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Oral history interview with Otis L. Hairston Sr. by Eugene Pfaff


Date: June 1, 1979

Interviewee: Otis L. Hairston, Sr.

Biographical abstract: Reverend Otis L. Hairston (1918-2000) was minister of the Shiloh Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina, from 1960 to 1994.

Interviewer: Eugene E Pfaff

Description:

In this transcript of a June 1, 1979, oral history interview conducted by Eugene Pfaff with Otis L. Hairston Sr., Hairston discusses his involvement in the civil rights movement in Greensboro, North Carolina. This primarily includes his involvement with the Coordinating Committee, strategies utilized during the protests of 1960 and 1963, and his work the school board during integration in the 1970s. He also discusses educational policies, communication between the black community and political leaders, black employment and housing, role of the police and various community leaders, and the future of black leadership and education in Greensboro.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: GreensboroVOICES Collection

Repository: The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Item#: 1.10.518

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 Otis L. Hairston Sr. by Eugene Pfaff

EUGENE PFAFF:

—of the oral history program of the Greensboro Public Library dealing with the 1963 civil rights demonstrations in Greensboro, North Carolina. It is being taped on June 1, 1979. I'm speaking with Reverend Otis L. Hairston, pastor of the Shiloh Baptist Church in Greensboro.

Reverend Hairston, I'd like to begin by asking you, what were race relations like in Greensboro in the late 1950s, early 1960s?

OTIS HAIRSTON:

Well, I came back to Greensboro in 1958. At that time, of course, the system, like the other systems throughout the state, attempted to evade public school desegregation, and an effort was made by some of the citizens of Greensboro to get the school board to comply.

I would think that, like the other cities in North Carolina, the state government—that the majority of people wanted to evade, to find a way around desegregation. Of course, all of the public facilities were closed. They even had separate fountains for black and white at courthouses, separate restrooms, of course, in Greensboro, like the other cities in the state.

EP:

There has been much mention of the fact that, at least on paper or in its public statements, Greensboro was the first school system in the South to agree to abide by the Brown [v. Board of Education] decision in 1954. As a matter of fact, the superintendent of the school system in 1954, Ben L. Smith, said that we would comply. But, of course, it was three years before a black student attended a predominantly white high school. Do you think this was just lip service? Do you think this was a delaying tactic to try to find a way of maintaining, if not de jure, at least de facto segregation in Greensboro?

OH:

No. You've always had a few people willing to move, but Greensboro, as a city, was not ready. You had Mr. Huggins, who was chairman of the school board, who made and supported the superintendent. And he was able to get the board to approve a resolution saying that Greensboro would be ready in the fall of the year to desegregate.

But pressure came from the other part of the city, those folk who did not want to see Greensboro move ahead. And also, the pressure from the state forced these persons who really wanted to do the right thing, to make Greensboro progressive—the pressure forced them to change and to have another pace of moving.

EP:

What was the Pearsall Plan?

OH:

The Pearsall Plan really was something conceived—and it's not, I don't think, known—but it was conceived by Governor [Luther] Hodges. Pearsall was the author of the plan. But the idea was conceived by the governor, Governor Hodges, who wanted to find a way really to avoid desegregation.

And the Pearsall Plan was a plan designed to put the pressure on black parents, so the schools would be open to blacks who applied, if they were approved. But the pressure was placed on black parents, and not only the pressure of applying, but even if they applied. Job security, even being some cases really, I think they were threatened in some cases where they had applied for their kids to go to formerly all-white schools.

EP:

You mean private telephone threats and this kind of thing, or through the job?

OH:

No. I'm talking about not only the telephone, but I think if they were on a job or walking the streets, in some cases we have documented where persons were really threatened.

EP:

Was this effective in preventing many blacks from making application for their children to white schools?

OH:

I'm sure it was. You had a few blacks courageous enough, in spite of this, who thought that they needed to take a stand and pursue it, and they had enough courage to do it.

Now, in our own church we had three families: McCoy family, the Blair family—and the Blair family is unique in that both parents taught in public schools, but they had the courage to apply for their kids to go to formerly all-white schools.

The McCoy family had to have their telephone, the number unlisted because of the calls that they had throughout the night. There was another family—I don't recall, I was not here at the time—but also applied, I understand.

EP:

Were there students, children placed in predominantly white schools? Or was their application delayed or turned down?

OH:

Well, I think the first set of—of course the first person went to senior high, Greensboro High School, one person [Josephine Boyd]—and then after that, Gillespie, I think, was the second school. I don't recall a number, but one of the first families to have kids in our church, the McCoy family, had, I believe one of their, one student, I think, in that first number at Gillespie School.

EP:

Why was there a three year delay between the Brown decision and the placement of the first black student in a predominantly white school?

OH:

Well, the pressure from the state, of course, the Pearsall Plan, a plan designed to really impede the action and to defeat really—

EP:

Is that what was called popularly “freedom of choice”?

OH:

Freedom of choice. Where the students could, the parents could apply for the student if they wanted to. And you only had a few cases throughout the state where black parents applied, but you have no case documented where a white parent applied to have theirs changed. So it was a one-way thing.

EP:

Was there much pressure by leaders of the black community to get parents to apply for their children to white schools?

OH:

Well, I think they were encouraged, but no pressure because we thought that this was a dangerous thing, a terrible risk, and it was not something which black leaders and black institutions thought they ought to press them into doing what they didn't feel comfortable doing.

EP:

Were the students in danger or at least intimidated during the time they were in school?

OH:

Well, there's no question. Even five years after they had accepted the blacks in public schools, I had a niece that we reared from ten on, and she was the first black to go to Central School. And the first few days she really wanted to come out because if you sat down at lunch they would jump up. The classroom, nobody wanted to, to be seated by her. And it was one of these things where she just felt so uncomfortable that she wanted to. And I begged her to try another day. And the next day, of course, they became compassionate. And she had a problem of deciding which one she would eat lunch with.

EP:

That sounds like very encouraging that—were all such cases as positive as that or was there—I know there were cases where—I've forgotten the name of the first female black student [Josephine Boyd] to graduate from, attend and graduate from what is now Grimsley [High School], but there were instances of her being tripped on the stairs and bags of water dumped on her from second-story windows and this sort of thing. Was that normal?

OH:

Well, this was five years, five years after, so we had a chance to get used to it.

EP:

Was there much interaction between the races in Greensboro or did they exist as pretty much two separate communities?

OH:

A certain level of people during that period. After the Supreme Court had passed the decision, whites and blacks got together to talk, some of them got together to talk and to plan and try to get the climate right for integration.

And I think these parents were willing to take the risk and to meet together, even being criticized, because they felt that it would come and they needed to have the climate in Greensboro where it would be successful. So you had folk on a certain level. But I think generally folks did not get together except on a working basis where their jobs—

EP:

What was the basis of those working interactions? Were blacks employed in skilled or semi-skilled positions or was it predominantly menial labor?

OH:

Well, not too many cases. Blacks were not employed as skilled laborers during that period. And it was a master/servant type of relationship for the most part.

EP:

The public library, the bus station, the airport authority, and the police force have had at least some level of integration by 1960. Was this something that was voluntary or something that came under the threat of court action? In other words, was Greensboro desegregated reluctantly?

OH:

I think, as far as the [Greensboro] Police Department, perhaps they thought that it would be useful to have black officers on the force. I'm not too sure what motivated the folk, but I think that perhaps they felt it would be offered, would be helpful. I'm not bragging in one sense, but one of the first black policemen grew out of our church, came out of our church. He grew up in our church.

EP:

And what was his name?

OH:

It's Samuel Penn. And Conrad Raeford was the second, who lived also in the same community across the street where he grew up. So I knew both of them very well. And they were highly educated. Both had more education, I guess, than the average police at that time.

EP:

Was it a sizeable middle class in the black community in the early 1960s?

OH:

Yes, as far as I can remember we've had a middle-class black group in Greensboro. They had the Washington Street area and what they call the Warnersville area. The first black supervisor of schools was the person who owned some probably twenty to twenty-five homes. We had doctors who could be class. We had, of course, principals of schools, a few who had reached, I guess, that status of being of moderate income and in that level. You also had one or two lawyers and some businessmen who'd been successful. So I would think that you had a few blacks scattered throughout Greensboro at that time.

EP:

Did they have a great deal of influence in the black community in a leadership role?

OH:

Yes. In those days, as I can recall, and a little before my day, the blacks, the professional blacks, were very concerned about the well-being of the other blacks. And they became involved in efforts that would upgrade the blacks who were not on their level, on the educational basis, I think, as well as other ways.

EP:

What was the interaction between the white power structure and the black community?

OH:

Well, at that time we—I don't think you had too much before 1954. Blacks would have a petition for something they needed, streetlights or paving the streets. I don't believe you had too much before 1954.

EP:

Now in 1954, Dr. William Hampton, Greensboro physician, was elected to the Greensboro City Council, and elected in such a majority that he could have been declared mayor had he so desired, the tradition being that the person with the largest number of votes becoming mayor. Doesn't this seem a curious contradiction: the pretty much rigid segregation between the two communities, the disparity in the labor market and the fact that a black physician was, could well have been declared the first black mayor in the south? How do you explain this situation?

OH:

All right. Dr. Hampton was our family physician. I knew Dr. Hampton—personality, very bright person, dedicated person.

Dr. Hampton served, I believe, the first term on the council. He, he impressed everybody in such a manner that even folk who were prejudiced had to vote for him that second time around. Dr. Hampton—I was at his funeral service when the mayor of the city said, “Never had a person who did his homework like Dr. Hampton.” They would come to council meetings and talk about water problems and he'd pull out his folder to let me see what they did in another city the size of Greensboro. Whatever the problem, he had done research on it.

He would take a half a day a week to go down and study city government. He was a scholar, a student of city government. And nobody, even the prejudiced folk, when they saw him operate on city council, would not vote for him. And that's why, I think, he led the ticket. It was not that they loved Dr. Hampton, but he was so impressive they had to forget about race in that case; he was that efficient.

EP:

What do you think would have been the result had he followed the traditional role and asked or demanded that he be declared mayor? Do you think that would have caused a great deal of problems and friction?

OH:

Well, Dr. Hampton was very sensitive about this. He knew what would happen. He told them at the first meeting, “Relax. I have no ambition to be mayor of the city.” [laughs] He recognized that, that he would have a real problem, so he was very sensitive about it and a very smart man.

EP:

What sort of things did Dr. Hampton accomplish for the black community in Greensboro during his tenure on the council?

OH:

I think the presence of a black on the council—first black—helped a great deal. But Dr. Hampton continued for a lot of things that the blacks had not gotten. I think it at least disturbed a lot of folk that they didn't vote—the other members of the council—not vote to give it to them. At least they were disturbing, and in later years I think they got around. Perhaps, if they acted quickly, more quickly, than they would have, or quicker if Dr. Hampton had not brought attention to some things earlier. And I think this helped a great deal, no question, even after he passed on.

EP:

What is your reaction to the allegation that has been made that white office-seekers would come down to the black community and pass out money and liquor and the promise of favors to certain leaders of the black community to try to influence or buy black votes? It is my understanding that in the mid-to-late 1950s—or approximately forty-five [hundred] to five thousand registered black voters—and there have been allegations that there were attempts to buy these votes. What is your reaction to this?

