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Oral history interview with Ulysses Lee Jr. by Eugene Pfaff
July 29, 1982
Ulysses Ralph Lee, Jr.
Ulysses R. Lee (1943- ) was chairman of the Greensboro Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) chapter from 1963 to 1964.
Eugene E Pfaff
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.
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Oral history interview with Ulysses Lee Jr. by Eugene Pfaff
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
Why did you select A&T?
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.
I was wondering what, what is your parents'
background? What was their occupation and education level and so
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
Were you the first in your family to go to
Yes, I was.
Had you been involved in any civil rights
activities prior to coming to Greensboro?
In New York, yes, I was involved with the NAACP
[National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] young
adult chapter here in Brooklyn.
Had you participated in any demonstrations or sit
No, not in New York.
I see. How did you become involved in civil rights
down here in Greensboro?
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 he involved or concerned about civil rights
prior to the, the marches, or was he not involved?
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.
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—
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.
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?
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
How did you get drawn into CORE?
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.
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?
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—
Were they meeting—
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
Were they meeting on a regular basis or just
Two, three times a week.
I see. Were they—how many people were
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.
But there was not much white participation?
No, no, no, not much white participation at
Well, I was wondering why there was such lukewarm
response to CORE on, on the campus of A&T.
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.
Did that have a coercive effect on the students?
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.
What did the early meetings consist of?
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.
Was this something that the students readily
accepted or had to be brought around to or—what was their
attitude toward nonviolence?
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
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
Was it a tightly structured or loosely structured
I would say—the administration's CORE
—or the national organization?
The local CORE chapter.
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.
Did you have to pay a dues as a member
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]
I see. [laughing]
I had to do all I could just about to make
Did you receive money from the national chapter?
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.
Well, what was this money to be used for?
Well, we had rent. We had rented—I can't
remember the street, but we did have an office.
Was it on Gorrell Street?
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
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,
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?
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
Why was that?
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
In the early stages, did you have much support
from the adult black community?
In Greensboro, no.
I see. Did you—
—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
Did you get any help from the NAACP chapter here?
Dr. [George] Simkins?
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.
I was thinking, more immediately, along the lines
of advice, helping you get structured or organized, anything like
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.
How about B. Elton Cox from High Point?
You know, Gene, that name sounds familiar, but I
just am not familiar with him.
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—?
Not, not in my estimation, no.
Do you know what the first direct action was of
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?
And I know we demonstrated there on numerous
occasions. I believe there were one or two other restaurants whose
names also escape me.
And you say you came in the spring—I mean,
the fall of '61—to, to A&T.
Yes, I started September '61.
Okay. The formal date on the application for the
CORE chapter is listed as May 15, 1962.
Is that just a convenient name? Did they already
consider themselves a CORE chapter before that time?
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
So, when did you become actively involved?
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
Would you say that there was more support from the
A&T or the Bennett campus?
I would say it was about 50-50 on a percentage
Who were members of the executive committee at the
time that you joined or became involved?
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
Was Lewis Brandon an officer?
Lewis Brandon. The name sounds familiar again,
The reason I ask is, both he and Pat, or Bob
Patterson were listed as vice chairmen, like, something like first or
Possibly, possibly, yes. You know, if Lewis is the
same Lewis who I think he is, I'm sure he was.
I have listed Betty Wall as
Betty, I believe, was a student at Bennett
And Evander Gilmer as treasurer. Does this sound
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—
—because I have not really been in touch with
any of these people since '65.
When you became—prior to your becoming
chairman of the chapter in '64, had you held any office?
In the chapter?
No, I had not.
I see. So, you, you were a regular attendant at
the meetings, is that correct?
Now, was this just the general meetings of the
chapter, or did you also attend the meetings of the executive
I attended just the regular meetings of the
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—?
Yes, yes, they did.
So, it wasn't a matter of—
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?”—
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—”
No, not at all.
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.
