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Oral history interview with James McMillan by Eugene Pfaff


Date: August 15, 1979

Interviewee: James C. McMillan

Biographical abstract: James C. McMillan (1925- ) was a longtime professor of art at Bennett and Guilford Colleges in Greensboro.

Interviewer: Eugene E Pfaff

Description:

In this transcript of an August 15, 1979, oral history interview conducted by Eugene Pfaff with James McMillan, McMillan discusses how he came to be involved in CORE activities and his role as liaison for the students. He describes various protests he was involved in, recounts three of his arrests, and tells of conditions for protestors incarcerated at the polio hospital. McMillan also discusses the psychological toll of battling segregation and his opinion of the progress in race relations in Greensboro since 1960.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: GreensboroVOICES Collection

Repository: The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Item#: 1.10.554

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 James McMillan by Eugene Pfaff

[Begin Tape 1, Side A]

EUGENE PFAFF:

I am speaking today with Mr. James C. McMillan, who is a professor of art at Guilford College, and in 1963 was a member of the executive board of CORE [Congress of Racial Equality]. Mr. McMillan, I'd like to begin by asking how you became involved with CORE, the CORE chapter here in Greensboro.

JAMES C. MCMILLAN:

Mr. Pfaff, really, this is a difficult time for me to try to recall all the details that went into that particular era of the civil rights activities. But as I recall from this vantage point, it came about mainly by a summer's bit of activity that took place when several students from Bennett [College] called me and said that there were some representatives from the CORE group who happened to be in town, and they were looking for persons who had interest in the civil rights movement.

Being one of the local faculty persons here, I guess the students felt comfortable in calling me. And of course, they had known, too, from my, of my personal interest in trying to, well, to try to serve in any way that I possibly could, myself, in ways that would help to improve the conditions of, of blacks in the local area. And at that particular time, I was doing some painting and trying to keep up my own professional work. But I saw this as being perhaps an opportunity to just to investigate to see really what was happening.

We had heard about some of the activities that had taken place further south, and I was concerned and interested. So I happened to visit this particular group of students who, I think, were meeting with the CORE representatives at one of the churches here on Gorrell Street. Now again, the church name, I think it's St. Stephen's. And at that time we were introduced to the people who—I think there was a gentleman who happened to be coming through and was interested in the kinds of things that, of course, eventually emerged.

EP:

You mentioned you were a faculty member. At what institution were you a faculty member?

JM:

I was a faculty member there, then at Bennett College.

EP:

What was the result of this meeting that, that you went to?

JM:

As I recall, again, it was a simple kind of a restatement of some of the activities that had gone on in some of the previous areas where these representatives had been in the South. And it seemed to have been a kind of a, an organizing attempt on their part to gain some kind of a commitment to, to change the various things that had gone on that were, of course, derogatory toward blacks throughout the South.

EP:

Was this '61 or '62?

JM:

Again, I would think that this was the summer of '62, as I recall. Again, my recollection is not quite so clear at this point.

EP:

Was the CORE chapter already established or, or did you help create it from, as a result of this meeting?

JM:

No. The CORE group had already been established. I had heard of James Farmer and his organization earlier, and really only knew about it through my reading, through the newspapers and so forth.

EP:

What was your position in CORE?

JM:

Again, my position perhaps developed out of the kind of progressive involvement that happened as an adjunct of that first meeting. I did not hold any official position with the CORE group except as a liaison or person working with the groups during the activities here in the Greensboro area.

EP:

Could you describe the state of race relations in Greensboro at this, at this time, during the early sixties?

JM:

Yes. My contacts with, in terms of any kind of interrelationship or interracial activities was, again, limited to my own profession. And I must admit that being an artist, I didn't, I didn't experience any overt, or should I say any serious racial conflicts at that time. But again, this was because of a very limited activity that I happened to be involved in with the beginning of the Greensboro Artists League.

There were a few incidents that did take place shortly after I arrived and became a member of the Greensboro Artists League, which left a very bad taste in, in my mouth. But again, I think it was just all a part of the, of the general tenor of the time.

Of course, we're talking about when I came to Greensboro, which was 1947. And from 1947 till the early sixties, I think that things had really not changed to any large degree. So we're talking about, really, a period that was pretty much the status quo as we recognized the pre-civil rights activities in the South.

EP:

Do you remember who the principal leaders of CORE were?

JM:

During my involvement, I don't really know any of the top echelon people who were involved with CORE. The only name that I became cognizant of was James Farmer. There were, of course, several field representatives.

EP:

I was speaking of the local chapter here.

JM:

The local chapter? Oh. [pause] Let's see, as I think now, of course, the students who organized during that time I guess were the main personnel involved. I remember Bill Thomas. I remember [pause]—really, I just can't place the names offhand. But mainly they were students from Bennett and A&T [NC A&T State University]. They were students.

EP:

Were there any CORE activities in which you were involved prior to the mass demonstrations in the spring of 1963?

JM:

No. I was not involved in any of those activities.

EP:

None of the picketing of the S&W or the theatres in the fall of '62?

JM:

Okay, again, my, my, my time sequence is, is terribly foggy at this stage. And I would probably need my friend Dr. [Elizabeth] Laizner [also a Bennett faculty member] to try to prick my memory to, to recall that sequence. I think that my activities did begin at a time before any of the major picketing began.

So in that sequence, as I recall, with that summer's activities, when I first met with the students over at the St. Stephen's Church, I think the first activity that I recall was the Summit Avenue picketing, which I think initiated many of the activities that followed the sequence. And finally the S&W and the, the other restaurant that was on Elm Street, I think, North Elm—I've forgotten the name of that one, too. But those and the theatres, of course.

