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Oral history interview with Ulysses Lee Jr. by Eugene Pfaff


Date: July 29, 1982

Interviewee: Ulysses Ralph Lee, Jr.

Biographical abstract: Ulysses R. Lee (1943- ) was chairman of the Greensboro Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) chapter from 1963 to 1964.

Interviewer: Eugene E Pfaff

Description:

In this transcript of a July 29, 1982, oral history interview conducted by Eugene Pfaff with Ulysses Lee Jr., Lee primarily discusses the history, strategies, and activities of the Greensboro CORE chapter, which he led in 1963 and 1964. Other topics include the role of the adult black community, police, Elizabeth Laizner, Jesse Jackson, and Lewis Dowdy in demonstrations. Lee also provides details of the 1963 picketing and mass arrests at the S&W Cafeteria and Center Theater.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: GreensboroVOICES Collection

Repository: The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Item#: 1.10.539

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 Ulysses Lee Jr. by Eugene Pfaff

Eugene Pfaff:

—to Greensboro?

Ulysses Ralph Lee:

Okay. I first came to Greensboro in '61 when I started [at] A&T [North Carolina A&T State University]. And I had been through there once, during the, as I recall, during the early 1950s, because my grandparents lived in North Carolina further up near Fayetteville, I believe. But the first—that was my first time to spend any length of time there.

EP:

Why did you select A&T?

UL:

Well, I had heard about it here in New York, and one of my teachers at the high school that I went to here in New York had graduated from A&T, and he had recommended the school to me. And at that time, I wanted to leave New York, at any rate, and one thing led to the other, and also having family in North Carolina and Virginia, at least I would be near relatives.

EP:

I was wondering what, what is your parents' background? What was their occupation and education level and so forth?

UL:

Well, my mother retired. She's a retired bank clerk, and my father retired from the New York City Transit Authority. Neither one had any college background, both [are] high school graduates.

EP:

Were you the first in your family to go to college?

UL:

Yes, I was.

EP:

Had you been involved in any civil rights activities prior to coming to Greensboro?

UL:

In New York, yes, I was involved with the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] young adult chapter here in Brooklyn.

EP:

Had you participated in any demonstrations or sit -ins?

UL:

No, not in New York.

EP:

I see. How did you become involved in civil rights down here in Greensboro?

UL:

Oh, boy. Well, I met Ezell Blair [Jr., now known as Jibreel Khazan] and a number of other people who were, you know, early on involved in the original sit-ins at the Woolworth's. I believe that was the year prior to my coming to A&T. And, of course, Jesse Jackson was at A&T the same time I was.

EP:

Was he involved or concerned about civil rights prior to the, the marches, or was he not involved?

UL:

Well, Jesse, to the best of my knowledge, he was involved in South Carolina, which is his home, down in, I believe, Orangeburg. But the extent of his involvement, I, I just can't say. I, I really don't know, Gene.

EP:

The reason I ask is I've heard from most sources that he did not become actively involved until after the marches had been going on for some time, or certainly not until the spring of '63, and after he had been elected—

UL:

That's, that's in terms of his involvement with CORE [Congress of Racial Equality] in Greensboro. I mean, he was not one of the early-on folks, if you know what I mean.

EP:

One person told me that he had sat in at the early meetings of the people that eventually formed the CORE chapter at Reverend Marion Jones's house. Is this true or not?

UL:

I would have no idea. I wouldn't have no idea. The only thing that I knew—Bill Thompson [sic- Bill Thomas] was chairman of the Greensboro chapter of CORE when I became involved. And to the best of my knowledge, Jackson was not involved in any meetings, at least that I attended, until the demonstrations started, and then he got involved. And, of course, subsequently, after Bill's tenure as chairman had lapsed, I took over as chairman, and that was during 1964. But things had quieted down considerably during that point.

EP:

How did you get drawn into CORE?

UL:

Well, I had been familiar with CORE here in New York, even though I wasn't a part of it, and I knew people who worked in the New York chapter of CORE, and I had met Jim Farmer here in New York prior to my going to A&T. And I believed in what they were doing at their time. I have some difficulties with what they're doing here in New York now. I have no idea what their involvement is in the South at the present time, but I have definite problems with some of the things that they're doing here in New York City. But, at any rate, at that time Floyd McKissick and Jim Farmer were pretty much running CORE, and I believed in the work that they were doing at that time and got involved.

EP:

Were you invited to attend these meetings? Was it common knowledge that these meetings were going on? Did you go on your own? Exactly how were you drawn in?

UL:

Well, I had been invited through my meetings, through conversations that I had, primarily with Bill Thomas and some other people. And, as I can recall, at the early meetings at that point being held at the Hayes-Taylor YMCA [Young Men's Christian Association] down on East Market Street—

EP:

Were they meeting—

UL:

You have to understand, we're going back almost eighteen, nineteen years. [laughing] But, to the best of my knowledge, the first meetings took place at the Hayes-Taylor Y.

EP:

Were they meeting on a regular basis or just infrequently?

UL:

Two, three times a week.

EP:

I see. Were they—how many people were involved?

UL:

At first, let me—I would, I would venture twenty-five to thirty as a ballpark figure. Of course, there were a number of students. Some of the students were from A&T. I would say about half were from A&T and the other half from Bennett [College]. And there were, it seems to me, there were one or two students from Guilford College.

EP:

But there was not much white participation?

UL:

No, no, no, not much white participation at all.

EP:

Well, I was wondering why there was such lukewarm response to CORE on, on the campus of A&T.

UL:

Well, I think the problem was quite obvious. At that time, Dr. [Lewis C.] Dowdy had taken over [as president] after Sam Proctor had left to go to head the Peace Corps up in West Africa, and, of course, he's also here at New York now. But when you're dealing with a state-supported, land grant college—and, at that time at least, you were dealing, or we were dealing with what I considered to be a very conservative black administration, and they were obviously very dependent on the North Carolina state legislature for funding, if the schools were going to remain in existence. And I just didn't think the administration at A&T wanted to encourage students to get involved with certainly what, at that time, was considered to be something very radical.