OH:

Cheap politics. Of course we had it throughout the country. In Chicago they had a classic example when Mayor Daley would, would do it. And then they had a fellow, black fellow, who ran in Chicago, in Illinois, Oscar Dupree, who would give a chicken to public housing, the families in public housing, before the election. So I think it's, it was a trend and the politicians—it was cheap politics to do it, I think, to get elected on the basis of a handout. They sold, of course, themselves down the river by voting for a person who would give them—a lot of folk in Chicago would take the chicken and still vote against the person.

EP:

But you are saying that this did occur in Greensboro?

OH:

Oh yes, yes. You had cases where this occurred, I'm sure.

EP:

Do you think that this actually did sway black voting in the—

OH:

I think some cases they would vote for these folk in Greensboro. In more sophisticated places like Chicago they'd take it and vote against the person if they didn't like the person.

EP:

Now you were president of the Greensboro Citizens Association at one time. Is this correct?

OH:

Nineteen and-, I took over in 1962. Henry Frye was president and I was vice. He got out in 1962 and I came on in 1962.

EP:

A recent series of articles in the Greensboro Record commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Brown decision indicated that there had been allegations of bossism or attempts to control the voting of the black community, in a sense block voting, by the Greensboro Citizens Association. What would be your reaction to this allegation?

OH:

Well, this is the only way that you can develop any power, of course. In 1959 it was the Citizens Association was reorganized. Dr. Hobart Jarrett, who's at the City College in New York, Brooklyn, became the president. At that time, the need was felt that they needed to develop a kind of power that could influence the outcome of the election. And at that time, of course, you had others who go around and would go around and solicit the money from the candidate if he could deliver so many votes. But he got money. There was not so much interest in the best person. And there was a feeling that we needed to think in terms of good people and to educate the public, black public and also to give the opportunity for these folk to talk. And the public would be impressed or not impressed—the black public. And then that had consensus. But then the person would be recommended, persons would be recommended. And this was the kind of thing that was done at that time to more or less find the best black, best candidates that would support black causes.

EP:

Would you characterize this as bossism?

OH:

No, it's not, because the citizens were involved in the decision, the sentiment. They expressed themselves after listening to people. There was not just a few people at that time.

We had at that time, Citizens Association in '59, '60 when Dr. Jarrett, Mr. Frye—was a very representative group of people in Greensboro, representing the maids, the beauticians, all levels. So they were well represented. Those folk knew what the others felt. So it was a case in which people were involved. The decision was made because of the feeling that people felt, generally blacks felt that this was a person who would do more for blacks, black causes.

EP:

And when did the Greensboro Citizens Association begin issuing a list of candidates that they urged people to support?

OH:

Oh, that was back in '59 when they reorganized. Dr. Hobart Jarrett was the president at that time.

EP:

That's when it began?

OH:

YYes. And the list was sent out to not all of the voters at that time. Some of the lists were circulated to the churches, at the polls. But this started in sixty, sixty-nine. Dr. Hobart Jarrett was the--not '69, in '59.

EP:

Do you think it's been effective in getting block voting by blacks to get people on the council or in various offices that would be beneficial to the black community?

OH:

No question. Most of the candidates who run will come to the black community to get support. A lot of the fairly strong white candidates have been kept out because they could not get the support of the Black Citizens Association.

EP:

Nineteen-sixty is frequently cited in Greensboro as the first major push by the black community for integration and genuine equality because of the sit-ins. But, first, would you agree with that? And, second, what things had been done prior to this time to try to facilitate integration?

OH:

Well, in 1954, of course, the [Brown] decision led people to think in terms of eventually pursuing what they did pursue in the sixties. People had been dissatisfied. I think the court decision was a shot in the arm.

In 1960, the four young men who went to, went downtown to the lunch counter [at Woolworth's] and said “We're going to sit here until we get a hot dog” was not the first. This was not the first. This incident was not the first. You had folk to do that through the years, would go down and sit at the counter and ask for a hamburger, and folk would refuse and they would get up and leave.

But this was the first time that the folk had the courage—young men—to sit and say, “We're going to stay here. We're not going to get up and leave. We're going to sit here.” So it attracted a lot of attention, of course. And this kind of demonstration, I think, that caused the college students throughout the country to think in terms of the kinds of things that they could do.

EP:

Had there been marches or picketing prior to this time of business communities in Greensboro?

OH:

If so, I would think it would have been on a smaller level.

EP:

I understand there were some picketing of the downtown theatres in the mid-to-late fifties and—which did not result in desegregation. Were these organized or just individual efforts?

OH:

I'm not too sure. I was not—I came back to Greensboro in 1958. In Raleigh, I was at Shaw [University] in Raleigh, attending Shaw in Raleigh. At that time, the students, some of us, decided that we would not attend, would not support theatres that required us to go to the balcony. We refused to go. We didn't have any demonstrations in Raleigh. We just refused to go, and, of course, this failing to go hurt the income of some of the theatres. But I don't believe in Raleigh—now I'm not too sure what happened in Greensboro. I was in Raleigh during that period, of course.

EP:

Besides the obvious humiliation of being segregated in a different part of the theatre, what were some of the other reactions to having to sit in the balcony of the Carolina Theatre, for instance, and the Center Theatre?

OH:

Well, of course, the separate type of thing that they were up there because they had to be separated, just like getting on the back of a bus. You could not sit in the front of the bus. I think the segregation was something which degraded people; the fact that you had to be separated from other people because you were inferior.

EP:

Were they filthy, rat-infested? I've heard this mentioned numerous times.

OH:

Well, I think the major thing is the fact that you're up there because you need to be separated.

EP:

Did you have any association with the sit-ins at Woolworth in 1960?

OH:

No. I was not—the person who has been credited with the, as the granddad or the daddy of the movement, grew up in our church—Ezell Blair, Jr. [now Jibreel Khazan]. His father was chairman of the trustee board at that time. He's still active in our church. He was the one, I understand, at the college, at A&T [North Carolina A&T State University] that night said that, “We need to go and instead of just getting up we need to sit there till we're served.” And, of course, the three others agreed.

EP:

This has been characterized as a predominantly student movement. Was there much participation by the adult black community in the sit-ins?

OH:

Not until after the students had gone down, sat down. The black community for the most part supported the idea. Our church, of course, supported the idea—I guess having a person in it who was involved. But I think we would have supported it anyway. We even made available the office of our church for the students to use to mimeograph material, instruction material. I think most of the churches supported. Most of the people—most of the blacks supported this because they were fed up, too.

EP:

Was the white community surprised by the strength of the expression of the black discontent in Greensboro? There's a popular assumption in the white community that the blacks were content with the status quo in the South and the pace of integration. Do you think that they were surprised, perhaps even stunned about this expression of discontent?

OH:

I think some of them probably were. They should not have been. They should have sensed this, that things were changing, that blacks were becoming more courageous. Whites used to come in houses with their hats on. And blacks were getting to the point where they're fed up and demanded this. They used to call them by first names. And they demanded that they would put a handle on their name. So I think they should not have been shocked, because they were becoming more courageous about these things that degraded them.

EP:

Was there much violence between the races prior to this time in Greensboro?

OH:

I don't believe. I don't believe you had too much violence between races. Violence at that time, I think, primarily the blacks were doing blacks up. I think you didn't have that much contact, period. Occasionally on a job—see, they were not in schools together, didn't live in communities together—perhaps on a job occasionally it would happen.

EP:

Now the—it has been suggested that Greensboro was moderate, perhaps progressive, in the South for very early getting rid of what amounted to slum housing in Greensboro, or substandard housing, much of which would have affected the housing on Lee Street and into the black community. Do you think that this is accurate or inaccurate?

OH:

Well, I think in one sense it's accurate in that it was done. I'm not too sure about the motive. I'm not too sure whether the motive was to really get rid of slum housing. Perhaps it's an opportunity for the folk who were in the building business to take advantage of building. I would not say—it's just hard to say just what people, why people do things, but surely it benefited folk who were in slums because they could not have gotten out unless Urban Renewal [the Redevelopment Commission of Greensboro] had moved in.

The realtors had no real interest. They were making money and they had no real interest in trying to upgrade the living of people. Unless Urban Renewal had moved in, I doubt if we would have gotten rid of a lot of the slums that we got rid of.

EP:

So it took the opportunity of the input of federal money to affect this change?

OH:

Yes. I think this is always the case. You need the outside pressure to get folk to change and make the type of changes that you need in a community that will upgrade the living of people. We don't volunteer to do too many things to help people. I think in this kind of relationship, I think its outside pressure.

EP:

What events transpired between the end of the sit-ins and—at the end of July 1960—and the mass demonstrations in the spring of 1963 in terms of either meetings, strategy planning sessions, that sort of thing, amongst civil rights groups in Greensboro to continue the movement toward desegregation?

OH:

Well, of course, in the 1960s they opened lunch counters, but the restaurants, the other places, were not open. Students still pursued, and people pursued this. Students left A&T in '60, summer of 1960, and high school students took up the fight, some of them.

William Thomas, a young lawyer in New York, became president of the CORE [Congress of Racial Equality] chapter in Greensboro. James Farmer came by and organized CORE. He became president and got a lot of high school students, upper high school students involved in it. A few citizens became involved in CORE. And CORE looked at the total community, the continued segregation in the community, and I think they were, more or less, planning to eventually attack the other places where you had public accommodations, public facilities still segregated. And in time, of course, it moved to the restaurants and the hotels and the theatres and other places.

EP:

It's my understanding there were periodic picketing of the theatres and the two principal cafeterias downtown, the S&W and Mayfair cafeterias. Was that, in the fall of 1962, was that something that went on all the time or were they just periodic spurts of it?

OH:

Well, they had the demonstrations at that time, what we call the marches, and students started the marching from A&T primarily downtown. And they would stand in front of the door at the theatres and restaurants—Mayfair and S&W were the two major ones, the restaurants. You had the theatres, of course. And they would stand in front. And, of course, the law eventually passed was that “you're blocking entrance and a fire or something could happen” so it would be a dangerous situation. And, of course, it gave the right to arrest them. When they stood in front of the door they were arrested as a result of this.

EP:

So you think the Greensboro city officials, the police and the fire department, took advantage of these laws, for instance the fire laws? Of course a fire could have broken out, but it was unlikely. And so do you think that they took advantage of these in order to be able to arrest people?

OH:

I have no question that they would try to find any way possible to defeat. I was just telling someone this morning [that] in '63 that the mayor of the city, Dave Schenck, who was mayor of the city at that time, had five of us in his office trying to request us to see [if we could] get the students off the streets. And we said to him, “Well, you get on the radio and television and get the folk to open their places and we'll be glad to get the folk out of the streets.”

EP:

I'd like to get to this meeting, but I'd like to proceed in a, more or less, chronological order. I was wondering where the decision—who made the decision and how was it made to go from the small sporadic demonstrations to the large, mass nightly demonstrations of the spring of 1963?

OH:

All right. Well, CORE, the chapter of CORE, Bill Thomas, who moved from high school to A&T College, was president of CORE chapter. Of course, Jim Farmer was the national president of CORE, executive officer of CORE. It became a pretty viable group on the college campus at that time. So, CORE really started the '63 and '62 demonstrations.