EP:

Were you ever involved in any of the CORE planning sessions or mass meetings?

JM:

Yes, in many of the mass meetings that preceded many of the activities that took place, yes.

EP:

Well, what motivated the choice of action beginning May eleventh with the picketing of McDonald's on Summit Avenue, particularly so close to exams?

JM:

Okay, again, I, I'm, I'm not clear in terms of the precise activities that took place. But I could, I could say this in general terms: that prior to any major activity, there was usually a meeting with the students and with those of us who had any liaison responsibilities to try to ascertain the practicality and the, the, the—well, mainly the practicality of making an asserted attempt to desegregate a particular institution.

And once that meeting took place, there were usually pros and cons that were raised, in terms of the numbers of people who'd be available, whether they would be, whether it would be really worth the while to try to affect the policies of that particular service, whether it would be effective, let's say, on a broader basis. I think it was that kind of general discussion that preceded any of those activities.

I do recall being involved on at least one occasion when those kinds of things were discussed. And the kinds of things that were necessary, including the cars that would be available, whether it was student cars, whether it was others' cars who would be available to drive the students to that particular locale, the kinds of posters that had to be made, the posters that would be most effective. And I worked directly with the students who did poster work, because, obviously, that was an adjunct of my own area. I would say that that was the general approach to most of the activities that took place.

EP:

So this is how you functioned, as a liaison, is that correct?

JM:

Yes, in the, in the, I would say in the more formative activities. And I guess you could say, too, that as things became more critical, where there were more students at Bennett who were directly involved, my role perhaps became much more immediate, in the sense that keeping in touch with the students who had been arrested and so forth was much more important, obviously, during the graduation period and in order for the, for the college to function properly.

EP:

You say you were a liaison. Does this mean you were a liaison between CORE and the students and, and the college?

JM:

No. I, I would say that this role was a kind of a developed role, really, that I helped to, to create more than anything else. It was nothing officially declared on anyone's part. But I knew that I had to play a role because of my particular concern with changing the conditions that all who were black at that time had to endure. And I saw this, really, as the most practical way that I could operate within that frame of reference.

I knew that there was a need. I knew, too, that, that with the president of the institution [Willa B. Player], who was sympathetic to at least what we were attempting, had to also maintain her position as a, a non-committed person in those particular activities. She had to maintain her role as a president. And I think she did that very well. But to function as a president, and for the students to function as individuals, I think that we all saw that there was a definite need for some intermediary role, and I agreed to accept that.

EP:

What sort of things were discussed in, in the executive committee of, of CORE and, and the choice of targets and that kind of thing?

JM:

Well, as I, I stated, those early meetings that I recall at the St. Stephen's Church I think suggested the kinds of—well, I think that it, it tended, they tended to give us a kind of an image of places, establishments, that would be most vulnerable to the kinds of activities that we could assert. And we listened to, in these kinds of sessions, to the kinds of things that had gone on prior to some of those field representatives coming to Greensboro. And based on the information that we could gather and the kinds of situations that we knew were here in Greensboro, we tended to make some of those decisions based on that awareness.

I think that that was the main kinds of things that those meetings offered. I don't think that there was any attempt to say, “Okay, we, we want to, want everybody to do such and such and such.” It was a kind of a group agreement based on the circumstances that we knew and that we saw a need to change. And it was basically in that frame of reference that many of these meetings took place.

EP:

Were most decision-making policies made within the executive committee or the total membership of CORE at large?

JM:

Well, it was primarily a local CORE group that made those decisions, yeah.

EP:

Were there any alternative actions discussed besides the mass marches and the picketing?

JM:

Let's see, now. Could you repeat that again?

EP:

Were there any alternative courses of action suggested besides the nightly mass marches and the picketing?

JM:

No. As I recall, I think that those were the main levers that we saw that would be most viable at that time. I think the very fact that the sit-in situation had produced such a dramatic attitude and recognition with regard to its, its publicity and the kind of drawing power it had among the young people and the students and so forth.

The marches, which we also recognized that had come out of the South and under Martin Luther King, we saw that those things had been very effective. I don't think that there was any attempt to try to arrive at any other alternatives at that, at that juncture. I think we saw that those things had produced many of the ends we were looking for.

EP:

Now in the McDonald's situation, over a period of four days, the CORE—I believe Dr. Laizner said there were a total of about forty CORE members at that time. And they began the picketing, and then very quickly [came] the mass participation in terms of A&T and Bennett students. And McDonald's agreed to desegregate in a period of four days, and then the emphasis switched to downtown. When did the adult black community become involved?

JM:

I would say that the adult black community was, to a large degree, rather in a, in a position of on-looking at that stage, in the early stages. As a matter of fact, I think there were some who were a little bit skeptical about it.

Again, being in the position that I happened to be, I gained a greater glimpse of that through some of my own colleagues at the college, as well as some of the personnel here or other people in the teaching situations, in the teaching profession at the high school and college level. Also in my church; I happen to be a member of the Presbyterian Church. And though my pastor was a very fervent civil rights leader, there was, again, I think, the same kind of schism in the church as we saw in the, in the black community as a whole. There was a kind of a reluctance on the part of many blacks, adult blacks.

EP:

Who was your pastor who was fervently a civil rights activist?

JM:

Reverend, Reverend [Julius] Douglas, Rev. Douglas [of St. James Presbyterian Church]. And a very fine person and who saw, again, the need for the kinds of assertions that took place. And he was very supportive in, in every way that I can think of.

EP:

You've mentioned the skepticism in the adult black community.