EP:

Did that have a coercive effect on the students?

UL:

I, I wouldn't use the word coercive, Gene. I just think we were somewhat disappointed; but in a way we understood, because many of these folks, including my own parents, had obviously come from the Old South where they just didn't want to, or were afraid to—for lack of a better expression—to question tradition or custom, things that had been in existence for, for years. In other words, I got the distinct impression from the administration that they were saying, “You're here to get an education, and that's it.” Any type of involvement in, in certainly what, as I said, was considered to be a very radical cause at that point, was just frowned upon.

EP:

What did the early meetings consist of?

UL:

To the best of my knowledge, we had talked about what we wanted to achieve. Certainly, at that time, integration of public facilities was a primary issue. In terms of immediate goals, that occupied about 90 [to] 95 percent of the discussions that we had. And, of course, the commitment to the whole concept of nonviolence was heavily stressed through workshops, through meetings, through lectures and so forth. And, as you know, there was a deep commitment to the, to the concept of nonviolence.

EP:

Was this something that the students readily accepted or had to be brought around to or—what was their attitude toward nonviolence?

UL:

I think the majority of the students that I had contact with readily accepted it. Of course, there were a few who took the attitude, "Well, if somebody hurts me, I have a right to defend myself." That type of thing. Of course, I had had some prior involvement in readings, nonviolence and so forth, prior to my coming to A&T. [tape distortion] So, I was in a position to readily accept.

Oddly enough, I think that the students who—at some point—who began to question, or who did not want to readily accept the whole theory of nonviolence, were a large number of students from urban areas who, for the most part, had come from different backgrounds than many of the kids at A&T, who were, you know, from smaller Southern towns or rural areas. But I think, by and large, we convinced and turned those folks around [to understanding] that it was a good strategy, and if we were to accomplish what we wanted to accomplish, certainly it had to be achieved by nonviolent means. And I think it worked. It worked for the most part.

EP:

Was it a tightly structured or loosely structured organization?

UL:

I would say—the administration's CORE chapter now—?

EP:

Yes.

UL:

—or the national organization?

EP:

The local CORE chapter.

UL:

I think it was loosely structured, loosely structured. I mean, it wasn't a strongly regimented operation. People had their say, and if you disagreed, you disagreed, and it was democratically run. But it was fairly well organized. Of course, you know, the problem was, we had very little money, if any.

EP:

Did you have to pay a dues as a member or—

UL:

I—there was no dues as far as I can remember. I mean, these students—and certainly I didn't. I know I didn't pay any. [laughing]

EP:

I see. [laughing]

UL:

I had to do all I could just about to make tuition.

EP:

Did you receive money from the national chapter?

UL:

There was some money coming in from the national chapter, but that was minimal at best. I think, perhaps, during '64 when I became chairman and we were pretty much closing out a lot of things, I think if I got a thousand dollars, that was the maximum amount of money.

EP:

Well, what was this money to be used for?

UL:

Well, we had rent. We had rented—I can't remember the street, but we did have an office.

EP:

Was it on Gorrell Street?

UL:

I—Jesus Christ—yeah, I just can't remember the street. I know it was a very miniature shopping center. It seems to me, as I can recall it, there was a grocery store downstairs and maybe a tailor's or a cleaner's next door. And upstairs there was a dentist's office, because I know our office was right next to the dentist's office, and then it seems there was a third office up there. I just can't recall what the third office was.

EP:

I was—

UL:

It was that and the, you know, we had two phones in there, as I recall. And the expenses of paper and, and so forth, minimal stuff—

EP:

I recall your talking about the setting of goals, what you'd like to see, and priorities. What were these priorities? Were they to open up the public accommodations, or were they more fundamental, economically oriented?

UL:

All right. At the time, the primary concern with us—and unfortunately, of course, the movement was at a very young stage then—we were primarily concerned with opening up public facilities. Of course, time went on; economic goals became more of a concern. But, however, we did not address ourselves to that, or at least, I didn't during, during the time I was down there—

EP:

Why was that?

UL:

Well, I often think about it in retrospect and I—as a matter of fact, I was up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at a, at a conference, I guess, about a year ago, and I was talking with some folks, not from North Carolina, but who had been involved in various Southern cities, and this came out. And I just didn't—I don't think we really had the foresight at that time to talk about economics. It was basically a question that we felt that we had a right to access the public facilities, restaurants, theatres, what have you, public transportation, waiting rooms. And, rather than venture out into a whole lot of areas where many of us, of course, did not have expertise in, we just decided to do one thing at the time.

EP:

In the early stages, did you have much support from the adult black community?

UL:

In Greensboro, no.

EP:

I see. Did you—

UL:

—and I can say that, and I think the reason why is because Greensboro, by and large, has a substantial middle class black population, and this was something new to them. Now, I just have to assume that a good number of them felt threatened by what we were doing and were quite comfortable with the status quo as it was.

EP:

Did you get any help from the NAACP chapter here? Dr. [George] Simkins?

UL:

Not at all, not at all. Not really, unless—if there was any assistance through the NAACP, it had to go through other people. I had no knowledge and was not involved with the NAACP at all. I, they—when I say help, I mean they did, or some of their members did join us in a couple of marches, but they were not at the forefront of the demonstrations that we had started in the sixties.

EP:

I was thinking, more immediately, along the lines of advice, helping you get structured or organized, anything like that.

UL:

Well, the two primary people—of course, Jim Farmer had made several visits in Greensboro, and [Floyd] McKissick who, of course, you know, was in Durham at the time. And most of the structure and advice came from the two of them respectively.

EP:

How about B. Elton Cox from High Point?

UL:

You know, Gene, that name sounds familiar, but I just am not familiar with him.

EP:

He was the CORE field secretary for North Carolina and Louisiana, I believe. So, you're saying that Dr. Simkins, who was president of the NAACP chapter at that time, and the Greensboro Men's Club, two potent factors in the adult black community, were not particularly helpful. Is that—?

