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Oral history interview with Herman G. Enochs by Eugene Pfaff


Date: circa 1980

Interviewee: Herman G. Enochs, Jr.

Biographical abstract: Herman G. Enochs (1929- ), senior jurist for the Greensboro Municipal-Guilford County Court, presided over hundreds of cases following the mass arrest of civil rights demonstrators in 1963.

Interviewer: Eugene E Pfaff

Description:

In this transcript of an oral history interview conducted circa 1980 by Eugene Pfaff with Herman G. Enochs, Enochs describes the effects of mass arrests in spring 1963 on the local judicial system. He discusses efforts to speed the judicial process, especially given the overcrowding at the polio hospital which served as a prison. He also notes tactics that hampered the process, including defendants’ refusal to abstain from further protests until their cases were heard. The role of attorneys Clarence Malone, Floyd McKissick, Major High, and Kenneth Lee, who represented the arrested demonstrators, is also discussed.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: GreensboroVOICES Collection

Repository: The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Item#: 1.10.507

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 Herman G. Enochs by Eugene Pfaff

EUGENE PFAFF:

—Oral History Program. I’m speaking with Mr. Herman G. Enochs Jr., who, in 1963, was senior jurist in Municipal-County Court. Is that correct, Mr. Enochs?

HERMANN ENOCHS:

I think the correct title was the Greensboro/Guilford County—let’s see. [pause]

EP:

The reason I phrased it that way—

HE:

I’ve forgotten. [laughs]

EP:

They always hyphenated it in the papers as Municipal-County Court.

HE:

Well, Municipal-County Court I guess is the best—that’s not the official title. That’s what they called it.

EP:

Basically, if I could ask you, what were the legal points at issue between the—argued by each of the attorneys, the solicitor in your court, who I understand was Hubert Seymour, and Mr. Clarence Malone, who was the attorney for the students?

HE:

The charges—now are we talking about the, the Woolworth cases, the—

EP:

These would be in '63.

HE:

Sixty-three. Well, let’s see.

EP:

Basically, they were—

HE:

They were there several times. There were the sit-ins at the square. I remember those. I can’t place them in the years, but I remember they—but in all of these cases, they were charged with minor misdemeanors, things like trespass[ing], violation of fire laws, you know, blocking streets, sidewalks and that sort of [thing]. They were all minor violations. Most of them were city ordinances, and most of the argument[s], in our court at least, were about the constitutionality of the ordinances. And the—they argued about those things and—there were so many people involved in the handling. There were hundreds of defendants in handling, you know, bond, which, you know—who had to post bond and who didn’t, and what the, the terms of release were. We tried to release everybody. We didn’t want anybody locked up.

I know one time we released everybody on [the] condition that if they came back the second time, we’d make them post bond, and some did come back, because this was a continuing thing over several days. And they had—as a matter of fact, they arrested so many people when you had the sit-in at the square that they incarcerated some of them out at the old Polio Hospital out in Bessemer. They had to set up a special place to incarcerate all those people, you know, just to process them, you know, to hold them until they got to court. Of course, we released them, released them out as soon as they got to court, most of them.

EP:

On May twenty-first, as I understand, the [Greensboro] City Council met in a one or two-minute session to approve your request, as senior jurist, for an alternate site to hold court. When did you make that request and why?

HE:

I—well, you know, this is years later—when, I don’t know—but it was while we were involved with the tremendous number of defendants involved in the sit-ins, sort of, in the street. They had, they—it seemed to me like they’re holding some out at the [Greensboro] Coliseum and they’re holding some out at—in, in the Polio Hospital. They didn’t have room in all the jails for these people. It was suggested by some that—to use the jails in adjoining counties and that sort of thing, but what I wanted to do, and what the defense counsel wanted to do also, was to process these matters as soon as we could, [in order] to get these people out—you know, to decide whether or not we’re going to hold them under a bond, if we were, how much, and release everybody we could. And the quickest way to do that—we tried, at first, to get everybody in the court.

We had the regular case docket tried in another courtroom. Somewhere, we improvised a courtroom and put all the regular cases there, and I was hearing all these. But it became painfully obvious, although Mr. Malone and Mr. [Floyd] McKissick represented most all of these people, still, it was necessary to consider each one on its own merits, because each person had a different background and had—some had been involved in these things before, some hadn’t. You couldn’t just do it a blanket [and] say, “Okay, everybody post a hundred dollar bond or a thousand dollar bond or whatever.” You couldn’t do that—I’m talking about bond hearings now, not trial.