JM:

Yeah.

EP:

What was the basis of this? What—how were they skeptical and about what?

JM:

All right. I think that it was not so much a disagreement in principle with what the civil rights actions were, were striking at. But I think that many of them took this rather reluctant attitude because, first, they had kind of carved out a little place in their, in the, in the Greensboro situation that was at least better than nothing. And as I interpret it now, I can see that there was a, a feeling that whatever we do now just might jeopardize anything that we have gained economically and otherwise, primarily economic.

Those who had jobs knew that their jobs, I think, depended upon the white community, and a sympathetic white community, in order to maintain that bit of economic effectiveness that they had. And I think that they just felt that this was going to rock the boat too much.

I think, though, that as time went on, they saw, though, that perhaps this was the best way that any kind of action could take place, because certainly the students did not have that kind of a, of an investment in a kind of an economic status. And they, therefore, were not vulnerable to the same kind of economic reprisals that certainly could have, and I think in some instances did take place, where there was too much overt adult participation.

EP:

Do you know of anyone specifically who suffered this kind of economic reprisal?

JM:

I don't know of anyone in particular. Again, my contacts would not permit, would not give me the access to a broad spectrum of the black community. But I, I have heard of people who voiced a, a sympathy, let's say, who were working, who were working-class people and who felt, of course, a very strong allegiance to what was happening, but who were either spoken to in a very violent way or who may have had to change jobs because of their sympathies, expressed sympathies about it. Again, I couldn't say of any particular families or any persons factually.

EP:

Could you describe the process of the march in general, and any specific marches that you recall having participated in?

JM:

Yes. I participated in several. I think, though, the most memorable one, though, was one that took place a rainy night in which Jesse Jackson, Dr. Laizner, and I led the group from, as I recall, the Providence Baptist Church area, which was just off of East Market Street in the A&T area, down to the square in the middle of town. And that was the night that I think there were over maybe two thousand or more participants. But there was a terrible downpour. And as we marched, the students and the adults who had then joined the group followed in this very quiet procession in something like twos.

As we approached the square, there were lots of jeering people standing on the side, as well as casual onlookers. But there were, at that time, a kind of a, a group of persons who were very verbal in their resentment about our, our activities. And I recall coming up to the square just before turning to go—that would be south on Elm Street, noticing this particular group of very angry faces of white men standing. And one had a very long, shiny knife held down by his side, but in such a way that we could see the knife. And I recall the, the, the, the awful hatred that was just simply etched all across his face. And as I, as we approached, I cautioned Dr. Laizner if she saw what I saw, and she said she did. And of course, we were committed at this stage to nonviolence.

And I think that there was a certain kind of a strange feeling that ran through me. And that was simply that this is something that we just simply must face. If the person were to dare to strike out at that point, I'd guess that there would be very little we could do except to try to protect ourselves by, you know, defending ourselves by throwing up a hand or something like this. But at least we were committed to that notion. Fortunately, nothing happened as we turned that corner and marched on down toward the theatre, which at that time, I think, was being picketed.

I think that's the most memorable one, though, that I recall. Perhaps other than that might have been the night that everyone sat down in the square, which represented a kind of a frustration out of all the activities we had gone through trying to shake loose the last vestiges of the segregation in the city. And it looked like that all of our efforts had just about gone up into naught. But perhaps it was at that time that many of the changes did take place, because that's when so many people were arrested, and I think that out of that came the, the major final changes that did take place.

EP:

Were you ever arrested?

JM:

Yes. I was arrested three times.

EP:

What were the circumstances surrounding your arrest?

JM:

Let's see. The first, first arrest, as I recall—again, this is a little faded in my mind now—but the first time, I believe, was at, it could have been at the McDonald's, picketing as I recall, which was a very brief booking occasion. The next time came at the S&W, I think that was it, the S&W Café. And the third time was at Thanksgiving, as I recall, at the Elm Street restaurant.

EP:

Was this Thanksgiving 1963?

JM:

I think that must have been the '63 period.

EP:

What sort of conditions existed at the McDonald's there? I know the newspaper says the first night there were really not much of a crowd, but then large numbers of jeering whites did come once they realized there was a concerted picketing effort. What, what—could you describe the situation there?

JM:

Again, I, I'm, I'm a little vague because of my activities. It seems like that I drove my car that day carrying some of the pickets. And it seems to me that on the last trip, I had to park my car kind of behind and away from the McDonald area as the group of us who were carrying signs and who were, of course, proceeding to picket, moved toward the picketing area.

You're right, there had been quite a bit of activity. And I think that there was concern that there would be some violence because of the anti-picketing group who had begun to gather among the whites. Again, I, I think—I'm not just sure what the sequence of activities were at that time—but I do recall there was great concern among those of us who were more or less the older members, wondering, you know, if someone would be hurt or if there would be violence, and just what might take place. I guess those are the—that was my main thought, as I recall now.

EP:

Were there marches on a nightly basis?

JM:

I believe that those marches were pretty much on a nightly basis. And why that was the case I don't know, other than the fact that we felt an extreme urgency that this be resolved. And it was quite obvious that it was not an easy thing, because with the students who were, of course, in school, and if we're talking about during the school period, you can see how that these activities had to be a kind of a secondary thing with regard to what our major activities were. So it really extended our days and nights tremendously. But it was usually in the evenings when most of these, these activities took place.

And of course, it, it took place with great fervor. Of course, the students were singing and they were doing their, doing their thing, of course, with, with a great excitement. As a matter of fact, I think that the students became more involved in their school because of these activities to a very great degree. I think they could see a close relationship. And there were all kinds of, I would say, secondary positive things that came out of that era. But it did take place on a nightly basis.