UL:

Not, not in my estimation, no.

EP:

Do you know what the first direct action was of the chapter?

UL:

Well, the demonstrations, to the best of my knowledge, at the Woolworth's, and the sit-ins, which led into the establishment of the chapter of CORE. Of course, our primary involvement came in demonstrating in front of several restaurants and theatres in downtown Greensboro, as I can recall it. The—I believe it—what, what is it, the S&W restaurant?

EP:

Yes.

UL:

And I know we demonstrated there on numerous occasions. I believe there were one or two other restaurants whose names also escape me.

EP:

And you say you came in the spring—I mean, the fall of '61—to, to A&T.

UL:

Yes, I started September '61.

EP:

Okay. The formal date on the application for the CORE chapter is listed as May 15, 1962.

UL:

Yes.

EP:

Is that just a convenient name? Did they already consider themselves a CORE chapter before that time?

UL:

I think it was a loosely structured chapter of people affiliating. And, of course, Bill Thompson [sic- Bill Thomas] and [Ezell] Blair [Sr.], and I believe another fellow by the name of Bob Patterson or Robert Patterson, were primarily instrumental in getting the charter through the national office. Of course, that is prior to my involvement. So, I was not involved in it during that time.

EP:

So, when did you become actively involved?

UL:

My involvement came, pretty much, my junior year. So, we're going down to '63 now, okay, or the latter part. I went to some meetings in '62, but the major involvement occurred during, you know, sixty—latter part of '63, [and] during '64.

EP:

Would you say that there was more support from the A&T or the Bennett campus?

UL:

I would say it was about 50-50 on a percentage basis.

EP:

Who were members of the executive committee at the time that you joined or became involved?

UL:

Oh boy, let's see. Dr. Laizner, Elizabeth Laizner, who was a professor over at Bennett. She taught romance languages. There was Reverend Stanley, A. Knighton Stanley, who worked over at A&T. I have no idea what happened to Dr. Laizner, and I know Reverend Stanley is, or was, in Washington, D.C. And then there was Bill Thompson [sic- Bill Thomas], of course, who became director of the CORE chapter. And there were—at least a Bob Patterson. It seems to me there were one or two other people—

EP:

Was Lewis Brandon an officer?

UL:

Lewis Brandon. The name sounds familiar again, see.

EP:

The reason I ask is, both he and Pat, or Bob Patterson were listed as vice chairmen, like, something like first or second vice—

UL:

Possibly, possibly, yes. You know, if Lewis is the same Lewis who I think he is, I'm sure he was.

EP:

I have listed Betty Wall as secretary.

UL:

Betty, I believe, was a student at Bennett College.

EP:

And Evander Gilmer as treasurer. Does this sound right?

UL:

The name Evander Gilmer sounds right to me. Again, you know, the name escapes me, but now that you're mentioning these names, they're coming back to my attention—

EP:

Surely.

UL:

—because I have not really been in touch with any of these people since '65.

EP:

When you became—prior to your becoming chairman of the chapter in '64, had you held any office?

UL:

In the chapter?

EP:

Yes.

UL:

No, I had not.

EP:

I see. So, you, you were a regular attendant at the meetings, is that correct?

UL:

Yes, yes.

EP:

Now, was this just the general meetings of the chapter, or did you also attend the meetings of the executive committee?

UL:

I attended just the regular meetings of the chapter.

EP:

Well, when they did meet, did the executive committee members suggest things that were to be done [in order] to be voted on by the membership, or did they—?

UL:

Yes, yes, they did.

EP:

So, it wasn't a matter of—

UL:

Another problem, I might add, obviously became after the demonstrations, and after the legislature passed a number of laws and—with the federal government—and obviously these laws came on the books, and facilities were open. The problem became, “Where do we go from here? What do we do?”— all right?

EP:

Did they—so, they didn't just hand the membership a fait accompli and say, “This is what we're going to do, you show up and—”

UL:

No, not at all.

EP:

I see.

UL:

All meetings that I attended—and I attended at least 98 percent of them—were open meetings, and it was not dictatorial, and if people had objections you were free to speak your mind, and a vote was taken.

EP:

And were they informal, kind of almost like bull sessions—I mean, back and forth?

UL:

Sure, sure. I mean, minutes were taken. And it, it was, you know, a parliamentarian type of thing, but it was very informal after the formalities of certain motions to approve the meeting—minutes from prior meetings, the prior meetings and so forth.

EP:

Do you recall what some of the suggested strategies were for direct action?

UL:

Well, at that point it—I recall, some of the members indicating that they should petition certain industries in the Greensboro area in terms of hiring more blacks and put pressure on them to promote some of the black employees that they had, who had been on—been employees of various companies for some time—to higher positions. Of course, at that point, our funds were depleted, and after the initial successes of the demonstrations, support began to wane, and then it became a problem of keeping members who you had.

EP:

So, do you recall who sponsored these various points of view or suggestions?

UL:

Well, certainly Reverend Stanley had been big on the economic issue, or the employment issue for some time—all right? He was the main one that I can recall, and I'm not saying that there were not others, but he was certainly the main one.

EP:

Did you make contributions at this time?

UL:

Yes, I did.

EP:

What, what was your—

UL:

You have to understand that my primary concern, Gene, was that we were so much in debt—we certainly had legal bills to pay off—that I was more concerned, at the time, with putting our own economic house in order before we went and ventured into “other areas,” quote, unquote—all right?

EP:

Okay. Since you said your active participation really was around '63; you were not involved in the '62 activities. Is that right?

UL:

That's correct.

EP:

The picketing of the S&W in the fall and the, the mass arrests on Thanksgiving Day—

UL:

Oh, yeah. No, I was involved. That was the latter part of '62, I believe.

EP:

Yes.

UL:

Yeah. I was involved in that, totally.

EP:

How did that come about?