So, the reason I asked that we be allowed to hold, hold court, or open court somewhere else—and I suggested the Polio Hospital and, also, at A&T [North Carolina A&T State University]. A lot of them were A&T students. My idea was to go on to set up a court there on government property to hear these things. I could appoint special judges—at that time I had the authority to do it—to send in to hear these bond motions, and we could dispose of them a lot quicker. We could go to where they were, rather than putting everybody on buses and send[ing] them up to where we were. It’d be easier to move four judges than it is to move five hundred people. That’s the whole idea, it was to expedite the—

EP:

Now I understand that, if I’m not mistaken, on the morning of the twenty-second, which was after the council had approved the third site, you opened court, and court was in session for only forty-five minutes. And Mr. Malone made the motion for a continuance, because—under the argument that the mayor’s council—committee[Community Relations Commission] had been appointed by this time, [and] it might jeopardize negotiations. And you made a stipulation that also meetings were going on with black leaders and members of the—

HE:

They, they were trying to resolve the matters.

EP:

You had said that—

HE:

Of course, I didn’t know, I didn’t know what the negotiations were, because I wasn’t involved in those.

EP:

And you had said if the meetings were successful, then you would continue to hold, oh, I, I—arraignments at this time, I gather.

HE:

They were being arraigned, that’s right, to get their pleas. And, of course, the bond, the bond hearing came up in the arraignment, too, as part of the arraignment.

EP:

And your second stipulation was if they were unsuccessful, then court would reconvene under the special court in—that afternoon, after two o’clock. In my mind, there exists this confusion about—what would have been different in the special court? Would it just [have] expedited matters, or were they arraignment hearings also?

HE:

They were arraignment hearings, also.

EP:

Okay.

HE:

No, nothing would have been different. As I said, it was done to expedite matters, because we didn’t—at that time, they were being held in, in pretty cramped quarters. And, and at those places they were being held, there’s no facilities, or inadequate facilities to go to bathrooms. It was hard to feed them in places. They had no kitchens or anything. It was hard on, on the, it seemed to me, on everybody. The city, you know, and the county had responsibility for the prisoners, and it was certainly hard on the prisoners being packed in those places, and it just wasn’t—we were just overwhelmed. And it seemed to me the best thing to do would be to get these hearings behind us and, and—as quickly as possible, and that’s what we were trying to do.

EP:

At this point—forgive me for going so slow.

HE:

That’s all right. That’s all right.

EP:

The legal proceedings are, for me anyway, very complicated. All right.

You had recognized all but the first twenty-five for trials between May sixteenth and June third. And the first group was called, and almost all refused to be recognized for a later trial date, and so had to be held. Is that right?

HE:

That—I do recall that. That’s why—I don’t know why, when the court is willing to recognize them—you know, let them out without posting bond—why anybody would want to stay in jail or—but I think I recall, I’m not sure about all of them, but I do recall one group when we started out, when I was talking to these people individually. What I wanted them to promise me [was] if I let them out, release them from jail, that while they were out without bond and— of course, they would have to promise to come to court, but in addition to that, they would have to promise to not commit any other criminal activity, which means they wouldn’t get out of jail and go back and sit in the street again while they were out. That’s all I was asking them to do. But one group I talked to, almost en masse, refused to promise that. They were, in effect, telling me, in my own mind, you know, if I let them out they were going to go back and sit in the street again. So—

EP:

I had also heard the speculation that CORE [Congress of Racial Equality] deliberately wanted to fill the jails, bog down the judicial system to put pressure on the city to meet their demands for desegregation. Have you heard that?

HE:

Well, that’s speculation. I, I don’t—I wouldn’t speculate. I really don’t know. But my intention was to, was to get them all out of jail if they could promise not to, you know, to continue doing that, and for some reason unknown to me, they—some of them wouldn’t promise that.

EP:

After so much of this, then you, according to the papers, stopped asking them if they wanted to be recognized, and then ordered them set free. Did this mean that they were still arraigned; they were still under obligation to—

HE:

They still had to come back to court.