EP:

Now what sort of activities were you involved in when you weren't marching?

JM:

Well, it was a kind of a word-of-mouth passing of information, perhaps, during the day. As colleagues, those of us who were involved would perhaps see each other at lunchtime or over a snack of food, and say “Such and such, you know, took place last night. And it seems like that such and such a thing ought to take place. What would you do if such and such a thing were to follow?” “Have you heard that so and so and so persons were arrested?” You know, that—“Have you seen the paper today, and what was the comments about it in the paper?” And it was kind of a word of mouth thing.

But the leadership, I would say, among the students were the main persons who kind of kept the main issues pretty much on a circulating basis, just by way of word of mouth. That was the main communication.

EP:

Now Dr. Laizner mentioned during our last discussion that you functioned as liaison to keep up with the location of students and faculty members who had been arrested and taken to the various detention centers. Could you describe that activity?

JM:

Well, again, it was a kind of an increasing activity, I guess, that was assumed because of the scope, the expanding scope of the involvement. And it's, it's, it's something, again, that I can't really recall with, with total perfection. But it simply became a, a major concern.

I recall on one occasion when the president of the college called and, called me at my home. I had—I think I had just gotten out of jail on one of the major arrest occasions. She had called my home. My wife was the receiver of the call. And I had not arrived, but she took the message and said the president had called and wanted me to call her back. And I called her back. She said that she had not heard from Dr. Laizner, or she had heard that Dr. Laizner was not with the students who had been arrested, and that she was wondering, you know, if we could find out what had happened.

And I think it was during those kinds of critical points that the, that I, I assumed the kind of role that I did. This was, I guess, late at night, I guess around 10:00, 10:30 at night. And obviously, being under great stress and concern, I immediately didn't think about that any longer, but got in the car and drove out to the, the place where they were holding all of the students to try to get some information as to where Dr. Laizner was.

Obviously, too, it was not easy, because the officials—I'm speaking now of the officers and the policemen and so forth—were not as cooperative as I'd, we had hoped that they would be. I had to talk with some of the students who had been milling around and who were in kind of a half-contact with what was going on. And they gave me the word that Dr. Laizner had been removed. And it was at that time that I began to drive to other places of incarceration to find out what might be the case.

EP:

How did you find out where they were being held?

JM:

Well, I did know that prior to—when the first arrests took place, there were those who were arrested at the, who were held at the city hall, I believe it was. And then there were others who were being held at the courthouse. And as these facilities became overcrowded, then they took the larger groups out to the old polio hospital, as it was called then. And it was not until after that time that I realized that, under the county, that High Point was still considered and it is a part of Guilford County. And therefore, their jail system was a part of the jailing facilities.

And as I recall now, it was there that I found that Dr. Laizner had been carried, and very much, of course, against her wishes. Of course, she didn't have much to say about it. But that's where I found her. And apparently she had been separated from the group. I think they had assumed that she was a kind of an instigator of some type and they didn't want her, of course, functioning in that capacity. And there were several rather distasteful things that took place during that time but—

EP:

Could you describe them?

JM:

Well, according to Dr. Laizner, this was a case of her being placed there against her will. And she was kept in a, in a basement enclosure, where I found her with several other prisoners. I think they were female prisoners who were alcoholics or persons really who were not very good to be incarcerated with. And I think that it was done mainly because of the fact that Dr. Laizner was white.

And the facilities, of course, were segregated. And it was all against her wishes. As I recall, too, the coldness and the dampness of the area was rather severe. And it gave her, I think, a cold at the time. She came down with some type of flu or something of that respiratory disorder.

EP:

What were conditions like at the other centers of incarceration?

JM:

The one out at the polio hospital, I think, was perhaps the, the worst, as I remember, because of the numbers of people and the way they had to be packed in to handle everyone. And I think that as time went on, there was less concern about the welfare of the students. Perhaps this, too, was a part of the jailing process. But there was very little concern about the care and the comfort of the people there. Many of them had to sleep on the floor or standing or on cots or in large groups. There was hardly no indications of privacy at all. I guess the boys were separated from the girls. But again, I was not allowed inside to, to observe any of these kinds of things. And what I—the information that I got was by primarily through the students and through Dr. Laizner.

EP:

What were the reasons why you weren't permitted to see them? Were they just not receiving any visitors, or did they insist that only their lawyers could communicate, or do you know what the reasons—

JM:

As I recall, that was the case. I think there was fear, too, that there would be further communication that would be supportive of other activities, maybe within the jail. I think that it was also an attempt to try to disrupt any kind of ordered structuring of any of the activities that had been taking place. I think it was all just as an attempt to disrupt the, the, the activities of the, of the groups.

EP:

When they were all released in the custody of either Bennett or A&T, do you see this as an attempt to, to get around the CORE practice of just filling the jails and filling the courts, and just making it so cumbersome and so expensive for the city that—to, to maintain the care and feeding and incarceration of the demonstrators—that they would try to urge the desegregation of these businesses? Do you think this was a way to get around that and if so, was it successful by this tactic?

JM:

On the part of the police and so forth in the city?

EP:

Yes.

JM:

I, I have a feeling that that was true. I think that they recognized that the tactic was becoming very expensive with regard to the cost to the city. And I think that any technique that they felt would disrupt this activity to break down any of the organized patterns that had taken place at this point was, was in their best interest.

And it was true that we saw that numbers, in terms of the arrests, was in our favor. And within that frame of reference, we orchestrated that, I think, in a very, very direct fashion. And, of course, with the, with the greater numbers of persons becoming more involved and with the adult community becoming more involved after they saw some of the, the rather severe things that the students had to endure, certainly all of this fitted into this overall picture.