UL:

It came about, as I can recall it, at a meeting at Hayes-Taylor, and we were discussing why—well, everybody knew why—but we were discussing what could be done to open these various restaurants to the minority community. And to sort of add insult to injury, there were, on at least two occasions that I know of, where a number of—well, I shouldn't say a number, but at least a few African students, who were students at A&T, had eaten in the S&W. And I gather—at least I was told by some people down there, as I was told by them and some people in Washington, that they weren't considered to be American negroes, but in fact, they were foreigners. And I would just have to assume that, in the name of good relations with foreign countries and so forth, they were not discriminated against. Now, that's what I understood. If that, in fact, is true or not, I do not know, but I do know that several African students had, in fact, eaten at S&W on different occasions. Now, where they sat in there, I would not know that either. But we felt, and I felt very strongly at the time, that these facilities should be open to anybody who, in fact, has money to go in and buy a meal. And we elected to demonstrate in front of S&W, which subsequently led to our arrest on a variety of the most absurd charges in the world that North Carolina—

EP:

Were you arrested at that time?

UL:

Yes, I was.

EP:

Could you describe the circumstances of your arrest?

UL:

We were carried off in the buses. I can—I know—I've certainly read my Freedom of Information Act, so I do know what I was charged with. But the charges pretty much stemmed from blocking—we were accused of blocking fire entrances or fire exits.

EP:

Now, this was in fall of '62.

UL:

Right.

EP:

Did you actually get inside the cafeteria?

UL:

No, we didn't. This was all sidewalk demonstrations.

EP:

I see.

UL:

As I recall it, there was a further demonstration on another date around the corner at a movie theatre where blacks were required to sit in the, in the balcony. And, again, I cannot recall the name of the theatre at this point.

EP:

The Center Theatre.

UL:

But I had to—I had said it, that at that point—and I will continue to say it all along, and I have no regrets for what we did, and I think we achieved quite a bit. And, as a matter of fact, when I graduated from A&T, I sent—I can't remember his name either—but through my lawyer here in New York, I sent the captain of the police, Bill—I think his name is Bill—

EP:

Jackson.

UL:

—Bill Jackson, right—a very nice, what I thought was a very nice letter, because I had no problems with the Greensboro Police Department, and at no point was I—and, to the best of my knowledge, none of the other students—mistreated or abused or assaulted or anything like that.

EP:

Well, getting back to this '62 thing—and I'm trying to take it sequentially, I don't want to confine you to that if something else occurs to you—but—so you—did you participate in the Freedom Highways workshop?

UL:

No, no I did not.

EP:

And you didn't participate in any of the Freedom Highways activities against the Hot Shoppe or anything?

UL:

No, I did not.

EP:

So, was this your first involvement with direct action with the chapter?

UL:

In terms of the S&W affair, yes.

EP:

Yes. Well, do you know if these picketing of the theatres and the cafeterias, was it intermittent? I mean, were there short, intense periods of time when this went on, or did it go on day after day after day?

UL:

It pretty much went day after day. It was a regular thing. Now, I just can't say if it went over a period of a week or two weeks. I, I just can't remember that. And again, Gene, I'll have to tell you that I have a number of my own personal notes and files and newspaper clippings, but unfortunately, they're at my father's house, and I was unable to get over there today. And there are some very valuable, or I feel very valuable, [pieces of] information that I have. But I, you know, I recently got married and I'm still in the process of moving. [laughing]

EP:

Right.

UL:

And I just did not bring that file cabinet down to my new apartment.

EP:

I was wondering—what happened when you were arrested? Were you taken down to City Hall or the police station?

UL:

I, we were first taken to, I believe, the Guilford County Courthouse. And from there, some students were taken to other facilities. I know that I physically spent a night at the Guilford County Courthouse in whatever jail facility they had down there, and I just have to assume that that must have been the municipal jail for Greensboro. From there, the next day we were shipped out to a work farm. And now, where it was, or [chuckling]—I just can't recall.

EP:

Sounds like it might have been McLeansville, which is a small rural community.

UL:

Well, it was a regular farm, and it seems to me traveling distance was—traveling wise, it was approximately, I'd say fifteen, ten to fifteen miles outside of Greensboro.

EP:

Did you have to do any labor or anything?

UL:

No, not at all. As a matter of fact, we were just physically there, and I say to you that the cells weren't even unlocked [laughing]. They just refused to leave. It was as if they just wanted us to go, because, as I understood it, in talking with some attorneys much later on, that, of course, the state of North Carolina was obligated to spend X number of dollars on each person who was being held in detention. And certainly we hadn't been found guilty of anything. And I would imagine that that was costing the state a considerable amount of money.

EP:

How long did you, were you incarcerated there?

UL:

I was at this particular farm, I believe, five or six days.

EP:

Did you have recreational facilities?

UL:

No. There was absolutely nothing.

EP:

So, would—

UL:

Absolutely.

EP:

Were there a large number of people that were there or just a few?

UL:

There were approximately a hundred and sixty.

EP:

How many people in a cell?

UL:

Well, we weren't actually in cells. We were in huge rooms.

EP:

I see.

UL:

And as I can recall it there, there weren't individual cells. They were just two huge rooms. I was—I would venture to say approximately the size of an average classroom in, in a school. And, of course, you know, females were in one half and male students were in another half.

EP:

Did you have any examples of mistreatment? Did you get food on time?

UL:

Well, we got food. I wouldn't want to talk about the quality of the food, but—since, certainly, whoever the folks were that ran the farm were probably very unprepared for this. I'll tell you one thing; I will not eat Vienna sausages again in my life, as long as I live. [laughing] Yeah, and that and black-eyed peas are not my favorite food.