And were they informal, kind of almost like bull
sessions—I mean, back and forth?
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
Do you recall what some of the suggested
strategies were for direct action?
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.
So, do you recall who sponsored these various
points of view or suggestions?
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.
Did you make contributions at this time?
Yes, I did.
What, what was your—
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?
Okay. Since you said your active participation
really was around '63; you were not involved in the '62 activities.
Is that right?
The picketing of the S&W in the fall and the,
the mass arrests on Thanksgiving Day—
Oh, yeah. No, I was involved. That was the latter
part of '62, I believe.
Yeah. I was involved in that,
How did that come about?
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—
Were you arrested at that time?
Yes, I was.
Could you describe the circumstances of your
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
Now, this was in fall of '62.
Did you actually get inside the cafeteria?
No, we didn't. This was all sidewalk
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.
The Center Theatre.
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
—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.
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?
No, no I did not.
And you didn't participate in any of the Freedom
Highways activities against the Hot Shoppe or anything?
No, I did not.
So, was this your first involvement with direct
action with the chapter?
In terms of the S&W affair,
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?
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]
And I just did not bring that file cabinet down to
my new apartment.
I was wondering—what happened when you were
arrested? Were you taken down to City Hall or the police station?
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
Sounds like it might have been McLeansville, which
is a small rural community.
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
Did you have to do any labor or anything?
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.
How long did you, were you incarcerated there?
I was at this particular farm, I believe, five or
Did you have recreational facilities?
No. There was absolutely nothing.
Were there a large number of people that were
there or just a few?
There were approximately a hundred and
How many people in a cell?
Well, we weren't actually in cells. We were in
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.
Did you have any examples of mistreatment? Did you
get food on time?
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.
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—
—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
When were you released?
I would say about five, six days
Was it—now, is this in the spring of '63?
This was, I recall, '63. I'm almost positive it
Do you remember at which location you were
This was in front of the S&W.
I see. What was the nature of the arrest? How were
you arrested—I mean, physically what occurred?
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.
Where were you taken?
Originally to the Guilford County
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
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
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
Did you go to—was it in the, late in the
evening when you were released, or during the day?
I can recall being released during the day from,
from this work farm or whatever it was.
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
I, I was there.
What were the—what took place that evening
in, in Harrison Auditorium?
There was a lot of yelling and screaming
and—can you hold on one second, Gene?
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.
Do you recall who spoke that evening?
No, I can't recall that.
Someone told me that they thought Dr. Darwin
Turner of the English department did a very effective job of calming
—and getting them to go home.
Possibly, he could have spoke—I just cannot
Could you describe to me the circumstances of how
it came about that, that you sat in at the mayor's office?
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.
Who told you to sit in?
That was pretty much decided amongst—by me
and four others. [laughing]
So you did this, not at the direction of the CORE
hierarchy, but just as an individual thing?
Well, at that time I had moved up in the
leadership of the Greensboro chapter and—
What was your position?
I was directing it at that time.
Now, I understand this is the spring of
You're right. That's correct.
Does that mean—are you saying you were [head
of the] chapter of the organization, of the chapter?
Yes, through '63 and '64.
So—the newspaper says that you were
individually carried out in chairs.
That's absolutely correct.
Were you treated with courtesy by the police or
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.
Were you released or, or incarcerated again at
We were incarcerated after—now, you're
talking about the mayor's office?
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.
Without having to post bond?
Well, I understand that CORE did that.
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.
That's correct. The name Malone sounds very
Did you sit in on the square on June sixth?
No, I did not.
Did you sit on—in on Greene Street June
What year are we talking about?
No, no. I did not.
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?
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
Did you participate in any other demonstrations
after you were released from the prison farm?
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—
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
Now, when were you—
No arrests were made in that.
I see. When were you elected chapter president or
It was the latter part of '63.
I understand Bill had resigned, had left. Do you
know who, who else was running for the office? I
I ran against Pat Patterson.