EP:

What was the behavior of the police that you observed at this time?

JM:

Well, as I've often said, I think that Captain [William] Jackson was a very professional policeman in every regard. I have no qualms at all with the way he projected himself as a, as a policeman. I think it was those who came under him that we had our greatest concerns. And I recall on one occasion when we were in court, there were one or two occasions where the old status quo attitude of referring to black men as boys and to the women as girls and a kind of a general disrespect with regard to racial or ethnic origin was very clear.

I saw no brutality of—that I can recall. And during the times of the marches, there was respectable rapport between the marching faction and the police. So I can't really put my finger on anything that I could call overt, violent racism with regard to the police force, except for those incidences that I mentioned.

EP:

Were there any verbal interchanges between the demonstrators and the police?

JM:

Not in my experience. I think that there were some at some of the points of incarceration. There again, that was out of my earshot, so I didn't really witness any of those kinds of things myself.

EP:

Were there—did you ever feel threatened, or were there ever any actual attacks by the jeering whites or the white spectators?

JM:

I did not witness any physical attacks from the parts of the jeering whites. I do recall of hearing during the sit-in demonstrations some of the things that were done to the nonviolent protestors who were sitting at the counters and so forth.

EP:

This is earlier in 1960.

JM:

This is much earlier, right. And I would assume that those were the kinds of things. Where there was any close proximity in that regard, I assume that those are the kinds of things that the students themselves almost expected to happen, such as people spitting on them, people dropping cigarettes in their pockets, of course, epithets being called, and those kinds of things. But in terms of physical violence, I don't recall any that was perpetrated on any of the groups that we were directly involved with.

EP:

Did you sit in on any of the meetings between representatives of these businesses and the committees that were formed first under Dr. [George] Evans and then later under W.O. Conrad?

JM:

No. The only meeting that I sat in on was one that had been formed by an initial human relations committee. I think it was set up by Mayor [David] Schenck, as I recall. And it took place in one of the board meeting rooms at the Wachovia, the old Wachovia building, which was, I believe, on Greene Street. I've forgotten who this person was. I think, though, he was an official at the Wachovia Bank [Bland Worley]. But he represented this body, and I assume it was a form of a human relations committee that was set up to try to at least give some semblance of resolving these concerns that the students and the civil rights group had brought.

I recall, though, the frustration because of the students who asked me to go down with them. There happened to be some Bennett students and I think one of the persons from A&T. And I went down and we sat at this long table. And our concern simply was that we saw—

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

JM:

—that the city could make a wonderful contribution, with regard to human relations, if they could see fit to make some changes with regard to this segregated pattern that was so derogatory and so insulting to all of us who happened to be black. And some of our grievances, of course, were listed, such as being able to eat in some of the restaurants, and the, going to the theatres without having to go to the side doors and sitting up in the, the so-called crow's roost up in the top balcony, and so forth and so on.

And I remember the steely look of this particular representative who was sitting at the long end of the table and who said that he saw no reason why this should change. And we wanted to know what, why he felt that this, you know, could not be, and why it should not be. And he saw, he says, well, there was no particular reason why that the attitudes and so forth could not change just in the way that they had changed, which was by slow process. And of course, we said that those hundred years and so forth since slavery, of course, certainly had to, something had to give, and that we wanted to be sure that he understood what our position was. But there was a kind of a confrontation attitude at that point.

EP:

You don't happen to remember who this individual was, do you?

JM:

Yes, I think I recall the name and I'm trying now to remember. [pause] But he was an official at the time with the Wachovia Bank. And I'll have to do a little thinking to try to recall that but I'll try to think about that name.

EP:

Were you ever held in any of these incarceration centers? You mentioned you were arrested three times, but you indicated it was just a booking process, and then—was it release on your own recognizance, or was bail provided for you or—

JM:

It was release under our own recognizance in each of those cases. I think that the, the last arrest that we were held, I think we—I was—we were not only booked, but we were fingerprinted and all of the other processes, you know, that they go through, photographed and all of that. But I was not held over any period of time. I think the longest that I was kept I think was something like overnight or something like that, but it was as a group.

EP:

What was your attitude toward various city officials such as Mayor Schenck?

JM:

Well, I think that this is where much of my personal frustrations took place, because I, I simply assumed that most persons who had civic roles and civic responsibilities were people of reasonably good faith and who, if approached on some kind of a personal level, that one could speak, and that there could be some kind of communication with regard to human dignity and human regard and human respect. But I guess, at that point, my entire feeling was somewhat shattered, because I could begin to realize that there was such a thing as official representatives who, if they had a sense of this respect and human regard, submerged it, if not for their own professional continuity, certainly for the continuity of the status quo, the way things were. And that they were either functioning in that role or as figure heads for someone else beyond and above.

And I think that this proved to be pretty much the picture that emerged, because as the pressures began to mount and as the final stroke was, was, was dealt—and that had to be, of course, the boycott—we saw that it was not the mayor. It was really the persons who—the city fathers, who perhaps had more to lose with regard to their financial investment, than it was those persons who had certain official roles in the city. And I guess that if any one thing came very clear to me was that it was the almighty dollar that seemingly was the rule and the ruler in many of these cases that we were, of course, attempting to change.

EP:

How about Mayor Pro Tem William Trotter? Did he play a more active cooperative role?

JM:

Again, I didn't get to know him very well. And many of the things that took place during that time I think were appeasement tactics more than anything else. I really don't see anything that was done with regard to doing any substantial alleviation of the predicament and the problems that we were, of course, addressing ourselves to. And everything that I saw came out, more or less, as an appeasement at best.