EP:

I see. But they didn’t have to be individually asked by the judge or recognized?

HE:

By that point, thinking back on it, I think by that point I realized that they were not going to promise, you know, not to be involved again. And the situation had gotten so bad where they were kept, I just didn’t want them incarcerated. I thought it’d be better to let them out and if we picked them up again, the second time I talked to them we would have a record of them being there before, and I could take care of the situation then, if they did come up the second time. And if they didn’t come up the second time, then they’d done what I was asking them to do.

EP:

Had there ever been any discussion between yourself and Mayor [David] Schenck or other members of the city?

HE:

I never, I never talked to Mayor Schenck. He was out of town when this happened, to the best of my recollection.

EP:

So, this was not a means of counteracting any possible tactic by CORE to fill the jails, and the city was responding to all this—

HE:

No. I never, I never heard that CORE was trying to fill the jail.

EP:

So yours was—

HE:

I’m not saying they weren’t, but, you know, I never heard that, and I never had any negotiations with CORE. My talks were with the lawyers and the district attorney, Mr. McKissick, Mr. Malone and maybe, maybe one other lawyer. I can’t recall.

EP:

Two other people mentioned Major High and Kenneth Lee.

HE:

Oh that’s right. They had local counsel. You’re right. Kenneth Lee and Major High were, were involved, and they were there a lot of the time.

EP:

The legal proceedings had slowed down, because each person was claiming the same man as their lawyer.

HE:

That was Malone.

EP:

Now, why did this slow down the legal proceedings?

HE:

Because—getting back to what I proposed earlier about having more than one place to arraign the defendants, what I had in mind if I was going to take Malone’s clients and arraign them one—you know, if I could—I don’t know whether I could have done this or not, but what I wanted to do was to split them up and take Malone’s clients and arraign them one place and let Major High take his somewhere. But then they came down to the tactic of—they only had one lawyer, so I couldn’t do that. They were—that sort of thwarted my plans to, you know, to hear them in different places. And it did slow it down, because we could only operate in one courtroom. They all had one lawyer.

EP:

Did you ever speculate about why they didn’t want the different groups split up?

HE:

Well, no, I never—in my own mind, I might have speculated, but officially, no, I didn’t ask. I never asked Malone and McKissick why, why they did this. It was obviously a legal tactic of some sort. They had their own reason for it. I don’t know.

EP:

Would you mind sharing with me what your own personal opinion was?

HE:

Well, it appeared to me they wanted to slow the process down for reasons, you know, of their own. I don’t know why. You know, the people were in jail and I wanted to get them out, and they wanted to slow it down, the whole process down, to leave some of them in for some reason, it appeared to me.

EP:

You were quoted in the paper as saying you felt that this was a deliberate tactic, as you have told me. And Malone responded, I guess to a reporter’s question, that it was just the confusion of trying to develop a defense for so many people over a short period of time. Did he ever express this to you as [an] official reason?

HE:

No, I think he—I think he mentioned that in—he—

EP:

Was this something that—an experience in court?

HE:

I think what you’re talking about is—it probably happened in court when I asked him why he was, you know, why they weren’t trying to move it along faster than they were. That I was—it seemed to me I was trying to help them by my tactics and by what I wanted to do, and he, he gave me some reasons. That may have been it. I—it’s been so long I can’t remember what he—he had some reasons that, you know, they—

EP:

You seem to be expressing anger to the press. Did you ever—

HE:

Anger to the press?

EP:

Or irritation, frustration, [unclear]—

HE:

No, I, it—no, no there was no anger there, because all, all I was—it may have been frustration, but all I was trying to do was to move the cases along, you know, to resolve things. That’s what the courts are for, and when you get in a position where you can’t go forward with, and dispose of the cases and do something with them, you get a little frustrated. No, there was no anger there. Nothing to be angry about.

EP:

Now, it’s my understanding—there’s one confusion in my mind. You could choose, select the solicitor—is that true—that appeared for the city? Or was that only in the special court?

HE:

I had the power to appoint special judges. I was senior judge of the Municipal-County Court. I could appoint special judges.