EP:

Right. [laughing]

UL:

Okay. We were, we were fed, and the people who ran the farm, I felt, did the best that they could do. And there was no incidence of mistreatment. Of course, they just didn't have the facilities for such a large number of people. I can recall that most of us slept on the floor, on a concrete floor, in blankets. There were three or four bunk beds—

EP:

Was it—

UL:

—that were located against the wall. And we did have a few students who were asthmatic. So, quite naturally, we elected to give them the beds, because the beds were physically located near windows, and they needed air. And, aside from that, and the fact that there was only one shower—so, we were all pretty dirty when we did get out, because I went in there with a suit and shirt and tie on, and that's all I wore for the whole week.

EP:

When were you released?

UL:

I would say about five, six days later.

EP:

Was it—now, is this in the spring of '63?

UL:

This was, I recall, '63. I'm almost positive it was '63.

EP:

Do you remember at which location you were arrested?

UL:

This was in front of the S&W.

EP:

I see. What was the nature of the arrest? How were you arrested—I mean, physically what occurred?

UL:

The police came up. Of course, you had—I always get very confused with the different police forces in the South—but you had the city police and then you had the county sheriff's office. And whether or not state police were involved or not I, I just don't know. I can't recall.

But [at] any rate, Captain Jackson would come up and give you the usual warning that you have X number of minutes to disperse, and if you don't disperse, then I'll have to arrest you. And, of course, we did not disperse. And most of, most of us just sat down, and we were carted off into school buses and other vans that they had, and we were taken off.

EP:

Where were you taken?

UL:

Originally to the Guilford County Courthouse.

EP:

I see. Now, when the students were released from the Polio Hospital and the National Guard armory on the evening of May twenty-second, there was a great deal of anger. They didn't know why they'd been released. They felt they'd been released without any promises [from] the city, that they'd been duped out of jail, were very resentful of Dr. Dowdy. Was this the impression that you got as well?

UL:

I did. I did. And to this day, I'm not familiar with all that, all of what happened. I understand that there was some involvement between the Governor's office and officials in Greensboro. I do understand that L. Richardson Preyer was involved in that. I talked to him about three years ago in Washington, but that was about something else, and—so, who negotiated what, I really can't say, Gene, because I just don't know. I just have to assume that it was a political thing that had to go through.

EP:

Well—

UL:

It just couldn't go on because, as I understand it, there were some problems, too, on Dr. Dowdy and the university and the college at that time, in terms of its accreditation, with so many students missing so many classes and so forth and so on. Now, what the ramifications were about that, I just don't know.

EP:

Did you go to—was it in the, late in the evening when you were released, or during the day?

UL:

I can recall being released during the day from, from this work farm or whatever it was.

EP:

So, you did not go to the meeting that evening, that highly emotional and volatile—well, I would say sort of volatile—meeting on the evening of May twenty-second when all—?

UL:

I, I was there.

EP:

What were the—what took place that evening in, in Harrison Auditorium?

UL:

There was a lot of yelling and screaming and—can you hold on one second, Gene?

EP:

Surely.

UL:

Somebody's knocking on the door. [skip in tape] There was a lot of anger expressed toward Dr. Dowdy and to senior faculty people. As there was, as I can recall it, a lot of dissatisfaction with Bill Thompson [sic- Bill Thomas], because a number of these students thought the leadership of CORE, also, was involved in this. Of course, at that point— I mean, at that time, I had no leadership capacity. So, if there were negotiations going on between Bill and Patterson and the others and Dr. Dowdy, I just was not made privy to it.

EP:

Do you recall who spoke that evening?

UL:

No, I can't recall that.

EP:

Someone told me that they thought Dr. Darwin Turner of the English department did a very effective job of calming students down—

UL:

Possibly.

EP:

—and getting them to go home.

UL:

Possibly, he could have spoke—I just cannot recall.

EP:

Could you describe to me the circumstances of how it came about that, that you sat in at the mayor's office?

UL:

All right. There were, I believe, six or seven of us. And there was a lack of involvement with the mayor, as I can recall. He did not want to sign—there was some legislation pending before the city council, and there were just a number of other things, but that was the major issue. And the legislation primarily was to open up facilities in Greensboro. And he just was not sensitive to the needs of the black community in Greensboro—which led to, to the sit-ins.

EP:

Who told you to sit in?

UL:

That was pretty much decided amongst—by me and four others. [laughing]

EP:

So you did this, not at the direction of the CORE hierarchy, but just as an individual thing?

UL:

Well, at that time I had moved up in the leadership of the Greensboro chapter and—

EP:

What was your position?

UL:

I was directing it at that time.

EP:

Now, I understand this is the spring of '63.

UL:

You're right. That's correct.

EP:

Does that mean—are you saying you were [head of the] chapter of the organization, of the chapter?

UL:

Yes, through '63 and '64.

EP:

So—the newspaper says that you were individually carried out in chairs.

UL:

That's absolutely correct.

EP:

Were you treated with courtesy by the police or mistreated?

UL:

Every involvement that I had with the Greensboro police—and I recall some sheriff's deputies being involved at some point—I had no problems with the way they treated us. I mean, they weren't even cursing. And there was absolutely no, no type of physical abuse or intimidation or anything like that, at least to the people that I was with. Now, if there were isolated incidences, I think that's normal and should be expected. But I was just not made aware of any.

EP:

Were you released or, or incarcerated again at this time?

UL:

We were incarcerated after—now, you're talking about the mayor's office?

EP:

Yes.

UL:

We were incarcerated, but we were allowed to leave. And I believe that was—we were kept overnight, and we were allowed to leave the next day.

EP:

Without having to post bond?

UL:

Well, I understand that CORE did that.

EP:

I see.

UL:

But that was handled by the national organization, and that had nothing to do with the chapter. And I can't recall—we had an attorney who represented us, and I just can't recall his name.

EP:

Clarence Malone?

UL:

That's correct. The name Malone sounds very familiar.

EP:

Did you sit in on the square on June sixth?

UL:

No, I did not.

EP:

Did you sit on—in on Greene Street June fifth?

UL:

What year are we talking about?

EP:

Sixty-three.

UL:

No, no. I did not.

EP:

So, I guess—this is right after exams, and as the demonstrations were winding down. Had you already left to go back to New York?