The community thought that it was something which the community ought to support, and as a result, not only the students but eventually the community became involved. And the adults were willing to also march and demonstrate. And we had adult marches that would start in the afternoon just about every day for a while where we had sometime two thousand adults.

The first adult march was one that started after a mass meeting at the old AME [American Methodist Episcopal] Zion Trinity Church where perhaps two thousand people gathered for a mass meeting and decided they would support the students, and then before the meeting ended decided to have a demonstration.

So we had people who marched from the Trinity Church on Washington Street where the old paper—wastepaper place—downtown one Sunday night at nine o'clock. And I would estimate we had fifteen hundred people marching, adult people primarily.

EP:

Was this the famous mass silent march on May twenty-third?

OH:

That was it. That was it, where we had about twenty-three ministers leading and even had a rabbi, Rabbi [Joseph] Asher, who was at Temple Emanuel, was also marching along with the clergy from the black community.

EP:

Was it that spontaneous that it was decided at the meeting?

OH:

It was somewhat planned that it was a possibility that there would be, but we could not say that it happened that I was involved in the planning. We would not announce it because we didn't know what folk would want to do. They made the decision that they wanted to march. We raised the question, “Do you want to march?” And, of course, the unanimous vote: “We want to march.”

EP:

Well, whenever this march is mentioned, it's pointed out that there was amazing discipline. That there was absolutely no noise, no talking, no conversation, not even rattling anything. How was this amazing discipline maintained?

OH:

All right. We said to folk, “You want to march? You want to march? Well, we're going to have a march that's going to more or less demonstrate the type of dignity that we want to show to Greensboro—that if you can't march and perhaps be cursed and be spat upon, don't get in line. We don't want you to march.” We had persons who agreed to serve as marshals who would be stationed throughout the march. If anybody got out of line they'd just pull them out, they couldn't march.

But I think the ministers set the tone. When you get twenty-two ministers leading a march you set the tone for it. And I think this perhaps set the tone, along with the idea that persons who did not feel that they could march and keep order to take even the type of thing which people normally do—spit on you sometimes, they kick you—if you could not take it, don't get in it. And I think the persons, a few people, perhaps did not march because they thought that they could not take this.

EP:

And this was the first mass march?

OH:

First adult—where the adults became involved. We had in that march the principals, I think, the black principals of just about every high school. We had twenty-three ministers who marched. We had the rabbi. We had doctors. We had lawyers. We had folk on all levels, professional and—even a man with one leg was in the march, blind folk were in the march. We had them on all levels.

EP:

What organizations led the demonstrations in Greensboro over this period of time?

OH:

CORE was the—CORE initiated. But after CORE had initiated and the other community groups supported, we formed what is known as the Citizens Coordinating Committee. That committee had the Citizens Association, the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], CORE, and the Pulpit Forum made up of black ministers. These were the four major groups, CORE leading the efforts.

EP:

Was there anyone who was chairman or in charge of the Greensboro Coordinating Committee?

OH:

A fellow who was the chairman of the Pulpit Forum, Richard Hicks, Episcopal priest who eventually died—the headquarters eventually took—I mean his church became the headquarters, the Church of the Redeemer. He was the chairman of the group, had on that group Dr. [George] Simkins, president of the NAACP. I was also on that group. It had Bill Thomas, the president of CORE, and had also the advisor for CORE, Reverend [A. Knighton] Stanley, who's in Washington—Peoples' United Church of Christ.

It happened that I was asked to serve as the speaker for the Coordinating Committee. And all of the statements released to the press were agreed upon by all of the persons on the committee, and I simply just made the statement that we had agreed upon. And no other statement was made other than the statement we had agreed upon. It was written and we made no further comment. Any time there was a press conference, we'd already prepared the statement and that was it.

EP:

Was there cooperation and unity of action within the committee?

OH:

Yes. This is one reason why we formed it, because we wanted to unify the community. And we never had—of course, we disagreed, but when we made a statement we were all in agreement on it. We never had a statement that was ever made which one group backtracked and said we don't agree with the statement.

EP:

And when was this committee formed?

OH:

After the community of Greensboro downtown, the affluent community felt that students ought not to come in the community and run the city to do this kind of thing. And folk downtown, some of our friends, would say, “this movement will not be successful unless adults will make a statement or do something, become involved in some way.” Because the folk are saying they can find a way of dealing with students.

EP:

Are you willing to identify who some of these friends of the black community were downtown?

OH:

I don't believe—I don't know. I think one person who really not identified perhaps the sentiment, but who felt that we needed to be involved if we would be successful was a person, McNeill Smith, who felt that, his assessment was that the adult community needed to be involved. But we had other persons who would let us know what folk—he was not, I don't think, expressing what he had heard. He just had the feeling. But there were others who heard folk say things, and they would keep us informed as to what was being said. And as a result of that, we felt that we needed to get the adult community involved.

EP:

Was there ever any action taken that was not sanctioned or approved by the Citizens Coordinating Committee?

OH:

No. I don't recall anything that was done because we had all of the groups represented, which means that if the leaders of those groups made a statement or they came out, folks support it because they were all involved for the most part in one of the groups. The Citizens Association was a citywide group, and everybody had the opportunity for membership. CORE was just—

EP:

Oh, it wasn't just a black organization?

OH:

Well, we had white folk who were in this. But it was a black organization, but we had white folk who joined it. We had also the NAACP, although everybody did not join, at least it was open to everybody. Of course, the ministers group represented the pastors, but the pastors represented in some sense people. So we had a pretty wide representation.

EP:

Was there ever any rivalry between these groups? I'm thinking in particular between CORE and NAACP.

OH:

No. This is why we got the Coordinating Committee, to avoid this type of thing.

EP:

Was it pretty much decided that CORE would take the role of leadership in the overt demonstrations and marches and that NAACP would—

OH:

No. We were all involved.

EP:

I see.

OH:

After that point, when we formed the committee, even the time of the demonstration, we would decide that. The committee would decide when we would have one, the time—

EP:

How frequently—excuse me.

OH:

The time that it would be held and the ground rules.

EP:

How frequently were meetings held?

OH:

Oh, we met daily, just about, during that period.

EP:

Would these be—

OH:

The churches primarily.

EP:

I see.

OH:

Providence Baptist was by the post office—where the the new post office is; Trinity AME Zion on Washington Street; Church of the Redeemer. We used St. Stephens on Gorrell Street. And of course, our church was used a great deal in this community.

EP:

Would you meet at different churches or was there one—

OH:

Different churches. United Institutional was also used on Market Street. So, we met at different churches.

EP:

How was it determined when and how frequently you would meet?

OH:

The Coordinating Committee would decide when we'd have a meeting.

EP:

How was the Coordinating Committee able to get the large number of students and adult members of the black community out on a daily basis for the, for the marches?

OH:

Well, folk looked forward to that. They would call the headquarters—headquarters [was] Church of Redeemer, Episcopal church. We had a headquarters; we had a staff there. We had folk who volunteered to be there all the time from six o'clock in the morning to twelve o'clock at night. Any information you wanted—we had telephones installed, about four or five different telephones, where folk could call in for information. “Will there be a demonstration today?” “Can I help?” We had, we—this is one time I think we really had the black community together.

EP:

So it was an individual word of mouth communication?

OH:

Oh, we had circulars too, but we didn't have to call, pass, because folk would call. They wanted to be involved. They would call the headquarters, the Church of the Redeemer, and we'd give information. We had folk who volunteered to be there just to, to help out. Housewives would come and give four or five hours a day, or two or three hours a day. Other folk who were not working come and just stay around to be helpful.

EP:

What was your assessment of the influence and participation of those individuals that worked with you? I know that some of the people you've mentioned and the paper mentioned were Ezell Blair, Sr., Reverend J. L. Foushee. You've mentioned Reverend Hicks—

OH:

Reverend Foushee, I don't think was, I don't remember Foushee being too active in this particular effort. The ministers, he was not involved, I don't believe, with the ministers' group.

We've had, of course, Dr. Simkins always been a great influence since he took over the NAACP. He was very much and always been involved. Hicks, I mentioned the Church of Redeemer, was very much involved. Reverend Cecil Bishop, who was at the Trinity AME Zion Church, was very much involved at that time. Tony, we called him Tony Stanley [A. Knighton Stanley], who's in Washington, he was at A&T, advisor to, not advisor, but he was director of the Southern Christian Leadership.

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

EP:

Who were some of the other individuals that were—

OH:

Reverend John Corry, who was at St. Matthew's United Methodist Church, was very much involved during that time. Reverend Douglas, Reverend Douglas is—I guess as far as ministers at that time, he'd been around a good while. He's been active. He's been an activist. He was an activist for a good while. He was very, very much involved, Reverend Douglas. And, of course, Mr. Frye, who was, who had been president of the Greensboro Citizens Association, was still very much involved. And we had several other businessmen who were willing to help out with money.

EP:

It is my understanding that Henry Frye was on the district attorney's staff.

OH:

At that time, yes, at that time. He participated in the march. It was a risk. He was not too sure, but he was so much, I guess, excited and wanted to be a part of it that he participated in the march. There was some question whether he should, but he did.

EP:

Did he act as a conduit for what sort of legal action might be taken against the marchers?

OH:

No. No. At that time he was not involved. It was a local thing so he didn't.

EP:

Well, I meant, given his position on the district attorney's staff, did he have any insight into the legal response of the participants?

OH:

I don't think he got involved on that level.

EP:

Now, I've mentioned several people who were either students or in the—private citizens such as Ezell Blair, Sr., William Thomas, Jesse Jackson. Did you—

OH:

Jesse Jackson. I forgot to mention Jesse Jackson. Because Jesse was president of the student body of A&T. Bill Thomas was really the leader of the movement—CORE movement—that started. Jesse was president of the student body. Jesse could mobilize students, so Jesse always wanted to lead the demonstrations. So, Bill was not a front man. Bill would always say, “Jesse, you go ahead and lead the demonstrations.”

EP:

There's some suggestion that he had, William Thomas, had trouble with his legs and this is one reason why he did not—

OH:

Yes. Yes. Bill did not care too much about walking. He would not walk the full length of the march. He would—a car would bring him and he would probably [march] about a third of the way if it was a march that would extend from A&T or from one of the churches downtown and back.

EP:

Was there a rivalry between William Thomas and Jesse Jackson?

OH:

No. Jesse had no, I mean, Bill was the person who had no feeling about Jesse leading. He—Bill was really, I think, a person who wanted the thing to go over, to be successful. He did not want to be out front. He was—his role was to see that it was successful, and I think he recognized that perhaps anybody who could contribute towards its success he was willing to let the person go out front. He was not that kind of person, Bill Thomas, at that time. If there had been another person who was leading and wanted to be out front, you would have had a real problem there.

EP:

Now for a long time, Jesse Jackson was not an officer of CORE.

OH:

He was never an officer of CORE I don't think. Jesse was never with CORE.

EP:

Did he ever belong to CORE?

OH:

I'm not too sure. As far as I know, Jesse was not. He was president of the student body. And he could mobilize students, being president of the student body and being a football quarterback, very popular.

EP:

Was he asked to do this or did he more or less thrust himself forward to do this?

OH:

Well, I think Bill wanted the student body to get involved; and Jesse was the man that he probably asked to mobilize students.