EP:

Were you—did you keep up with the activities of Dr. [George] Evans's committee and the process of, and progress of negotiations?

JM:

I, I did not follow very closely those, those activities. And I, again, as I recall during that time, I think that we were a little bit skeptical about most of those official organizations and approaches to the kinds of problems we were talking about. We know that over the years, that in most towns and cities that there are always those organizations that are set up primarily with the city fathers, white city fathers, using certain respectable blacks to fit this kind of a role. And that the real effectiveness of this, in terms of making any kind of substantial changes is always minimal. So again, we simply allowed those things to continue, but we did not really see those activities as being effective in terms of the kinds of things, and in terms of the immediacy of which we wanted these things to change.

EP:

You've mentioned the sit-down on Greene Street on July sixth and then the even larger sit-down in the square on June seventh. Were you present in either one of those situations?

JM:

Yes. I guess I'm thinking now in terms of the last one. I think you mentioned July the—

EP:

Seventh.

JM:

Seventh, yes. I was there. And my father—I thought my father was arrested, who, at that time, I guess, was in his seventies—which gives you, again, an indication of the kind of broad community involvement that had escalated to that particular point. And I was not arrested that, that evening, but I was a part of the march that preceded it.

And at the, the sit-down in the square was really a kind of a, a kind of a frustrated fallout, you might say, after this rather large massive march that involved so many people and church communities—of church groups and persons of the black community. And we just saw there was no other way really to resolve this, this, this concern that we had addressed ourselves to all these months. And perhaps that was the kind of thing that helped to make the change.

Of course, really, it was the boycott that actually did the job perhaps that we had been trying to do by other means. Perhaps these combined activities were the main thrust.

EP:

How effective was the boycott? It seems to me that the four target areas did not have black patronage at all, except perhaps with the exception of Carolina Theatre with its side entrance, as you mentioned, for black patrons.

JM:

Well, I guess that—I'm not sure that that's totally true. I think the Meyer's store, the Belk's store, some of the other larger department stores had a substantial professional clientele. You see, remember now that there is a rather large, there was then, a rather large teaching clientele, teaching professional clientele in the black population, as well as other professional groups who had a reasonable buying power. Now, we, we, of course, would have to recognize that the buying power would not be any great—it wouldn't be felt in any great way. But we found that, that perhaps it was their profit margin of many of these places.

And as I recall, one of our associates—this was something that was outside of my immediate area. But I heard that there was one person who actually collected charge cards—charge plates, as I think they called them then—a box, a shoebox full of them and dumped them on the, the table of one of the department store managers, saying that if this, if these things didn't change, that this is what they could, what he could have. And it's that kind of, it was that kind of support, you see, that we had from now the, the more affluent black community, which before really was not quite there.

EP:

So although the Carolina and Center theatres and the S&W and the Mayfair cafeterias were the four main targets, the entire business community was, was boycotted.

JM:

That's right. We saw that, that as many of these changes would not take place, and that some of the resistance was not so much with regard to one establishment, that it perhaps had a much longer range of the, in terms of who made these decisions. We saw that basically it was the power structure. And we're talking about now the financial power structure. And we knew that that became certainly the crux of the matter at this stage. So the boycott, I think, came only as a kind of a last resort. But we saw that that was perhaps the resort that made the difference.

EP:

How long did the boycott last?

JM:

It seems to me it lasted right up until the last, until the change took place. And when it began again, I can't be sure. I do know, though, that I helped to make some of the bumper stickers that were made, which began to focus itself more toward businesses and business attitudes, and not to buy, because until these changes took place, that we just wouldn't, we would not spend our money.

And I remember they were black letters on orange stickers. And we had another little printer in the black community who run, ran these designs off for us. Actually, several of us in the art department made these little bumper stickers. And we had quite a time, a session trying to come up with the right kind of catchphrase and so forth. So that was all a part—it was a kind of an orchestrated focus we saw to be important.

EP:

Do you remember what some of these phrases were?

JM:

Offhand, I just can't remember. And I had intended to keep some of those stickers. And I don't, I don't think I have any of them. I just wish I could now, as I look back.

EP:

You mentioned when the change came. Do you recall when you first noticed a change?

JM:

Are we talking about now since the demonstrations were over?

EP:

Well, the last demonstration, at least as reported in the newspaper in this series that began May eleventh, was June seventh. And then there was an announcement by the mayor that he was going to form a new committee, this time under W.O. Conrad, and that a series of things happened: Jesse Jackson paid bail to get out of jail; he'd been in jail about two, two or three days. There was a meeting at the Hayes-Taylor YMCA [Young Men's Christian Association] with the mayor after his press conference. [The mayor] went there and distributed copies of his statement and then discussed it. And then, apparently behind the scenes, there was some kind of agreements, for instance, with the theatre managers that they would issue a certain number of tickets through the committee, the then existing committee, Dr. Evans's committee, things like that. How, how did you become aware of these differences, these changes?

JM:

Well, again, I, I think that I was as a person, again, since I had not been closely associated with any of those committees officially, and that I had more or less committed myself to the, to the CORE root, I only got that information secondhand, though we were observant with regard to how things were being affected after, let's say, this commitment to make the change.

And I, I really don't know what the, what the processes were that took place, only by hearsay. But I do know that it was not long after all of those activities which you've described that several persons were seen downtown as groups, black and white groups, particularly professional people. And I was invited, I remember, by a friend whom I had made during my years as a teacher, Lowenstein, who happened to be the, a local architect.