UL:

I left for New York on the thirty-first of May. Well, actually didn't go to New York. I went to Virginia because I had—I had gotten ill in that year, and, you know, on the advice of my doctors, I just needed some rest and recuperation.

EP:

Did you participate in any other demonstrations after you were released from the prison farm?

UL:

There were—well, the mayor's office incident, as I recall, took place after the prison farm incident. And after the mayor's office in Greensboro, I can't recall of any. I—wait, let me take that back. I do believe there was a, a silent protest march of a very few students in front of the post office. And as I can recall it, there was—this had nothing to do with Greensboro or the state of North Carolina, but there was some federal legislation pending at that time regarding civil rights. And it seems to me, one, if not both, of the senators from [North Carolina], Jordan and—

EP:

Ervin—Erwin.

UL:

Sam Ervin had opposed it, and this was just strictly a peaceful march around the federal building. And it was to encourage them to change their positions on this federal legislation.

EP:

Now, when were you—

UL:

No arrests were made in that.

EP:

I see. When were you elected chapter president or chapter chairman?

UL:

It was the latter part of '63.

EP:

I understand Bill had resigned, had left. Do you know who, who else was running for the office? I mean—

UL:

I ran against Pat Patterson.

EP:

I see. Was that the first election that there was since Bill had been elected to chairman the previous year?

UL:

Yeah. Yeah. To the best of my knowledge, that was the first, because he had been chairman when I first arrived.

EP:

Do you know who, who the other officers were that were elected at that time?

UL:

Pretty much the ones that you'd mentioned before. I mean, the names sound familiar. Now, the people who were elected with me, it was pretty much myself, Dr. Laizner, Pat elected to stay on, and—

EP:

Well, do you know what various offices they held?

UL:

Vice chairman, I believe, Dr. Laizner. I believe Pat also was vice chairman. Now, in terms of who the secretary was, the name escapes me at this point. Again I would have to refer, you know, to my notes, which are at my father's house, you know, [for] the details on that.

EP:

Why was there this decline in activity on the part of the chapter? As a matter of fact, the chapter seems to almost disappear from the newspapers after the summer of 1963.

UL:

All right, the chapter disappeared simply because I, I don't believe, at that point, anybody had the foresight—there was a lot of dissension in terms of which way to go. We had primarily accomplished our goal, and depending on who you talked to and how those people think, I feel that the chapter achieved what it set out to do—all right?

Certainly, we did not have the sophistication at that time. You have to remember, at the time, I was only eighteen, nineteen years old myself. And we did not have the sophistication or the economic expertise to pursue these other areas, which, of course, had been pursued and still are being pursued. So, we'd set a limited goal, or I feel a limited goal was set for the chapter, and we achieved that goal. And, of course, a lot of students were concerned about that. But after the goals were achieved, they said, “Well, I have to look out for myself now,” particularly in terms of their respective studies and so forth, because many of us had lost a lot of time out of classes, and, obviously, grades were on the decline.

EP:

Was there—were there any people who wanted to do more active things, who wanted to get continued direct action activities, maybe along economic—?

UL:

Certainly, certainly, yeah. Dr. Laizner from Bennett had her contingent as being the more militant.

EP:

Do you know who her contingent would have been?

UL:

Mainly Bennett students and Reverend Stanley, who took a more conservative approach. And, obviously, a lot of infighting began, and a lot of personality conflicts came about. And, of course, I got caught in the middle of all of this, and all I was trying to do was try and straighten out the economic affairs of the chapter, because we were very heavily in debt. There were legal bills that had to be paid, to say—excuse me—nothing about phone bills and rent and things like that.

EP:

Did you continue to meet as a chapter on a, on a weekly or biweekly basis, or was it just—?

UL:

We continued to meet on a weekly basis.

EP:

Was it the chapter as a whole or just the executive committee?

UL:

It was the chapter as a whole—what was left of it, I should say.

EP:

About how many people are we talking about?

UL:

Oh, I think toward the end there, I would venture to say thirty, thirty-five people—again, as a ballpark figure.

EP:

What—inasmuch as demonstrations had ceased, what sort of things did you talk about?

UL:

We talked about new directions. The economic issue, or approaching companies, came about. But nothing really got off the ground.

EP:

Did you ever do any follow-ups about exactly how many companies were hiring blacks, how many restaurants were serving blacks—

UL:

No, I did not, but I understand that that was done after '65—

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

EP:

—to send clothes and food to Mississippi, and that occasionally CORE would march or picket with NAACP, or vice versa, on certain very small things. For instance, she mentions there was a white Peace Corps worker who was fired from Black Cadillac Olds because she insisted on calling black customers and the black custodian and so forth “sir” and “mister.” And—

UL:

Gene, did she give you a date on this? I can, I can recall that happening or something to that effect, and I'm just wondering if not, [if] it did not take place during the summer months. I can physically recall being in Greensboro when it did take place. That's why I'm saying, of course, in New York—I mean, during the summer months I was in New York—and many of them, obviously, remained, since they lived in Greensboro or had residences in Greensboro.

EP:

So, your presidency ran from the fall of '63 until when?

UL:

Some time in '64, and then I resigned myself.

EP:

Why did you resign? Did you—it wasn't just because of graduation, was it?

UL:

Well, it wasn't because of graduation. There was a tremendous amount of pressure on me with school. And, at the time, I don't know if you know, or if anybody told you, but I was epileptic as a child.

EP:

No, no one told me.

UL:

Yeah. And, of course, I have not—that's long since been in my past, since I haven't had a seizure since I was twenty, twenty-one years old now. And, of course, that's eighteen years ago. But it was just too much pressure on me, and I did get very sick, and I was having a number of seizures and so forth, and I just could not do both.

EP:

When you talk about dissension within the chapter over goals, and you say that Elizabeth Laizner had a more militant element, and Reverend Stanley had the more conservative—

UL:

Reverend Stanley, certainly, was more moderate of the two. And, of course—I gather you're familiar with Dr. Laizner's background?