EP:

Was there ever any difference of opinion of, as to the form of tactics to be used at the individual demonstrations?

OH:

Well, we planned everything, the Coordinating Committee. We planned just about everything. We always said to CORE with the students that we would not—they had a certain amount of freedom. We did not try to restrict them that you had to conform to certain things. As long as you were orderly, we did not. And some of the sit-downs, sit-down in the street, you had to sit down in the street and block the traffic. We had not planned this, but we were not trying to be so restricted that they would not have the freedom to do what they felt, as long as it was not a violent type of thing.

EP:

Was this necessary in order to have some kind of working relationship between students and the adult community? The reason I say this is Miles Wolff, in his book Lunch at the 5 & 10, remarked upon the fact that A&T always had a tradition of independence and acting independently. In other words, was this a practical measure?

OH:

I'm not too sure. I think we recognized, as you recognized when you have that many folk, I think Dr. King also recognized that in his demonstration that you got to be flexible enough to make the demonstration successful. If what he planned was not effective then he would not oppose something as long as it was nonviolent that they were doing.

EP:

Did the students from A&T and Bennett [College] and the members of the adult community march together, or did essentially they march separately?

OH:

After the adults had their march, then it was the joint type of thing. Any adult, any adult who wanted to march in the student, vice versa, we sponsored up to three or four days after that—of course, they were sponsored jointly—they were together anyway, which means that any person could march who wanted to march.

EP:

You mentioned that the Coordinating Committee was formed after the first march. Whose idea was it to organize that first adult march on that Sunday?

OH:

Well, this was jointly planned. I think Cecil Bishop, myself, I'm not too sure how many folk were involved, but we talked about something that we needed to do. A mass meeting was one. And then to open up, so the folk wanted to march, they would be free to march. Dr. Simkins was involved in this, of course, Reverend Bishop. I don't recall all the folk involved in the planning. But the idea was that we would have the mass meeting and leave it open; if folk wanted to march they would march, but it would be organized in such a way that it would impress upon the white community that adults were really supporting the students in their goals.

EP:

Now in the planning for the subsequent demonstrations, there were different tactics employed at different times, according to the paper. Sometimes there'd be silent marches. Sometimes there'd be marches with singing various freedom songs, as they're called in the paper, with also chanting and singing slogans. Sometimes there'd be sincere efforts to try to integrate these facilities. Sometimes there'd be merely token attempts in that, for instance, the paper would say, “James Farmer and Jesse Jackson would approach the door. They would ask. They'd be refused. They would then get back in the line of march and continue.”

Who, and upon what basis, were these individual tactics for certain specific demonstrations made? How were these decisions made and who made them?

OH:

Well, like I said, we always had it flexible. You could make a decision in the course of a march where a person would say, “We're going to try, perhaps we haven't talked about it, but Mayfair—we're going to get there and see if we can go in, see if they'll let us in S&W, or see what will happen.” Decisions could be made. We're flexible enough so that decisions could be made in the course of a march. We changed even the course sometime. They had to make it flexible enough that you could make changes.

And sometimes folk would do things that, after they got together, that had not been planned. I think the first time that folk sat down in the street, it was not a planned thing; just got downtown and decided to sit in the street. We didn't oppose that as long as they were nonviolent.

EP:

So there was no one, or small group of people, making this decision?

OH:

We made the basic decision to march, but we were flexible enough, we had freedom enough, so that if they decided that they needed to use an approach that would be effective, as long as it was nonviolent, it was in order.

EP:

Did the members of the Coordinating Committee usually march?

OH:

Oh, yes, yes. I think I marched most of the, after the first adult march.

EP:

Did most of the marches and demonstrations occur in the afternoon or the evening?

OH:

Evening, after folk got off of work, because a lot of folk worked. And they'd come directly from work to the headquarters, if we had a march scheduled.

EP:

Where did most of the meetings take place—the assembling point?

OH:

The Episcopal church [Church of the Redeemer] was the place where the headquarters, but the marches primarily started at Trinity AME Zion Church, Providence Baptist—Baptist church was over by the post office over by A&T College. I would think those two churches, perhaps churches where we had most of the—after the adult marches started, that they would start from those places.

EP:

Were you ever arrested?

OH:

No. Captain Jackson, I think, really did not—I'd known Captain Jackson. I see him occasionally. He comes and shakes my hand and talks. Captain say, “I don't have the heart to arrest a preacher.” [laughs] He did arrest, I think, some. I had my son and daughter and all of them were in jail one night, the Blairs—we had a lot of folk in our church. We had so many folk in the church one night arrested I said, “If they don't get them out, we won't even have service next Sunday morning.”

You know, they filled the old, the place—Evergreen [polio hospital], they had the place. Of course, Bennett College—I have not mentioned this, but Bennett College became involved, students from Bennett after A&T. You also had folk from UNCG [The University of North Carolina at Greensboro], white students who came, and also Guilford College.

EP:

One question I wanted to ask about the arrest was that—I know that one tactic that was mentioned a number of times in the paper, particularly in front of the Mayfair, the S&W, and the Center and Carolina Theatres, was that the marchers would line the street and then three or four would march in a circle and then one or more of them would approach the door. Was this a carefully planned thing?

OH:

Yes, it was. Yes.

EP:

And what was the basis of this? Why did they march in a small circle?

OH:

Well, of course the idea was that they're really not breaking the law if you're not standing. Marching—this was the way to do it without—you could still block and not break the law because you're not standing.

EP:

Now, was it determined beforehand how many people would get arrested on a particular night?

OH:

No, no. I don't think that's ever planned. One night they had all these folk in jail. They had Evergreen, they had everything filled, and it was not planned. We didn't know how many folk—It was left to the person whether they wanted to do something. If they knew that they were arresting people for doing something—and I think a lot of folk out of anger, perhaps, arresting these students, young people, so a lot of the adults did the same thing, got arrested, and they placed them, of course, in jail. But it was—this is basically something that was left to the person.

We didn't say to anybody, “You need to get arrested.” “If you don't want to go to jail, if you need to stay out, don't, don't do it.” And I think this was pretty clear that it was something in which they would need to make a decision. If they wanted to do something that they knew they were taking a chance of being arrested.

EP:

In reading the newspaper, it very frequently reads almost like a military operation. The marches—the marchers would come down East Market Street and then one wing would go to the S&W and then one wing to the Mayfair and the Center and then on to the Carolina. Was it determined beforehand which people would go to which site?

OH:

Well, it had a leader for each group, and this leader, wherever this leader led—see he had to lead. We had marshals and so forth. So, we had good communication to march. We had marshals come right straight up the line to the leader and determine just what would be done.

If the leader of that particular section would move, whichever way he would go, then that section to the next leader would fall in that direction, which means that it was planned to that extent that they followed the leader more or less, their leader.

See you had, if you had five different leaders, or that particular marshal leader, and he would move to the right or decide to go to—they would decide which one—perhaps in the course of a march, “We'll go to Carolina Theatre today,” or “We'll go to the S&W.” So that particular leader, if he went that way, everybody knew that this is where they're supposed to go.

EP:

I was wondering, because I know in reading the newspaper, the account would read that a large number of people went to the Mayfair and then a certain number were arrested and then the group went on to the S&W and the Center. And then different numbers of people would be arrested at each site. And then some would stay and then the rest of the group would then normally, usually, go on to the Carolina. Was it an individual basis as to who would stay and who would go on, or did they follow the lead of the marshals?

OH:

The lead of the marshal. Now some folk, any time that you have a good many people, some folks decide that they want to go there, and so you couldn't enforce it. But most of the folk would know that they were supposed to follow their leader.

You can't enforce a person to say, “Well, I want to stay at the Mayfair.” You don't say, “You have to go.” [laughs]

But you had—as long as you had enough people stationed on all of the places, this was the important thing.

EP:

Now, sometimes there would be marches and sometimes there would be pickets. Was there any decision about when to change the tactics or to use—

OH:

Pickets started after that time. It was after the marches. We didn't picket any—I don't recall any picketing until after the marches had finished.

And, of course, after a while, folk, a lot of folk were in jail or what not, and I guess after being in jail—I think the pressure, the point had been made when we broke the back of the city. They couldn't feed the people in jail. And it was costing too much to try to put them in jail, to arrest them. The police had to work all night sometime, and it was really bringing a burden on the city, and I think they recognized that—that they couldn't—that we could take it more than they could because they had to feed them. They had to provide a place for them to stay. And it was breaking, that thing was breaking the back of the city. So, the city could no longer—and after a while it got to a point where they wouldn't arrest them—they couldn't afford to—

EP:

Was that a deliberate tactic on the part of the marchers, to have so many people arrested that it would break the back of the city?

OH:

We knew that the city could not eventually—I don't think it was planned that way, but we knew eventually, when folk continued to be arrested, that they couldn't feed all those folk—get that amount of food. They couldn't—the jails didn't have a place for them; couldn't find a place.

The students at Bennett, the girls, they had out to old Evergreens. And they wanted to let them out. They said, “You go on back to campus. You're out. We're not keeping you here. The door's opened. You don't have to stay here.” They [the Bennett students] said, “The right door is not open. We're staying here until you open the door downtown.” [laughs]

EP:

Did, did Judge Herman Enochs, releasing them on their own recognizance or in the custody of the A&T and Bennett, try to get around it this way by saying, “You are in their custody?” And in some cases they were forcibly removed.

OH:

They didn't have much of a choice. They couldn't try—it was no way in the world fifteen hundred people, you know? The tax money, the, the, the money would be—what the time that they required, they'd paralyze the court trying to try all those folk.

EP:

Well, now the large number of—you mentioned that you recognized that there would be a possibility that you would break the back of the city by large number—having to care for a large number of people arrested, the expense to the taxpayer of trying to try these individuals. But did that tactic work? Because it seemed that there was not much evidence of compromise on the part of the managers even while all this was going on. Did that kind of pressure on the city not result in a more compromising attitude on their part?

OH:

Now I would think that this—the folk from the city—and this is what the old idea was—the folk in power, the power structure, would need to use their influence to get these folk who operate businesses in the city to open up their business. And I'm convinced that this is the kind of thing which forced them to do it. The mayor never said, “We just can't afford to, to take this. Now you're going to have to make a decision.”

I mean, this is my feeling, that they just said to these folk—they would not have said—they didn't want to say it. But it was something they're forced to say in the interest of the city itself.

EP:

So you think rather than it being a failure, this was a successful tactic?

OH:

Sure.

EP:

Did you ever go out to the old polio hospital?

OH:

Oh, yes. We had to go out there and check on the students to see their well-being. Some of us had to, to check on all of the folk who were—See, they took them to High Point, too. They were taken to High Point. Just think of the transportation to having these police working all night and calling them back to, to do—

Morality, I mean, the morality of the thing and the morale, too. The morality, I think the morality was involved, of course, in the whole thing; but then the morale, of course, too. These, these folk working twenty-four hours.

EP:

What were the conditions like at the old polio hospital, the—

OH:

Unbearable. The girls didn't have beds, of course. And they would have to more or less sleep on floors, and restrooms [were] inadequate; food, of course, inadequate. But they were willing to suffer. They—we'd been suffering all of these years. And we suffer—we'd been suffering.