I see. Was that the first election that there was
since Bill had been elected to chairman the previous year?
Yeah. Yeah. To the best of my knowledge, that was
the first, because he had been chairman when I first
Do you know who, who the other officers were that
were elected at that time?
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
Well, do you know what various offices they held?
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.
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
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
Was there—were there any people who wanted
to do more active things, who wanted to get continued direct action
activities, maybe along economic—?
Certainly, certainly, yeah. Dr. Laizner from
Bennett had her contingent as being the more
Do you know who her contingent would have been?
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.
Did you continue to meet as a chapter on a, on a
weekly or biweekly basis, or was it just—?
We continued to meet on a weekly
Was it the chapter as a whole or just the
It was the chapter as a whole—what was left
of it, I should say.
About how many people are we talking about?
Oh, I think toward the end there, I would venture
to say thirty, thirty-five people—again, as a ballpark
What—inasmuch as demonstrations had ceased,
what sort of things did you talk about?
We talked about new directions. The economic
issue, or approaching companies, came about. But nothing really got
off the ground.
Did you ever do any follow-ups about exactly how
many companies were hiring blacks, how many restaurants were serving
No, I did not, but I understand that that was done
[End of Tape 1, Side A—Begin Tape 1, Side B]
—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.”
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
So, your presidency ran from the fall of '63 until
Some time in '64, and then I resigned
Why did you resign? Did you—it wasn't just
because of graduation, was it?
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.
No, no one told me.
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.
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
Reverend Stanley, certainly, was more moderate of
the two. And, of course—I gather you're familiar with Dr.
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.
What sort of things did she want to do? Do you
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.
Now this meant continuing marches and the
Continuing the marches and so
Now I understand that, also, Dick Gregory came
Yes, please don't mention that name to me again.
Oh, dear. Is it—did that have a later
connection, or with Greensboro?
Oh, no. Oh, no. No, no, no. I thought
that—that was a disaster area.
Oh, what happened? She portrayed it as very
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.
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
So, he did not, in effect, raise money for CORE
because of these expenses.
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.
Now, Dr. Laizner portrays this as being very good
publicity, because he got to stay in a place that had previously not
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
Well, now was—
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.
When you were chairman, you say Dr. Laizner was
vice chairman. Did you have a cordial working relationship?
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?
Is she still in Greensboro?
Yes, she lives in Greensboro, and she commutes and
teaches at Shaw University in Raleigh.
Really? You wouldn't have a phone number for her,
I'll be glad to send it to you,
If you don't mind. I would just like to call
Elizabeth and talk about old times. I just don't know what happened
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
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
Oh, what was the attitude toward her? Did they
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
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?
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.
Did any of that come from the black community
itself or just the white community?
That's where it was coming from.
Oh, so there were conservative elements over there
who thought she was a “pinko” or
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.
So, A&T administration never—and
faculty—never really got behind it, even during the height of
the demonstrations and—?
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
Do you know who succeeded you as president of the
I have no idea because, I'll tell you—I
don't know if you know Dick Ramsey or not.
You know Dick. Now, you wouldn't know what ever
happened to Dick, either.
Yes. He is at a school in
I'll send you that, too.
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.
So, in effect, you just resigned, and you didn't
follow who was elected in your place?
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.
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.
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
Very, very frequently. Very
Were the instructions precise at the pre-march
meetings as to where you were going to do and what you were going to
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.
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
And were—was anything said about arrests?
[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.
And the meetings were—how was it conveyed to
people that there would be a meeting or a march the next day or next
Gene, could you repeat that? I'm sorry, I
After the march, I understand, usually there was a
post-march meeting in which people were instructed where to come the
next day or—
Did you have any duties within CORE prior to being
chairman, such as transporting people, making signs or attending
meetings or anything?
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—
Were you and Mr. Patterson friends?
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
And this was after Bill Thomas had resigned?
[End of Interview]