EP:

Yes.

UL:

And her whole involvement in, in Nazi Germany and so forth. So I, I would have to assume that her militancy derived from her involvement in Vienna, Austria, and, you know, the Nazi takeover and so forth.

EP:

What sort of things did she want to do? Do you recall—?

UL:

When I say militant, Gene, I don't want to by any definition imply anything radical and violent. It's just that she just insisted on demonstrating, demonstrating, demonstrating, almost for demonstrating's sake.

EP:

Now this meant continuing marches and the picketing?

UL:

Continuing the marches and so forth.

EP:

Now I understand that, also, Dick Gregory came down here.

UL:

Yes, please don't mention that name to me again. [laughing]

EP:

Oh, dear. Is it—did that have a later connection, or with Greensboro?

UL:

Oh, no. Oh, no. No, no, no. I thought that—that was a disaster area.

EP:

Oh, what happened? She portrayed it as very successful.

UL:

The incident I remember vividly—all right. [Comedian and activist] Dick Gregory and a folk singer by the name of Lynn Chandler, who had—he used to be fairly popular here in New York in Greenwich Village and different spots years ago, and somehow Lynn just dropped out of sight. Somebody told me he was going back to graduate school somewhere in California.

At any rate, Mr. Gregory and Lynn came down, ostensibly to raise money for the chapter of CORE, as he was doing with a number of other cities. Unfortunately, we ended up spending more money than, in fact, he was able to raise, and, of course, that was due to his personal tastes at the time. I believe he stayed at the Ramada Inn—again, the streets, I can't remember the exact location. But it was back of A&T on whatever highway that is out there going back, back to the School of Agriculture—and he had ran up close to a six or seven hundred dollar phone bill talking to his wife collect in Chicago. To say nothing about his various outfits that he wanted cleaned immediately. Well, Bill's mother had worked at a cleaner's, so we were able to oblige him with getting his clothes cleaned and pressed and so forth.

EP:

Through her?

UL:

Through her. And we had to foot the bill for that. And, of course, the national chapter paid his transportation, because Jesse Jackson and I picked him up in Durham, and he had spent a couple of days in Durham prior to coming over to Greensboro, and we picked him up over in Durham and brought him to Greensboro. And, of course, at that time, Mr. Gregory just had personal tastes, ordering scotch and cigarettes. I understand now that he's a big health freak and a vegetarian and all that kind of stuff. But at the time, I can assure you, he was not. And we just got stuck with a substantial bill.

EP:

So, he did not, in effect, raise money for CORE because of these expenses.

UL:

I would say—I would say, maybe after paying his bills and so forth, perhaps we showed a profit of maybe three or four hundred dollars. That's big, perhaps.

EP:

Now, Dr. Laizner portrays this as being very good publicity, because he got to stay in a place that had previously not been desegregated.

UL:

Right. As a matter of fact he—I understand [coughs] that he was the first black person to stay at this particular facility. And as a matter of fact, there was a news conference with some reporters were there from the local TV station, and Dick Gregory was just, to me, at any rate, a very arrogant, self -centered person. And I just don't deal with people like that. I never have, and just won't be able to do so in the future.

EP:

Well, now was—

UL:

Had his motives been sincere, there were certain ways he could have saved, saved money. He could have certainly stayed on the campus of A&T in a student's room. There were plenty vacant, including my own because I was in, in between roommates at that time. He could have certainly eaten a lot cheaper than he did, and if he wanted to make all these calls to his home in Chicago, where he was living at that time, I think he could have dialed his own phone number without reversing the charges.

EP:

When you were chairman, you say Dr. Laizner was vice chairman. Did you have a cordial working relationship?

UL:

Dr. Laizner and I got along excellently. We were very close, and, as a matter of fact, we've stayed in touch fairly regularly after I graduated through, I would say, the later part of '66, early part of '67 when we simply just lost contact. And I have not been in touch with her [since] then. But she and I had a very close working relationship. She was a tremendous woman. By the way, you've been in touch with her, haven't you?

EP:

Yes.

UL:

Is she still in Greensboro?

EP:

Yes, she lives in Greensboro, and she commutes and teaches at Shaw University in Raleigh.

UL:

Really? You wouldn't have a phone number for her, would you?

EP:

I'll be glad to send it to you, certainly.

UL:

If you don't mind. I would just like to call Elizabeth and talk about old times. I just don't know what happened to her.

EP:

Well, was there any—given the fact that there was these different ways of approaches and going, was there any serious conflicts or dissensions between people, or did it remain cordial, or—

UL:

No. I don't think there was any open hostility. Of course, the problem was that as this thing came into fruition and developed, obviously because Dr. Laizner was white and Austrian, a lot of—not students, so much, but particularly Reverend Stanley who, you know, had been very close with her and a number of others—began to question what her motives were as they were questioning motives of other white students from, you know, Guilford College who had gotten involved, and so forth.

And I, I don't want to say that anything serious developed, because nothing really serious did develop. It was just a question [of], “Well, this is our battle, and we enjoyed your help, and now we don't need you anymore. Let us fight our own war,” so to speak. And I think for a woman like Dr. Laizner, who had really just put so much into this whole thing, that she was very much hurt toward the end. And I do know for a fact that at the time, for instance, she was living on the Bennett College campus. And, and she was used to having a number of people visit her—students and faculty, not only from Bennett—and she just became isolated to the point where, for a long time there, very simply, I was the only one ever going over to her house.

EP:

Oh, what was the attitude toward her? Did they resent her?

UL:

They resented her—no, didn't resent her—but they just felt that, perhaps, there was something wrong, that she was just too overly aggressive. And there was some suggestion made—please, off the record, okay—[deleted from transcript].

EP:

I know that later when she was involved with activities in, in Chapel Hill, that she says that there were—she had gotten an anonymous phone call that there were attempts to try to have her dis-, dis-, you know, deported, but they couldn't because she was a naturalized citizen, and that this is where the communist label came on. Was there ever any attempt to try to brand her as a communist, or belief that she was, or anything?