EP:

Al Lowenstein?

JM:

Yes.

EP:

I mean, Ed.

JM:

Yeah, Ed[ward] Lowenstein, who designed the, the library where you are. A very fine gentleman. And we had lunch together, he and one of his associates, at the S&W. And I guess it was a kind of a strange feeling for me, because it was there that I was arrested at one point. But to be on the inside, and to be a client in a place that I had seen as a kind of a, an aloof, a foreign kind of a prohibitive adjunct that I had always known in my own experience as a black person, it was kind of a strange experience really to be on the inside of a place that I'd always seen from the outside, and to experience some of the kinds of nice accommodations that had always been there, which I really had no knowledge of except from some of the people that I had known maybe who had worked there or something like that. Yes, I would say that it was, it was kind of a traumatic thing really.

But I, I also had another kind of a feeling. It was almost like, gee whiz, I really don't know whether I want to even go in this place or not. I don't know whether I, I would, whether it would be comfortable, whether I would feel right, you know. And knowing, too, some of the attitudes of some of the managers and how they responded and reacted in court and various things along that line, I would rather see other people enjoy it rather than myself, because I just didn't feel that that was the place for me. I would rather go somewhere else. But I did it, I think, mainly as a kind of a gesture.

EP:

Did you notice any, for instance, a lot of people staring at you, making remarks or anything?

JM:

Of course, of course, yes. This, of course, has always been a part of any kind of, anyone who dared to challenge the segregated, you know, social order that was a part of the day. And of course, this was a special day. So, but that really didn't bother me too much. It's something I have, I guess, we all—those of us who have been involved in that kind of thing have always seen.

Yes, there were stares. And you could almost tell the hostile stares as well as the friendly ones. I think that, too, was a kind of a thing that one becomes kind of second-natured receptive to. You can almost glance at a person and tell whether they have a sympathetic feeling or a hostile feeling. It's just one of those kinds of things.

EP:

What kind of psychological effect, and also, what sort of psychological preparation do you have to make to challenge something as entrenched as segregation at this time and to go against the prevailing social order? What, what are the effects on the individual involved?

JM:

Well, I think that's a, that's a very interesting question that you've raised, because I have thought about this, and I've thought about it at various points in my life. It probably is a, is a kind of a long answer to try to give you this. And I'll try as best as I can.

My personal point of view has always been that I, I've tried to maintain a certain respect for the humankind. I've never—I was never brought up to have any kind of racial feeling. And I think any racial feeling that has been created has been out of the negative ones that most of us, and certainly myself, have suffered in this country. And I've tried, though, to maintain a certain kind of a neutrality with regard to attitudes toward race. I've tried to think in terms of people as being people first. And it is only when I recognized, though, a racist attitude that this defense mechanism seems to begin to operate.

So in terms of how the psychological generation that takes place in, in that kind of a personality, I guess, I found, of course, that I had to, I had to recognize that out of all of the things that I knew—and I'm talking about now the worst things that could happen, which, of course, is that someone could actually be, be killed, you know, and we know that this happens. But when you are committed, though, to a notion that racism is one of the most degrading and derogatory things that can exist, really life is not much of value when you have to live in a system where these kinds of things exist.

And so, I guess, it's that that is always the prevailing thing, that whenever I meet this kind of thing, and when my respect for the human person tends not to be likewise reflected, obviously it does incite a certain kind of a defensive position. And I guess it is that that begins to rally whenever, whenever the, the kind of positions that we have to take in order to do some of the things that we have to do. We do it because it's, it has to be done. And personal safety, I think, is not even considered.

As I, as I think back about that person that was standing at the front of the line as we were marching on that rainy day, the kinds of things that flashed through my mind really was not so much whether I would be lying there dead, [but] was how important is this thing that we're doing. And I think it's that kind of thing that tends to, to dominate. It's not the negative, it's the positive, I think, that tends to dominate the action.

So, to me, I guess, that's the, that's the core of what the psychological adjustment is. We know of all the hurts that are a product of this segregated society. And though I came from somewhat a protected southern small town situation, I knew of all of those who were not so protected, either directly or indirectly through news reports and otherwise. And then having become a parent myself, I think that this thing becomes much more imperative that changes be made, because we don't want to see our children treated the way that we had to be treated. So this was at a time when I had two young children, and on many of the occasions, the marches, I carried my children with me.

EP:

Weren't you afraid for their safety?

JM:

Not really. I guess—not really, because I guess it's under those conditions that we feel if anything does happen, these children are going to be protected. But I wanted them to experience, you know, something that I thought was an extremely important part in their experience as being black Americans.

EP:

Do they remember?

JM:

Yes, indeed. And I think that this has certainly borne itself out. I have a daughter now who's twenty-two. She was just twenty-two August the seventh. And she constantly speaks about the strange time when she was looking up at all these people, and the commotion and the sounds and the We Shall Overcome songs that were being sung. And my son, who is twenty-three, going on twenty-four, constantly speaks about these same periods.

So it's not always, though, with, with great affection. There is still, of course, a kind of a resentment that those kinds of things had to be a part of the, the scene—and still are in so many ways, subtle and perhaps even more pernicious. But I think that during that time, at least, it was a very concrete opportunity to speak to some of these ills that we know are part of the American scene.

EP:

What do you think was accomplished in Greensboro as a result of the '63 demonstrations? Were many businesses opened up to blacks?

JM:

Yes. Oh, there's, to me, all kinds of things were accomplished. And again, having come to Greensboro in 1947, then seeing the sixties, and then seeing from the sixties through practically the eighties as we are talking now, gives me an interesting kind of a perspective, really.