EP:

Oh, I see. I had gotten the impression from the paper that this also covered special—I mean, solicitors like Herman Winfree and—

HE:

Oh, they—well, they—I’m not sure whether we appointed any—there may have been some discussion about appointing more help for the district attorney’s office—not the district attorney’s office—in the solicitor’s office. There may have been some talk about that, but I don’t recall ever, that there were ever any judges or solicitors appointed, for that matter. It was discussed, the possibility they would be needed.

EP:

Now, the governor released the students of A&T into the custody of A&T.

HE:

Of, of—into the custody of maybe the—maybe [Lewis C.] Dowdy [president of A&T], perhaps.

EP:

I believe that would be the case. Either he—

HE:

I think that the president, the president of the university, to my recollection, maybe—that’s right.

EP:

And I understand that occurred on the evening of the twenty-second.

HE:

I have no recollection about the dates. But I do recall that was—

EP:

So, am I to assume that this special court was never held?

HE:

It was never held because it wasn’t needed when that happened. That was a—I was not privy to any of the discussion surrounding how that, how they arrived at that, but it seemed perfectly all right to me because I was trying to release them out of jail anyway, and they’d accomplished that. So, that suited me fine.

EP:

Now, Malone and Winfree met with you in—I know I’m, I realize it’s hard to remember back of a period of seventeen years, but—

HE:

He, Winfree was a—I think he was a regular district solicitor, wasn’t he?

EP:

Yes.

HE:

Yeah. He was, okay.

EP:

Malone and Winfree met with you on the afternoon of May twentieth to arrive at a decision as to whether to begin the trials or to call the entire twenty-page docket. What was the issue here? Why would there have to be this decision on whether you call the full docket before trials begin? And what was the decision? [Pause, no answer] I gather the—I get the impression that Malone wanted the entire docket called first, and Winfree was, in turn, arguing, “Well, let’s begin the trials and move it along.”

HE:

I don’t even remember that conversation. In fact, I don’t remember which they did, either, whether, whether they called it or whether they started trying them.

EP:

It is my impression that when court was reconvened, you decided to, I think, proceed with the trials. And I can’t recall whether the decision was made for one person to be allowed in the courtroom at a time, or small numbers of five or six defendants at a time. Do you happen to recall which situation that was?

HE:

I recall there was some discussion about whether or not it would be possible to, to join more than one [person] to consolidate cases for a group and try them and hold—see, if you have five hundred people, obviously, if you can try twenty, consolidate twenty cases and try them, you’re a lot better off then you are if you have to try five hundred different cases. There was, there was—we talked about, I do remember talking about the possibility of consolidating and trying several of them at the same time. But, of course, they were diverse charges, you know, several different types of charges, ordinance violations, you know. And [they] happened at different times, different places. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds to do that.

EP:

So—

HE:

That took some work to try to find, you know, the ones that have similar—that were arrested at the same place, the same time, same charge, same—of course, they all had the same lawyer—but it was not that easy. But we talked about the possibility of doing that.

EP:

So, if someone were charged with, say, trespassing at the S&W [Cafeteria], but violation of the fire law at the Carolina [Theatre], there’d have to be two separate trials? Is that correct? Because it’d be different places they were charged.

HE:

It would—yeah. It wouldn’t [sic- would] have to be two trials and you’d have to be different. See, the witnesses were different, too, because you had—most of the witnesses were police officers. They had some police officers at the S&W, some down at the, what is it, the Center Theatre, or whatever it—the Imperial Theatre and whatever it was, down—they had some there. And then they had some at the square. [laughter] Just a lot of different—we were overwhelmed. I’ll tell you that.

EP:

Well, had anything like this happened before? Had there ever been any reason or necessity for calling or asking for a third site? Was this unprecedented?

HE:

It was—so far as I’m concerned it is. Although, the act creating the court provided for that possibility. I didn’t have to have any special legislation to do that; I had the power in the act to do it. I just never had even considered it or had any reason to consider it before that or after.

EP:

I remember that, in arguing in defense of the students, that Mr. Malone had said that he didn’t think that the charge for blocking traffic was valid because the police had closed off the streets. And you responded that the people who had written up the ordinance had never anticipated such a, such a thing. Do you recall that exchange between yourself and Mr. Malone?

HE:

Malone? No.

EP:

I have these, these things here written down. I think, probably due to our time consideration—

[End of Interview]