UL:

Well, to tell you the truth, Gene, at that point, I don't think everybody—we were all accused of being communists. And I, I'd venture to say if you gave each of us a thousand dollars apiece, at least me, and asked us to do a, give you a good description of communism as opposed to socialism and Trotskyism and so forth, that none of us would have known what the hell we were talking about—all right? I had heard from another faculty member over at A&T, “Well, she's just, you know, a 'pinko'” or whatever the word, whatever ridiculous word they were using in those days. But that was—nothing developed to the best of my knowledge.

EP:

Did any of that come from the black community itself or just the white community?

UL:

That's where it was coming from.

EP:

Oh, so there were conservative elements over there who thought she was a “pinko” or felt—

UL:

Oh, yes. Well, I mean, in the black community in Greensboro, at that time, [it] was extremely conservative. They didn't want to be bothered. And maybe if I had a nice eighty, ninety -thousand dollar brick home with two or three Cadillacs in my garage, maybe I wouldn't have wanted to be bothered either.

EP:

So, A&T administration never—and faculty—never really got behind it, even during the height of the demonstrations and—?

UL:

Not at all. Not at all. And there were a few instructors, assistant professors, lower echelon faculty member[s] who were involved, but in terms of the top administration, there was no involvement. And, reflecting on it, I can probably understand why, at this point.

Dr. Dowdy came in at a very crucial time with A&T. And he was looking to develop the university and further get federal grants and additional monies from the state legislature, and certainly tried, and from what I'm reading now, and what I hear at alumni meetings before his retirement, [he] succeeded in attracting a far better faculty there than was there at the time I attended.

EP:

Do you know who succeeded you as president of the chapter?

UL:

I have no idea because, I'll tell you—I don't know if you know Dick Ramsey or not.

EP:

Yes.

UL:

You know Dick. Now, you wouldn't know what ever happened to Dick, either.

EP:

Yes. He is at a school in Vermont.

UL:

Really?

EP:

I'll send you that, too.

UL:

Please. Well, I worked with Dick. As a matter of fact, the summer of 1965 when I graduated, I worked for the American Friends Service Committee in South Carolina in Rock Hill and worked on a voter registration program down there. And, of course, at the end of that August I came back up to New York—that was August of '65—and I've been up here ever since.

EP:

So, in effect, you just resigned, and you didn't follow who was elected in your place?

UL:

No. I had no contact. From time to time, I would talk with Dr. Laizner, as I said. And that pretty much ended my contact with Greensboro and also the CORE chapter.

EP:

I understand—

UL:

I did run into Jesse some years later, because, obviously, he became a very potent force in this country. But he was—it just so happened he had given a speech here in Brooklyn, and he gave me a call at my house, and I met him at this particular gathering of Brooklyn politicians.

EP:

So, did you—during—I guess, just in a way of summing up, when you—in the height of the 1963 demonstrations, did you frequently go on the marches or to the places of, of—?

UL:

Very, very frequently. Very frequently.

EP:

Were the instructions precise at the pre-march meetings as to where you were going to do and what you were going to do?

UL:

Absolutely. Absolutely. Everything was detailed to students. Certainly, nobody would be allowed to participate in any marches that they weren't dressed properly [for]. And when I say dressed properly for purposes of the demonstration, male students were required to wear shirt and ties and jackets. Female students were required to wear either skirts and blouses or dresses. That was optional with them. But we just didn't want to create a bad image in terms of appearance.

EP:

Was anything—

UL:

That was strictly what we felt would be strictly a psychological thing in terms of getting our message across through the news media to, to people in the state of North Carolina, and for that matter, people of the country or whoever was reading about us or watching us.

EP:

And were—was anything said about arrests?

UL:

[clicking noise in background] We were—we instructed students that, in all probability, they would be arrested. We were, obviously—none of us were lawyers, so we weren't in a position to realize what the outcome would be. But the major concern was not getting arrested. The major concern with us, and through all of our sessions, was avoiding, at whatever cost, any type of confrontation with white onlookers who might try to harass us or physically assault us or—and there were a couple of incidents where cigarette butts were put out on the heads, and eggs were thrown at you, and so forth. But that was the major emphasis, to avoid at all costs any kind of physical confrontation between students and onlookers who were opposed to what we were doing.

EP:

And the meetings were—how was it conveyed to people that there would be a meeting or a march the next day or next evening?

UL:

Gene, could you repeat that? I'm sorry, I didn't—

EP:

After the march, I understand, usually there was a post-march meeting in which people were instructed where to come the next day or—

UL:

Right, absolutely.

EP:

Did you have any duties within CORE prior to being chairman, such as transporting people, making signs or attending meetings or anything?

UL:

I attended meetings and made up a few signs, but I did not have any type of heavy administrative responsibility. One of the reasons why—as a matter of fact, I was elected chairman really at the pushing of Dr. Laizner, and—who felt that I would be able to take over, and I would just have to assume that she felt that I would have created a better image for the organization than Mr. Patterson. Whether that's true or not, I have no idea. But, at any rate, I was drafted to run by a contingent who were mainly Bennett students. And I, of course, had A&T support. And that was a very close vote. I just can't—

EP:

Were you and Mr. Patterson friends?

UL:

Pat and I were very close friends, and there was no animosity between the two of us. It was just felt that Pat was a very quiet and reticent guy, and I just have to assume that it was felt by the majority that, perhaps, maybe I spoke up more or, or had a better voice, or dressed better or whatever—all right? I certainly don't think it had anything to do with who was better capable of running the organization, because at no point did I seek the chairmanship at all. I mean, this was just strictly something that I was drafted into doing. And once I got the majority vote, I said, “Well, I'm stuck with it and I'll give it my best,” rather than say “Absolutely no” and create further dissension.

EP:

And this was after Bill Thomas had resigned?

UL:

Yes.

[End of Interview]