We'd been traveling at night, and couldn't stop and spend the night at a place. We'd have to keep driving. Couldn't eat the food at these places. They would refuse to serve blacks. They'd go around to a little hole there and hand you something through. The folk were just fed up with this. They were willing to suffer. They'd been suffering anyway.

EP:

How were the individuals treated by the [Greensboro] Sheriff's Department?

OH:

Well, naturally, you work all night, you can imagine. If you're working, you work one shift and they call you back to come and arrest some of these folk. And I guess the attitude was, we're going to treat them in such a way that perhaps they won't continue to do this kind of thing.

EP:

Do you think they were—

OH:

Some, some cases, some officers, there's no question. Dragging them on the ground. And there's no question about some of them were angry, officers were angry, too.

EP:

Now Captain [William] Jackson mentioned that there was one arrest where the people, the marchers, sat down and did have to be dragged. And that he indicates there was a complaint by, I believe he mentions Mr. Blair, and that he said, “Well, this is how we have to carry them.” And then subsequently the marchers walked voluntarily to the various vehicles that then transported them to the detention centers. Is this how it happened or do you see it differently?

OH:

Well, I think Captain Jackson is fairly accurate in what he said. But Captain Jackson was not at all of the scenes. He was not at all of the scenes. Captain Jackson was, I think, a person who had the greatest, demanded greater respect. Jesse Jackson, when he's here, he always goes by to see Captain Jackson. I see Captain. We always stop and talk. I think we have the highest regard.

Captain Jackson really wanted to be as fair as he could be. He wanted to, to see that the students and the others were not mistreated. I think this is what he really wanted to do. He could not control all of the—all of his force. They're in different places and in different locations. So he could not control all of them.

But I think as far as Captain Jackson, he wanted them to, to, to be fair, to not show any type of anger, or type of brutality that the police are accused. Captain was, I think, a person who had attitude that he did not want anything to happen that would cause the thing to really blow up any more than it was in Greensboro.

EP:

What was your reaction of the behavior of the [Greensboro] Police Department, the officers at the scene of various demonstrations?

OH:

I think most of them, because of the leadership of Captain Jackson, attempted to carry out his desire, his wish. Some of them, of course, there's no question, because the different attitude towards race, people. Some of them did not like black people even after that time.

We had a Ph.D.—a building at A&T named for Dr. F. A. Williams. He was going down Market Street on his way back to the campus and the police stopped him. And, and—a man who's gray—and referred to him as a boy. So, I mean, I think this type of attitude reflected in the, on the part of some police and even during the demonstrations.

EP:

Are you aware of any instances where a member of the march was mistreated by the police?

OH:

Oh yes, a lot of cases where this happened.

EP:

Could you describe these situations?

OH:

Well, of course, ladies they would take and drag them off, squeeze their arm real tight. They would, perhaps, in some cases, I understand—I didn't see these cases, but some of the demonstrators claim that they were kicked by officers. I didn't see a case myself, but I have no doubt that someone would—not ladies, but I'd say some of the boys—I have no doubt that some of the officers—of course they always say, “I didn't intend to kick him. Something happened and got in the way.” But I have no doubt that of them were intending to—

EP:

Were any complaints lodged against the police department or with the city for abuse?

OH:

No. I don't think they attempted to do this really because the goal was to try to get these places open and to take whatever sacrifice necessary to do it. I think folk recognized that.

EP:

Well, Greensboro is frequently cited as being very moderate and careful in its demonstrations to avoid another Birmingham. The newspaper, anyway, in one or more editorials characterized that much of this was the restraint of the police department. Do you think this is a fair assessment or an inaccurate one?

OH:

Well, I think because of—I think Captain Jackson set the tone. I'm not too sure of Captain Jackson. I think a lot of us feel that way. We had the highest regard for Captain Jackson. But if we had not had a person with that kind of attitude, I'm not too sure what would have happened.

Folk were mad. The police were mad. Folk were able to, to have a certain amount of control. If they had not had that kind of control—provoked a lot of things—I think it could have been worse than Birmingham.

EP:

So you think all the potential for another Birmingham was here in Greensboro, but this is the reason it didn't occur.

OH:

Yes. Captain Jackson, I think we cannot praise that man too much for the type of attitude he had.

EP:

Getting back to the detention centers. I just want to clarify; you've mentioned Evergreen. And this is where the women were incarcerated?

OH:

Women, yes.

EP:

Is this the one and the same place as what is referred to as the old polio hospital?

OH:

Polio hospital, yes. Evergreen was the latest of the—the place or institution. Polio hospital was there before.

EP:

Did you also visit the National Guard Armory and the Greensboro War Memorial Coliseum?

OH:

Oh yes, yes. We, some of us, we were designated to visit. Some of us ministers did a lot of this and the other leaders who were not in jail. We were sent to different, assigned to different places. Some had to go to High Point to check on the folk there, their well-being. Some were assigned to Evergreen, old polio hospital. There were different places they were assigned to go to check on—to see how well they were doing.

EP:

Were conditions as crowded, as unpleasant at the National Guard Armory and the War Memorial Coliseum as you've indicated at the old polio hospital?

OH:

No. I think the worst was the old polio hospital, worse conditions.

EP:

Were people incarcerated at the coliseum or merely just the formality of booking and charging them formally?

OH:

Booking, booking. And I think one night—I'm not too sure—I think one night they had to keep them there because they didn't have anywhere to put them.

EP:

Did you ever coordinate your activities with demonstrations in other cities such as High Point or Durham?

OH:

No. Each city I think for the most part planned their own. They would learn from others. The ones who started, I guess, they learned something from them—

EP:

Was there any—

OH:

We didn't attempt to coordinate anything outside of Greensboro.

EP:

Was there any communication between the leaders of the various—

OH:

I guess we were so busy trying to get your own thing going you didn't have time, time during that period.

EP:

You've indicated respect for Captain Jackson. What was your opinion of Sheriff Clayton Jones?

OH:

Captain Jackson was the person who really communicated with the black leaders at that time. We didn't know anything about the—anybody else other than Captain Jackson. He was assigned, I think, as the person who coordinated the effort.

EP:

Did you have much contact with the offices of CORE? For instance, we've mentioned William Thomas. I was thinking of also Pat Patterson, who was vice president of the local CORE chapter, Dr. Elizabeth Laizner, Dr. James McMillan. Did you have any contact with—

OH:

McMillan was, of course, active. Also, Stanley, Stanley, Tony Stanley, I think was in time the advisor to CORE. McMillan, of course, was very active in the demonstrations. Pat was not. I guess Thomas represented the chapter in the Coordinating Committee. We just had one person. Of course Stanley, being advisor, he was also on the committee.

EP:

What is your opinion of the contribution of these individuals that I've mentioned? Did they contribute in a meaningful way to the marches?

OH:

I think, of course, yes. I think all of them played important roles. Thomas was just the leader for CORE. And he represented them, I guess, and Stanley. But all of them played extremely important roles.

EP:

Were there many white participants? For instance, frequently the paper seems to suggest that Dr. Laizner was virtually the only white person involved in the demonstrations.

OH:

No. We had students from UNCG, white students—had students from Guilford College, students from—I'm not too sure about Greensboro College, I'm not too sure, because if you don't know students, you can't identify. But the students from UNCG wanted to be identified—the students from Guilford College.

Now it could have been that we had students, also, from Greensboro College, but I don't think we could identify them. We didn't know them that well. But the students from UNCG and Guilford College wanted to be identified as part of the—

EP:

Did Dr. Laizner have an influence in the black community in the fact that she was a professor at Bennett, I believe?

OH:

I don't think she had that much influence. The person who influenced Bennett at that time was the president then, Dr. [Willa] Player, who supported the demonstrations. She permitted the students to leave the campus and participate in demonstrations.

EP:

Did Dr. Player have to walk a tightwire almost kind of thing between her position as president of the institution and on the one hand as a private black citizen supporting the demonstrations? Did she, was her position an awkward position?

OH:

I don't think so. I think the president of A&T also supported the demonstrations. We didn't have many folk in the community—black folk in the community at that time, that didn't support her. I didn't see anybody who didn't, who came out that—so I think regardless—even Frye was in a peculiar situation. Principals of schools normally would not, but I didn't find any folk at that time who did not support demonstrations. Very conservative people supported the demonstrations.

EP:

Well now, Dr. [Lewis C.] Dowdy [president of A&T] was criticized by some members of the black community, I'm thinking in particular of Mr. Blair, as an officer of the Greensboro Citizens Association, who felt that Dr. Dowdy had been coerced by the governor's office and the mayor's office into issuing a statement telling the students to not be involved in demonstrations at A&T, and if they did, they did face the possibility of dismissal.

OH:

I don't, I never heard, I mean, Dr. Dowdy say this. I know Dr. Dowdy was under pressure. The governor at that time called several times. Two or three of us went to his home at two o'clock one morning. Father Hicks, Church of the Redeemer, and a third minister. Three of us went at two o'clock because he was really upset because of the kind of pressure he received from Raleigh and wanted to get our position on it.

EP:

Did he ever—

OH:

We said that, we said that you make your choice, but perhaps you have to live with yourself in years to come.

I thought that Dr. Dowdy supported as much as he could have supported the, the movement. I don't think he was coming out openly at times. But under the cover more or less he was quiet. He was really giving support to students. I don't think that any student felt, as far as I know, any type of pressure that would cause them not to participate from Dr. Dowdy.

EP:

Well, then, do you think this criticism was unfair?

OH:

Well, I think that some of the folk—it's hard, too. You, you hear this type of thing. The pressure that—there was no question he was under pressure to calling the governor's office every day, threatening, just like the mayor of a city, talking about closing, cutting down, cutting the water off. The governor, I don't know what the governor told him, but I'm sure that he threatened him and the institution, the well-being of the institution. But Dr. Dowdy's position—

EP:

You mean to cut the water off?

OH:

No, no. The mayor of the city threatened to do this, at A&T and Bennett, in order to stop the demonstration. But I'm sure that the governor said to Dr. Dowdy, “Unless you do something.” But I don't think Dr. Dowdy—my personal feeling is that he really yielded. Was Dr., I'm trying to think if Dr. Dowdy was the person at that time or whether—

EP:

I think he was acting president.

OH:

Dean Gibbs. Dean Gibbs was still in the—I was thinking at that time—in '60, Gibbs was there. Gibbs was '60.

EP:

It's my understanding that Dr. Dowdy was acting president.

OH:

That's right. Gibbs retired. Dr. Dowdy—Gibbs was in 1960 when the students started. Gibbs was the president at that time, I believe it was.

EP:

Do you know for a fact that the mayor threatened to cut off the water?

OH:

Well, I was sitting there. You see, what happened, he was trying to get—they had five of us in his office. And he said to us—he called us for a meeting to, to try to get us to use our influence to get the students off the streets. And he said to us, “By building you up, you're the leaders and you can help to get the students off of the streets.”

And I think [J.] Kenneth Lee—I know Kenneth Lee's a lawyer. He was one of the persons. And Kenneth, I think, first responded to the mayor of the city by saying, “Well, what you need to do, Mr. Mayor, is to see if you can get the businesses' consent to open their places.”

