the state or by the courts, the more of a reaction to it there is and, you know, for every—it just, you know, the laws of physics apply. And, and so I suspect it wouldn't have worked because it would have been, you know—

EP:

Eventually—

GC:

Things get too harsh—that increases your fundraising capabilities.

EP:

Because people are saying, “Look, why come down on these essentially well-behaved, well-mannered kids with both feet”?

GC:

Sure, especially since CORE's fundraising was to a national audience. Our contributors were probably 90 percent white, white middle-class liberals all around the country. You know, they were the ones contributing. You sent out an appeal to them. And these poor kids in Chapel Hill are, you know, languishing in jail. And, you know, and they send dollars in.

So I really don't think that it—you know, that it could have affected or bankrupted anybody. You know, it did hurt. And that attempt was made in Mississippi, and I think it backfired completely.

EP:

Suppose the civil rights bill hadn't passed in 1964. Was CORE prepared to go on indefinitely with these direct action tactics?

GC:

Oh, yeah. I think it would have continued, probably grown. I think that, analogously, today a lot of women activists may find that when the ERA [Equal Rights Amendment] is passed—if it ever is passed—that it's going to hurt the cause of the women's movement, because they're all going to celebrate the victory and the number of people then actively fighting for women's rights is going to diminish considerably.

EP:

So that would, in effect, end the dynamic nature of it.

GC:

Sure.

EP:

There's one point which you urged McKissick to—and the national conference in Dayton, Ohio, in June of '63. You seemed to particularly ask for some of the N.C. delegation. Was that a particular request because—

GC:

Ask what? Say that again.

EP:

You were urging him to bring some of the North Carolina delegation. Was that—was North Carolina considered kind of a showpiece of success for CORE or not particularly so?

GC:

Oh, yeah, sure. See, there's those three states, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida. Those were the, those were the only states in which CORE had a major ongoing, you know, presence through its chapter structure.

EP:

And you mentioned Florida and the reason for that. You mentioned North Carolina because of this progressive image that it sought and other reasons. And, of course, because it was in the upper South, I assume, had something to do with it. Why Mississippi?

GC:

Not Mississippi, Louisiana.

EP:

I mean Louisiana. I beg your pardon.

GC:

Well, I think that was just a happenstance of personalities. I think Jerome Smith and—I can't think of the names of all of them now—but you know, it just so happened that we had some incredible human beings come out of the New Orleans and Baton Rouge CORE chapters down there. And they were, they were geniuses.

EP:

Did the—did CORE try things in other states that just didn't work, or did they deliberately not choose certain states?

GC:

No. We had a lot of activity in South Carolina, but it was primarily in voter registration. We worked a lot in Mississippi, but it was jointly with SNCC. And SNCC was in the lead there.

Our field secretaries always spent a lot of time in Mississippi. We had a Jackson CORE. But I think SNCC was the dominant organization there, and we worked with them. We did not do too much in Alabama. We had chapters in Tennessee. Southern Christian Leadership Conference and SNCC, though, were dominant there.

EP:

Why Alabama? I would think that would be a real target. Was that because SCLC and SNCC and other places had a—

GC:

I think so. I think so. You know, you just don't go in and invade somebody else's—Martin Luther King and Fred Shuttlesworth and, you know, they were very actively dominant there. They didn't need CORE, in fact.

EP:

Plus, I assume you didn't want to duplicate effort.

GC:

Right.

EP:

I'd like to terminate this interview by asking you about your opinion of certain books that have been written about the movement recently. I mean—there have been hundreds written, but I mean recently. You've mentioned you've not read Elliott Rudwick's and August Meier's CORE: A Study in the Civil Rights Movement.

GC:

Well, no, I did read parts of that. I don't have the whole book. But I've read parts of it, yes.

EP:

Were you in essential agreement with their analysis of CORE, which, I think, went up to '65?

GC:

I can't comment on that. I don't recall their analysis of CORE to that extent. I couldn't say. I'd have to refresh myself.