And then the, the mayor responded by saying, well, he was not concerned about the business. He was concerned at this time about getting the students off of the streets. And that he could do it; he was going to do it. He could find a way. He could even cut the water off at A&T and Bennett. They're in the city. And he could cut the water off because they're in the city. And the city provides water.

And at that time, I remember, I jumped out of my seat and I said “Yes, Mr. Mayor, if you do it we have five thousand people on the streets in Greensboro.”

He says, “Is that a threat?”

I said, “If yours is a threat, it's a threat.”

I said “We have five—we'll paralyze the city if you do that. We'll have this city paralyzed. We have so many folk on the street you won't be able to drive through downtown at all; we keep them out there. We paralyze the city.”

EP:

And what was his reaction to that?

OH:

I think he thought about that because he was, he, he was trying to find a way to, to force folk off of the streets. He'd just get fed up. He left town during the heat of it.

Trotter was the one who really helped to settle the thing. Trotter was mayor pro tem. He called a meeting one Sunday morning at eleven o'clock. They called me at twelve o'clock one morning, Sunday morning, to come to a meeting at Church of the Redeemer. The mayor pro tem was there, going to meet with the group.

EP:

Do you happen to remember the specific date of this meeting?

OH:

No, I don't. I don't, don't remember. But I know Dr. Simkins—we had all of the—it must have been forty, forty-five people there at twelve o'clock at, on Sunday morning. I got to preach Sunday morning [laughs].

But it was important, and they wanted, since I was the spokesman for the group, for the Coordinating Committee. And I tried to get out of it. I said “Y'all go ahead.”

And they said, “No. The mayor said he wants you to be there.”

And we came—not the mayor, but the mayor pro tem. But he had gone—the mayor had gone away. And that's when all the folk were in jail. It paralyzed the city. He left town. He went away somewhere for the weekend.

EP:

This sounds like it would have been late May then.

OH:

Probably so. But he left town and he was away. And Mayor Trotter assumed the responsibility as the acting mayor of the city. Of course when the mayor got back, he said, “Mayor pro tem didn't have the authority to do what he did.” [laughs]

EP:

It sounds to me like David Schenck was not particularly compromising. In other words, he seems—was he inflexible and a hard-liner?

OH:

He was, yes. I think he was so set “that we're not going to even deal with this until you do what I want you to do. I'm not going to even discuss it. If you, if you do what I demand, then we, we come and we talk about it.”

You know, you don't behave like that. These students are not going to behave like that. You're going to have to, to take a stronger stand and just say that you want to talk about it and get them back. And you don't have—you know they don't behave like that.

EP:

Now this meeting where you said this exchange between yourself and the mayor occurred, was this the first time you had met with the mayor or any of the—

OH:

Schenck?

EP:

Schenck.

OH:

Well, he called five of us. Fellow Corry at St. Matthew's, I remember Corry was there. And I remember Kenneth Lee, because Kenneth was the first one to respond to what he said by saying, “Mr. Mayor, you need to think in terms of trying to get the businesses to open their doors. You use your influence.” And he said he had no interest in that at this time. He was interested to get the folk off the streets. And then he said what he could do. And at that point when we, we had this confrontation on what would happen if he did that.

EP:

Did you continue—

OH:

I'm trying to remember the other two persons in that, in that meeting. Kenneth Lee, John Corry, myself—I don't—we had five of us. I don't recall the other two persons at the meeting.

EP:

Did you continue to meet subsequently with the mayor?

OH:

No, no. The mayor wanted to use us, I think, to, to try to get folk off the streets. This was his interest.

Later on, though, Trotter acted and he called a meeting. And at that meeting it was decided that they needed to form—they had a mayor's committee or something formed before that time. Ed Zane was chairman of that.

EP:

I wanted to ask you—

OH:

And he was chairman. It was before that time after the sit-ins, after that. But they thought this committee could not represent, and eventually, I think, they agreed that they would form a new committee, a special committee.

At that time they had all of the civil rights leaders, I mean the, the heads of the—Dr. [George] Simkins, I know, Bill Thomas, myself, Hicks, all five of us were on the—they had five of us on that, on that committee. Dr. Evans, Dr. George Evans, was chairman of this committee, the special committee to deal with this thing. He was black, of course, and he was the chairman of this committee.

EP:

Now I understand that Mayor Schenck pointed out to some out-of-town reporters that, well, Greensboro has an ongoing human relations committee. But it's my understanding that they hadn't met in quite some time.

OH:

Mayor's Committee at that time. Mayor's Committee they called it. Human Relations Committee was formed after, after '63 because they had all that—it grew out of this special committee because the persons, the blacks on the special committee were also the blacks on the first Human Relations Commission.

EP:

Now did this committee that was in existence prior to the beginning of the mass demonstrations, spring of '63, did it meet on an ad hoc basis or a regular basis?

OH:

I was not on that, I was not on that one. I was on the special commission, committee, that he had and on the, on the first Human Relations Commission. I was not on this other. I really don't know that much about it.

EP:

Well, did the black community feel it had a committee that would study its list of grievances or its demands?

OH:

I think that's why they asked for another commission, committee. They did not accept this committee. That's why they had to appoint another one, I think.

EP:

I see. What was the reason they would not accept this committee? Did they feel that it was not representative?

OH:

I don't know. I think that just it didn't have enough; it didn't have enough black viable representation.

The blacks who were on there—I don't even recall the blacks who were on the, on this other committee. But they thought that you need the, the activists. These are who are really calling the shots and the black. And these are folk who are going to really compromise.

So I think the idea was that you need a new committee where the blacks that you had on the committee, the blacks would be able to say that, “We ought to do this without a compromise.” This is what—I don't think the other committee never would have, the other committee couldn't have done it. Never would have done it, the other committee, because it was not, it was, it was a committee picked by the mayor himself and not the, the black community did not have input as to the leaders who were on that, on that committee.

EP:

Did Dr. Evans have the support and confidence of the black community?

OH:

Yes. Dr. Evans was appointed chairman of the special committee because they thought they needed a black who was, who was flexible enough to do both—Dr. Evans, at that time, was on the school board; he succeeded Dr. Hampton. I forgot to, to mention they got Dr. Hampton not to run for the [Greensboro] City Council, I think, after he had led the ticket. This is my feeling.

They said to Dr. Hampton—Dr. David Jones, the first president of Bennett College, was on the [school] board in 1954 when the Supreme Court decision [Brown v. Board of Education] [was made]. And he probably influenced that board a great deal, too, Mr. Smith. He was a skillful educator but a skillful person. And I think he had a lot to do with the, what the board, the resolution that the school board had.

Dr. Jones, because of his health, had to retire from the board. And Dr., Dr. Evans—Dr. Hampton was appointed to replace Dr. Jones. And they said to Dr. Hampton, “You know, we have such a strong person. We don't know a person that's strong enough to succeed Dr. Jones.” And they talked him into accepting the position on the school board. So he came off of the city council in order to accept the school board.

And when Dr. Hampton died, of course, Dr. Evans was appointed. So Dr. Evans was the black on the school board at that time, which means that he could more or less be flexible enough to deal with the blacks and also to deal with the whites.

EP:

Now when the demonstrations started, was there any dialogue or communication with the city council, or did that only come after the demonstrations and marches had been going on for some time?

OH:

Only when you wanted streetlights and you couldn't get them, you'd probably appeal to the [Greensboro City] Council, or something that you needed, streets or something, in the black community. I don't think blacks had too much dealing with the city council before that time. When Dr. Hampton, of course he represented the black community on the city council, but I think primarily, when you wanted something, you go to the council.

EP:

I was speaking in terms of this first committee that—was this the same committee that worked out the compromise with the lunch counter sit-ins? Had, did, is—and who said that this committee—

OH:

No, no. I don't think this committee worked it out, really. I don't, I'm not too sure. I remember the students decided they needed some adults to represent them in compromising with the, with the stores. And they, they could have been advised. I'm not too sure. They could have been advised that perhaps you ought to get some adult folk to have to more or less—

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

OH:

—not willing, a lot folk are not willing to be arrested. You can't stop your movement; you've got to keep something going. It could, you know, when you get to a certain point folks say, “Well, I can't afford to go to jail. This is moving towards the weekend or something. I got to get that paycheck. I can't be in jail.” So you got to plan something that's got to shift it.

EP:

Was this the reason why there was a return back to the [boycotts]?

OH:

Well, I don't recall all of the things that happened. But I know that a lot of this happened. Well, you know, moving toward the weekend you can't—these folk can't wait—folk got to get their school. Certain things would happen in school so you got to—this is the time we can't afford to be arrested.

And we, we talked about that a lot. Sometime you can't afford to be arrested. You got some things you got to do. So we've got to plan something, but we can't plan anything that's going to get you in jail.

[Tape turned off; then back on]

EP:

Reverend Hairston, in August Meier and Elliot Rudwick's study of CORE: A Study in the Civil Rights Movement, 1942-1968, it quotes as saying that the black middle class in Greensboro was no longer willing to support direct action, that it was more or less exhausted by the previous emotional and physical involvement of the demonstrations. What is your reaction to their analysis?

OH:

Well, I think perhaps misunderstood if they feel that this was a withdrawal. What happened to shift the emphasis to an economic boycott at that time so that you brought economic pressure on the business community to force them to use their influence to try to get the places open.

EP:

What was your personal experience and knowledge of the effect of the boycott on Greensboro businessmen?

OH:

There's no question that they got involved as a result of being hurt. I think a lot of the businesses were really hurt as a result of that, and they got involved and used their influence to try to get the places to open.

EP:

Did any of them personally express any feeling about the boycott toward you?

OH:

Yes. I was in the bank one day and a businessman wanted to know when we would permit folk to start buying again downtown. And my answer was when they started to open all the places, businesses.

EP:

Another question I'd like to ask is the effect of the CORE field representatives that came to assist in the demonstrations. Were they generally helpful, or do you think that theirs was mainly a cosmetic, publicity role?

OH:

Well, I think they had an obligation. If you have a national chapter of anything, naturally, the folk who are on the administrative level would be involved wherever the action, effort is directed. It's true with NAACP. It's true with any national group.

EP:

Do you think that their role was mainly supportive, or did they conduct workshops in how the demonstrators should conduct themselves on the course of a march or a picket line?

OH:

Well, it was supportive. Of course, naturally, they had ideas and they advanced those ideas. Some of them were accepted and some were not.

EP:

I'm thinking, in particular, James Farmer—do you think he had a substantive role in the course of events here in Greensboro?

OH:

Well, some of the ideas he advanced were accepted. He had been involved in demonstrations. And he was helpful in that he could tell us the persons involved, some things you don't do. You get in trouble doing this. I think he played a very helpful role as one who had been involved throughout the country, perhaps, in demonstrations.

EP:

Following the mayor's statement on July eighth, it appears that the black community did a disproportionate amount of the showing of good faith. This is a statement that had been made by both sides several times during the course of the demonstrations and the boycott. Do you think that the black community went farther than the business community of Greensboro and the city administration in showing good faith?

OH:

Well, I think it was more or less an attempt to call their hand. They had indicated that they would do certain things. And I think you give them the benefit of the doubt in a case like this to see if they will live up to the commitment. And I think perhaps it was a chance of seeing if they would live up to the commitment which they were willing to make at that time.

EP:

Do you think they did?

OH:

To some extent. I think they, as a result, put forth greater effort to get some things opened.

EP:

What sort of showing of good faith did the black community do? You've mentioned what the city administration and the managers had done. What was demanded of the black community by the city administration, and what did the black community do?

OH:

Well, it was the cessation for a while of demonstrations to see if some things could be done. And, of course, the black community cooperated in that way.

EP:

At this time, Reverend Hicks was considering resigning from, and did, in fact, resign from the Citizens Coordinating Committee. Was that the result of, as it was stated in the newspaper, that pressing business at his church and the conflict on his time between Citizens Coordinating Committee and his role as minister, or was there some disagreement on the committee?

OH:

Well, I don't recall any disagreement that forced anybody to withdraw. What happened, of course, he's in the Episcopal Church. You have the hierarchy. The bishop and the others are constantly bringing pressure. Perhaps the minister is using too much time in this kind of involvement and I think the pressure which he received from his bishop and the others, the hierarchy in his church.

EP:

What is your opinion, or was your opinion, of Dr. James Pendergast, who served as his replacement on the committee?

OH:

Well, I think at that time we were just about at the point that it was dissolved. So he was not on the committee—a very short period. I don't recall but a very short period.

EP:

What is your opinion of what was accomplished by the demonstrations and the negotiations and the boycott of 1963?

OH:

Well, I think it led to a lot of things which perhaps still happen as a result of demonstrations. Of course, it called attention to an evil which perhaps had not been demonstrated in that manner. And just like any demonstration is designed to do, to call attention to an evil and to try to get people to really look at it and see it as an evil. And as a result, to convince some people that that its really evil and perhaps you lead them to use their influence to do away with whatever it is.

EP:

Now the theatres were desegregated rather early in the negotiations in May. And subsequently, the S&W and other restaurants were desegregated. Do you think a substantial number of them were desegregated at this time, or was it a result of the 1964 Civil Rights Act?

OH:

Well, some of them, as a result of the demonstrations, some of them, hardcore, of course, refused. Some of them were forced out of business as a result of not cooperating. I would say that perhaps the majority were hardcore persons who just wanted to hold out and the Civil Rights Act, of course, forced them to do what demonstrations could not force them to do.

EP:

So you would disagree, once again, with Meier and Rudwick's assessment that, essentially, the results of the demonstrations in Greensboro were failed, in that total desegregation was not accomplished.

OH:

Well, I don't think I would say failed, because if you lead to something that will ultimately be done, I don't think it's ever a failure. If you, if you pave the way for something to happen, I think, it's, it's certainly not a failure. Perhaps there are other forces that will lead to it, too. But you certainly cannot determine the effect of demonstrations, or whatever the effort is, would have on the ultimate opening of whatever it is that you're trying to achieve. If it's achieved, then you, it's very difficult to measure just what factor was primary.

EP:

Greensboro had a reputation for moderation in race relations. But High Point and Durham, who, in turn, had a reputation for somewhat harsher race policies, race relations, desegregated a larger proportion of public facilities earlier than Greensboro. High Point did not pass a very strict ordinance on parades, which Greensboro did. And Greensboro was the last major city in North Carolina to cling to segregation. In the light of this, in your personal experience, what is your attitude toward this alleged reputation of moderation of Greensboro? Is it genuine or is it over—is it exaggerated?

OH:

Well, I think it's the kind of leadership. In any community you can have people who are willing to do, but if the leadership is not willing to, then you are held back. And I think it's the kind of leadership that we had at that time in Greensboro. You had folk who wanted to do, liberal folk, moderate folk, but you had a leadership that was stubborn. And any time you have a leadership that is stubborn, they always try to evade rather than to comply.

EP:

Do you think the moderate forces gained strength and eventually won out? Or do you think very little actually changed, and that this was just another example of reluctantly giving in to the force of federal legislation?

OH:

I think the moderate leadership forced the stubborn leadership part of the mayor and others to just do what the community really needed to do. I don't think the mayor really wanted, Mayor Schenck, really wanted to do anything. He was stubborn and he'd really gotten pretty angry as a result of demonstrations. And I think that the other folk in the community, the business community, just forced him to do what was best for the community.

EP:

In retrospect, what do you think became of the civil rights movement locally?

OH:

Well, it's been directed in more or less voting. That seems to be perhaps the effort—to get folk to vote, to exercise that kind of power today. And I think it's true throughout the country, economic power and the power of the ballot.

EP:

Nationally, the civil rights movement seemed to split into a series of factions. And the unity that presented itself up through the summer of 1963 seemed to split in terms of the more militant demonstrations of CORE and SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee], as opposed to the elements in the leadership of SCLC [Southern Christian Leadership Conference] and CORE that wanted to maintain nonviolent demonstrations. Did that also occur here in Greensboro? Was there a shift toward militancy in the black community?

OH:

Of course you had groups who took on perhaps the program of these groups, the methods. But for the most part, I think it shifted to a new emphasis on voting—had extensive voting registration effort as a result of that. So blacks, at least, in large numbers registered. Perhaps the voting was not as successful, but the registration was very successful. The other effort, of course, is through economic boycott to, to at times force institutions to do what we felt they ought to do. And I remember Wachovia Bank had not employed a black teller. And of course we had folk who had accounts there. We had one demonstration for an hour one day at lunch. And then the folk were urged not to have accounts. Well, the next day they had a person from Winston-Salem who was a teller—they brought in a teller. So I think the shift was—it was a shift to economic withdrawal, businesses, voter registration where you could—through your voting power—force people to do things.

EP:

Was there a de-emphasis on direct action?

OH:

Yes. I think it come to the point where perhaps folk felt that there needed to be a shift. That there had other ways, other means, other ways of bringing pressure, that we could demonstrate power through the ballot, economic pressure. And I think they shifted to those areas.

EP:

Was the black community successful in shifting to these areas? Was there a strength and a power felt through the ballot and the pocketbook in the black community?

OH:

I'm sure that some of the things we secured after that resulted from the ballot, economic pressure. I'm sure that the ballot was a threat in that we had the votes and we were listened to. And a lot of things we got as a result of the threat of being able to vote and to defeat people, who perhaps were not going along with some things.

EP:

Did you continue to remain active in the civil rights activities here in Greensboro through your membership of the Greensboro Coordinating Committee, and then later, your membership on the school board?

OH:

Well, before that time, after, before the school board, the—perhaps the group which really brought the real pressure in 1967-'68, after the assassination of Martin Luther King, we organized a Citizens Coordinating Committee. It was a new group. We felt at that time that the NAACP nor the Citizens Association could bring the kind of pressure.

So we organized a new group which was only temporary. And that group really became involved. Perhaps that, that particular group caused the white community, the power structure, to be fearful of the black community more than anything that probably ever happened.

EP:

Fearful in the sense of the power that they asserted?

OH:

The power, yes, the power to economic boycott, the—I think primarily, the economic withdrawal.

EP:

Who were the principal leaders of the Greensboro Coordinating Committee?

OH:

Reverend Cecil Bishop, who was pastor of Trinity AME Zion Church and at that time, I believe, he was chairman of, or became chairman, of the Human Relations Commission shortly thereafter or perhaps before. And the two of us served as co-chairmen of the Citizens Emergency Committee. Mr. [A.S.] Webb of American Federal Savings and Loan, who later became, I believe, chairman of the Human Relations Commission, was very active.

In fact, we had most of the persons, perhaps a larger group than even the Citizens Association had had through the years. So we had mass meetings, we had participation of some four or five hundred people in mass meetings during that period.

EP:

Now the Greensboro Citizens Association continued, is—

OH:

Yes, this was just a temporary group.

EP:

I see. Now was this—you mention it variously as being the Greensboro Citizens Coordinating Committee and the Greensboro Citizens Emergency—

OH:

Emergency Committee, yes. Emergency Committee was the second committee. It was just to deal with the emergency which we had.

EP:

What was the emergency at that time?

OH:

Well, after the assassination of King, of course, all of the communities throughout the country went up into smoke more or less. And in Greensboro the effort was to more or less try to, to not become too emotional in a destructive way but find ways that we could do something since emotions were up, we would use it in a constructive way. And we were trying to make gains that we had not gained, gotten before.

The thing that led to the organizations, the mass meeting, and the mayor of the city—Carson Bain was mayor at that time—refused to permit a permit for marches. And decided since we couldn't march downtown, we would just stay away from downtown. So the effort was economic withdrawal from downtown, from the businesses.

EP:

And what was the result of this economic boycott? What, what sort of concessions did you get from the city?

OH:

Well, we made a lot of demands—I think about twenty different demands at the time: demanding more employment in businesses, percentage employment based on the population, the upgrading of the people to professional jobs, management and public agencies and jobs, city government.

We also requested the Merchants Association to advise and to encourage members of that association to employment or to people. And I think as a result of that, we had several gains made as far as employment. City government started for the first time really to give folk meaningful positions.

EP:

Did the younger members of the black community, by that I mean college students and also young working members of the black community, turn away from the traditional black leadership in Greensboro to a more militant stand?

OH:

No. I think we were wise enough to, to get the support when we needed the support, and also, support them when we thought that it was something which the community needed to get involved in.

I remember very well A&P [grocery store] wanted to open a store in a black community with a white manager. And it was the Citizens Emergency Committee at the time which said to the management of A&P, state and regional, that you have trouble if you try to open a store in the black community in this neighborhood with a white manager. But they attempted it anyway. And we picketed for some four or five days and forced them to, to get a black manager. They had to bring a manager in from Durham in order to really operate that business. We just closed them out; picketing all day from the time they opened till the time they closed. And folk refused to go through a picket line.

EP:

What was the reaction of the black community to the violence on the A&T campus in 1969 that resulted in a curfew and the calling in of the National Guard and eventually the storming of Scott Hall?

OH:

Well, of course, that resulted from an incident at Dudley [High School], which a student [Claude Barnes] who lived in public housing [Morningside Homes], was not permitted, I understand, to run—an effort made to keep him from being elected president of the student body. And as a result of that they had—the students from A&T, some of them got involved in it. Because I think this person was involved in some effort, some movement. And it resulted, of course, in some of the students from Dudley, also, being involved.

The principal [Franklin Brown] was not able to deal with that particular effort. The Human Relations Commission could not deal with it. So eventually the Unity Committee of the Chamber of Commerce had to resolve it. It was through the Unity Committee of the Chamber.

And it happened that time that Mr. McMillan, who was on the school board attorney, was chairman of the Unity Committee, and he was on the school board. And there was a conflict of interest he thought, and he didn't want to pursue it. And as a result, the vice chairman, I happened to be the vice chairman, had to preside over the meetings to help to resolve that incident. It would have gone on and on if it had not been resolved.

EP:

And who was the vice president of the school board, vice chairman?

OH:

No, McMillan was on the school board. He was the attorney and also chairman of the Unity Committee of the Chamber of Commerce. So he was, he did not feel comfortable presiding over the Unity Committee of the Chamber to resolve it because the school board was involved in trying to, to settle it. And—

EP:

And you—

OH:

Of course, it happened I was vice chairman of the Unity Committee of the Chamber [of Commerce]. I had to preside over the meetings in which we called the superintendent, the chairman of the school board, the, the students from A&T who were involved, the principal of Dudley, the students from Dudley who were involved. We were able to get all of the groups together, and as a result we were able to resolve it.