EP:

One thing, a number of the people, surprisingly, who were involved in CORE in Greensboro had not read this. And when I cited passages of how they [the authors] talked about the limited success of the activities in Greensboro, they [the Greensboro CORE members] disagreed, sometimes strenuously, saying that they didn't think that was the right analysis.

But they [the authors] pointed up some of the things which I had asked you earlier about the problems of maintaining a dynamic movement. They said kids had to return to thinking about school and graduating, their own careers. The adult blacks just couldn't keep marching indefinitely because they had to worry about, you know, they worked all day, they—

GC:

This is Augie Meier talking?

EP:

Yes. They would have to sometimes be past midnight by the time the demonstrations and meetings got through, or the process of arrest was finished. That—what seemed to me quite reasonable limitations on the concept of, of direct nonviolent activity.

GC:

I don't think I've probably—I probably don't even judge success in the same way that Meier might do it.

You know, those days I was primarily a social activist. And I don't, you know, in terms of success didn't—success you, you don't count it in terms of numbers of restaurants desegregated, nor do you count it in terms of stability of an organization or numbers of chapters or you know, the fact that they die out two years later.

EP:

How do you judge success?

GC:

To a very great extent, by what happens to the people who are involved in the thing. You know, what happens to them as individuals. And to what extent they are able in their own way to, you know, affect history in their little community. And—you know, the—I mean we're feeling today the results of the movement of the sixties. I mean North Carolina's a different place, you know, today. And, and this did not come about primarily because of legislation. It came about primarily because, you know, there were college kids with all those limitations and so forth.

EP:

So you would say it wasn't the legislation that kind of brought the breakthrough, it was just the moral force of it and the, the input of the kids?

GC:

The legislation was a direct result of the activities of the kids, and not just the kids. Also, you had all these organizations, NAACP, et cetera. Legislation does—did not create an enormous amount of change. It was part of a process.

EP:

Is the civil rights movement already part of history, or is it still ongoing, just in a different format?

GC:

It's part of history. But it should be. I mean, you know, it's ongoing and, you know, things change. You don't have the political thrust you had. I mean, Mississippi has almost as many black voters as they do white voters. You've got more black mayors in Mississippi than anyplace else in the country, I guess.

EP:

What about some of these points that were going to be up for being voted on again on the civil rights—I mean the Equal Rights Amendment bill. Suppose something radically has changed about that under the auspices of Strom Thurmond et cetera. Do you think that would institute another civil rights movement?

GC:

No. But, I think that it wouldn't be a terrible disaster either. Of course my friends would kill me for saying this. Because I think that when you get setbacks in legislation, there are other ways in which you, you know, that really compensates for that.

When the Republican National Convention—when the Reagan Republican Convention came out against ERA very strongly, all of a sudden you got an upsurge in activity in women's rights organizations around the country.

EP:

That's essentially what I'm saying. Wouldn't it create—

GC:

Yeah. But I don't think there'll be another movement like there was in the sixties.

EP:

In other words, that was unique.

GC:

I would think so.

EP:

Well, just as my final question, what were the factors that came together to make that unique that don't exist now?

GC:

One factor was that public accommodations were easily amenable to a direct action thrust. That's a major factor. Another factor was that—see, the war and the industrialization of the nation and the movement of peoples from one part of the country to another—people, you know, they were by and large ready for change.

EP:

Well, there seemed to be an incredible number of young people all about the same age—I guess they were the forefront of the baby boom coming to adulthood—that were somehow idealistically enthused if you will, or that idealism was more important than private pursuits of, of career, for instance, at least for a period of time. Would you agree that this was a factor?

GC:

Yeah. But, you know, the nation has moved, you know. And it goes through phases. And, you know, I'm not saying there won't be at some point a time of activism again in the field of civil rights. But I think it'd be very different.

EP:

How would it be different?

GC:

I have no idea. But I just don't think you're ever going to get the kind of nonviolent direct action because I don't think that the solutions or that the problems, you know, are amenable to that kind of approach.

EP:

Not as visible or as easily solved?

GC:

Right. We now have mainly economic problems. And, you know, you don't solve economic problems through nonviolent direct action.

[End of Interview]