EP:

What sort of things constituted the resolution of this, this issue?

OH:

Well, we felt that they needed to have another election—had been held. And the student was, we thought, unfairly treated in the election. So we felt that, the recommendation was simply that they have another election—

EP:

And another election was held?

OH:

—of the student body. Yes, at Dudley.

EP:

What was the outcome of that?

OH:

As I recall, I believe the person [Claude Barnes] who was barred was eventually, I believe, as I recall, I believe he was elected president of the student body.

EP:

Did the Emergency Committee or the Unity Committee make any—take any action to see that the people who were arrested were released?

OH:

No. The only thing we did, it was simply try to resolve the issue. The main issue was that—well, the claim was that the election was not fair. And we felt that since we found evidence it was not fair, we thought the only thing that they needed to do was have another election.

EP:

Now you—

OH:

This was the only recommendation which we made.

EP:

You have recently resigned from the school board. I was wondering if you could summarize your efforts on the school board, what sort of things you hope to see accomplished by the school board for public education in Greensboro?

OH:

Well, I have attempted for eight years to see that we have the quality education for all of the students. And I'd like to see that continued, that effort to, to see that all of the students will be able to have quality opportunity for quality education regardless of where they live, regardless of race, other circumstances. Sometimes we label people—but that the effort will be put forth to see that every child would have the opportunity of a quality education.

We've had, through the years, discrimination, because of segregation in the opportunity, and we still have some. Dudley is a good example of where you can't get the kind of facilities, equipment that they need to make it equal to the other high schools. I think they will need to continue to assure Dudley and the other schools in the black community that the equipment, the instructional staff, the other things are equal, that the students are given the same opportunities of students at the other schools. This would be true of all of the schools in the city.

EP:

Were you on the school board at the time that massive busing became policy in Greensboro?

OH:

Yes. I worked on both of the plans. We've had two plans, two attendance zone changes, in the past eight years and I think I'm the only person who worked on both. I was on the board in, in '72, the first one, and of course the last one, just this past year. So I think I'm the only person who went through both of the changes.

EP:

What sort of, of pressures resulted in the shift to massive busing? Who were the principal local proponents of a change to large-scale busing in Greensboro?

OH:

Well, the courts forced this. See, Greensboro, like most cities in the state, had to more or less do it because of the court. Greensboro system was taken to court like several others in the state. And we had to comply with what the court would require.

EP:

It's my understanding that at that time “freedom of choice” was declared unconstitutional. Is that correct?

OH:

Yes. And, of course, before I came on the board, the board attempted to more or less find a way, even with freedom of choice, to comply. And, of course, the system was taken to court.

EP:

Do you think that freedom of choice was a genuine [plan] in Greensboro, or do you think it was an attempt to evade meaningful desegregation of the public schools?

OH:

Well, I think it's pretty clear that Governor Hodges was the author of the plan. Pearsall got it together, the committee. But it was really the [Luther] Hodges plan. And I have articles that I have written dealing with this and letters to Mr. Hodges in which it was pointed out that the whole plan was trying to evade rather than to comply. And that it was something that could not work in North Carolina or anywhere else. Because once the court, court speaks, perhaps in time, they will enforce—you could evade it for a time—but in time they would enforce. The court of the United States could not afford to have a mandate and have folk ignore it.

EP:

What sort of efforts were made during these years between nineteen—up to the time of the plan for mass busing of school children? Was there any attempt to make the freedom of choice plan actually work? Or was it content on the school board that things were functioning well?

OH:

Well, it was a plan designed throughout the South. Folk did not really want desegregated schools and they attempted every possible way to avoid, to evade. They came up with a lot of plans throughout the country to evade. It's an indication that they did not have the will to do the right thing. If they had, in 1954, they could have gone ahead and gotten the schools desegregated on a basis that perhaps would not require busing. I think the court would have more or less accepted the plan. But when the court found that the cities in the South and the North were evading, then the court was forced to have a mandate, an additional that would really lead people to do what the court had ordered to be done.

EP:

Do you think that there was this same desire to evade on the school board here in Greensboro?

OH:

Well, no. The school board in Greensboro at that time wanted to comply. Huggins, who was chairman, the superintendent, at that time, a Mr. Ben Smith, they really wanted to comply. But it was pressure from the state which impeded the progress in Greensboro.

We had to perhaps enlighten leadership on the school board at that time in Greensboro. And Dr. David Jones, the president of Bennett College, was the first black. He was on the school board. A very skillful person, good educator, and I'm sure that he had some influence, too. But we had an enlightened school board in 1954 in Greensboro.

EP:

What was the original plan for busing called in Greensboro, and how did the school board arrive at its busing plan?

OH:

Well, we had to make sure that you had ratios throughout the system. And the plan was to try to have 70/30, which would reflect the school population, with each school for the most part have 70 percent white, 30 percent black. And to do that, of course, you had to have a plan where folk would be bused throughout the city in order to bring that to pass.

We had whites living in one community and black another, blacks another. The only way you could do it is simply to bus the whites to the black community and the blacks to the white community to have that type of ratio. And this was, of course, the plan to whatever means would be required to do it, the idea was to do it, to try to have the ratio of 70/30.

EP:

Was this any one person's plan, or was it a joint plan of the board?

OH:

Well, this is what the court indicated that it would accept, this type of plan, where the ratio would reflect, the school ratio would reflect what the student population ratio would be in the city.

EP:

Was there a great deal of outcry in the community, white community, about busing in Greensboro?

OH:

Oh yes, because the majority of the whites have never accepted—even today—it's been forced. But the majority never accepted busing, and they still don't accept busing. They have a lot of ways that they try to explain their opposition. But I think the real thing is that really they don't want schools desegregated.

Busing is just a word used, a respectable word to use, but the real thing is desegregation. And the only way you can have it is to bus. It's the only tool that can be used. And when you say we don't want that, that means you don't want the other if that's the only means of securing it. So what they're saying is that we don't want desegregation.

EP:

Were there any organized demonstrations by white groups? I know one, the principal group that was formed to try and fight busing was Americans Concerned about Today, ACT.

OH:

Yes.

EP:

Did they form any substantive demonstrations?

OH:

Oh, yes. They had, for the first four or five months every—or perhaps longer, I guess a year, every school board meeting they had their representative there, as the fellow, Joe Brown, I believe his name was, the president of the group, and he was always there to make a statement. He was there with the group to demonstrate after the meeting—I think perhaps a whole year—protesting the decision of the school board to try to comply with the court.

EP:

Did you or any member of the school board ever receive any hate mail, telephone calls, any sort of pressure or intimidation from this group or other members of the community?

OH:

Well, I think it's true that every time you do something like this, you can look forward to this. I've received it ever since 1960 in Greensboro. So I guess for some—

EP:

Because of your association—

OH:

—some eighteen, eighteen years. Any time that you advance an idea or pursue something that will cause some people to be uncomfortable, they always find a way to protest. So I've gotten almost used to this; it's just routine almost.

EP:

Was there much violence in the schools or on the school buses as a result of busing in 1971?

OH:

Surprisingly, the students were ready, I think, more ready for desegregation than the parents. Only when I think parents felt strongly and students, as a result of this, would do things which reflected the attitudes of parents. I think they were ready for it.

I think students were sensitive. They recognized that it was wrong to segregate. They were more enlightened than the parents. I think the students were willing to accept it for the most part. Of course, you had cases where students, I guess, after listening to parents, they developed their attitudes. But for the most part, students were enlightened.

EP:

Do you think that busing accomplished the goal of meeting these ratios throughout the public schools in Greensboro?

OH:

Well, you couldn't maintain it because of white flight—parents so dissatisfied that they just took them out and sent them to private schools or moved to the county, county schools. So you could not maintain the ratio unless parents stayed there, kept their kids there. And a lot of them left. We had white flight throughout the city, so the ratio naturally would be off as a result of that.

EP:

Why was there a second busing plan initiated last year?

OH:

Well, the original plan said every five years the board would look at the plan because of the drop in ratios and perhaps revise the plan as necessary. So it was mandated in the original plan that it would be done. They would have to continue to revise the plan.

In fact, every three years, it was, because we attempted three years after that, but folk thought that they did not want to be upset again so the board did not, except a few cases, change any of the zones. But, every three years, I think, the board must look at the plan.

EP:

What sorts of revisions were made in this last plan?

OH:

Well, attempted to make adjustment in some ratios, but because of the drop in enrollments you could not have that same type of ratio that we had in 1972.

EP:

In specific schools or throughout the system?

OH:

Throughout the system.

EP:

Are you satisfied with the ratios as they now stand or would you—what changes would you like to see?

OH:

Well, I'm not satisfied, of course, but if you don't have the white population—they're continuing to run—no way in the world you can have it. You can make adjustments, but they continue to run. And there's no way that you can deal with this.

I think it's a moral thing where people feel that perhaps they're not ready for it. And they'd do anything rather than try to comply if it's something they feel uncomfortable doing, that they really don't believe in.

EP:

What sort of ideal ratio would you like to see?

OH:

Well, I think it ought to continue to reflect the ratio of the school population.

EP:

You mean the—

OH:

Student population.

EP:

Throughout the city or within the zones?

OH:

Throughout the city.

EP:

Why did you resign from the school board?

OH:

Well, you have eight years on the board. I've served eight years and two months. And other commitments—

EP:

It's my understanding that you've received a number of—

OH:

Well, I had a lot of appointments even before that time, knowing that I'd be off the board.

EP:

It's my understanding you've received a number of accolades regarding your service on the school board, including a commemorative dinner and—

OH:

Well, it was really a reception after the board meeting, surprise reception and I was not aware that. And of course letters from the mayor of the city. A lot of folk have written letters expressing appreciation for my service on the board.

EP:

What sort of things would you like to see, goals would you like to see, the black leadership in the black community in Greensboro pursue in the future?

OH:

Well, we have not arrived. And I think that the goals that we have, we've had through the years. It's just a matter of pursuing those and trying to obtain some of those goals. And that is full equality and we've not arrived yet at that.

EP:

By full equality, what specifically do you mean with this term?

OH:

Well, it means that—

EP:

I mean breaking it down to—

OH:

We want—well, let me just simply say that we want an opportunity to develop fully every child just like everybody else would want. We don't want any barriers like we've had through the years.

EP:

This includes—

OH:

Everything, everything, because we've had barriers right down the line, so the idea is that you break down all of the barriers so that you have the opportunity to develop fully every child, every person. And that you have a sense of worth because of being able to develop and not have barriers where you are held back because of color, promotions.

We've had this through the years and, of course, it's still true. If you're black you have a disadvantage when you apply. You can be equal to the other person, or superior in many cases, but if you're black, you just, you're held back.

I guess a white person will have twenty-five percent in his favor just by the fact he's white. And this is still, this is still true for the most part.

EP:

Is there much push in the black community for open housing?

OH:

Well, we have that. We have as much of that as we can secure. We can live anywhere in Greensboro if you can buy it. I don't think there are any barriers in housing.

EP:

So this is not one of the barriers you're focusing on?

OH:

We have folk living in all areas, in Starmount, Irving Park, wherever you can buy. So I don't think you have a problem. That, that's not too much of a problem, I don't think, in Greensboro at this point, housing.

[End of Interview]