But since the sixties, there's no question in my mind that Greensboro is a much better place to live for everyone. The kinds of activities that have taken place—and now, again, we speak primarily about our own contacts primarily, professional and otherwise. We've seen the colleges and the universities, I think, move in much broader directions, whereby everyone could have the benefits and the opportunities of what higher education offers. There have been wonderful kinds of coordinated programs. And I'm talking about consortia arrangements that perhaps could not have functioned nearly as effectively had this not taken place.

Obviously, we could talk about the kind of immediate things, like restaurants that are available, and movies, and motels, and all of these kinds of things. Those, I think, are just incidentals. But in terms of the quality of life, I think that Greensboro offers—and I'm not just saying this purely from my own observations, but from many people, they really feel that Greensboro is one of the little oasis in the, in the South. And I'm sure that it has much to do with those particular activities that we've just described.

EP:

So you feel that Greensboro lives up to its reputation as a moderate, progressive city?

JM:

I would say that Greensboro has, through its crisis, come to deal with, in a rather honest way, the problems that are inherent in a kind of a multiracial society. And these problems have not been resolved. They are, have been spoken to, I think, with some honesty. And unfortunately, it was a case of having to be pressed upon the, the minds of those who were in positions to do something, but at least this has begun. And if nothing more, I think that this is a very positive thing.

EP:

Recently, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the May 17, 1954, decision of the Supreme Court [Brown v. Board of Education], the Greensboro Record ran a week-long series of, of looking at the black community, looking at the racial situation in Greensboro. One thing that comes out there is an acknowledgement that things have improved, but there was a feeling of dissatisfaction at the rate of progress and the kind of things that could have been done that have not yet been done. What is the feeling that you have, and—as an individual member of the black community—and the black community as a whole, as to what could have been done that wasn't, that still needs to be done?

JM:

Okay. From my vantage point, I guess I, I would have to see it from this point of view—that what was attacked during the times of the sixties was the overtness of a segregation, or a segregated society. And we're talking about those kinds of things that were most obvious.

When you talk about those things that are more fundamental—and we're talking about attitudes now, we're not talking about official positions. We're not talking about official policy and law and these kinds of things. We're talking about attitudes. It takes a long time for attitudes to change. And we certainly understand that if the attitudes don't change—and there are still persons who are in positions to make a difference with regard to, let's say, hiring, with regard to other activities where interracial relationships take place. If those attitudes are not positive, then the same kinds of things can be very easily perpetrated, but only in, under a different kind of a guise.

I believe that we are now in a stage where this is the thing that has to be resolved. I don't know what the answers are to try to resolve these things, because it has to do with interpersonal relationships. It has something to do with ingrained attitudes sometimes, the diehard attitudes, if you're talking about political actions. And again, these are the ways the same things can be perpetrated. So it's, it's, much more, it's much more difficult to put your finger on.

I would say, though, that the question of, of jobs, the economics, perhaps is the most significant area that still has to be resolved, because once that can happen, I think other things can perhaps change. It may mean that people can be able to buy houses and therefore move in other neighborhoods—and moving in other neighborhoods where, up to this point, people are considered strangers. It allows people to know each other better on a personal relationship. And that, too, can help to change attitudes. But only until those things happen will some of these attitudes, I'm afraid, change.

EP:

Do you think that busing has been a positive or a negative factor? Do you think that it was the only feasible way to have meaningful integration of the schools? What is your attitude on busing?

JM:

Yes. I, I think busing was a, a necessary activity that had to take place. And I know that even in the black community there is some disagreement. Well, there is, there is some sense of, of futility in some of the black communities in terms of the effects of what has happened with regard to busing black kids out of the black communities into some of white schools, as well as there are attitudes of the whites who are having to be bused into the black communities. But I think that this was a kind of a necessary alternative that had to take place.

I think there are still problems. But I think those same problems go back to the same questions that I spoke about, and that is attitudes. And some of these attitudes may have been positively effective. I think that where young people are able to meet other young people on some kind of a personal level, they're able to deal with them as individuals rather than as stereotype groups, that they can overcome many of the stereotype concepts that have been preached to them by parents and by others who would prefer things to maintain, to be maintained as they are. But I think that, again, in the long run, we still have some serious problems with regard to this school situation. And it may be that bussing is not the final answer.

EP:

Do you think there's been a substantive change in the state of race relations in Greensboro and interaction between the races since the 1963 demonstrations?

JM:

I think some very substantive changes have taken place. But I think that those have taken place only where there has been direct contact, one with the other. Where professionalism has taken place, let's say, where there's been professional contacts, where there have been interpersonal relationships that have allowed various racial groups to know each other directly. And I think that perhaps in the government level, of some government agencies, this has taken place. And some of the educational institutions, this has taken place, some for the high school as well as college levels. I would say, though, that those are the areas that I think that most of the substantive changes have taken place.

EP:

Did you continue with civil rights activity after the ending of the demonstrations in the spring of '63?

JM:

No, I think my activities pretty much more or less ceased. I have always been associated with the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], either directly or indirectly. And I, I guess that it goes back, too, to my own feeling that organizations have meaning only at certain points in time, that really, when it comes down to it, it is a kind of interpersonal thing. This thing called human relationship is the key to much interracial relation.

And I think it behooves us all that, in whatever profession that we are in, that we try to maintain that kind of attitude that helps to promote a kind of a congenial interracial relationship. I don't think it always has to be done as organized confrontations. And I guess that my personal feeling tends to kind of promote that kind of way of dealing with this whole question.

EP:

You said you were arrested three times. Did you ever come to trial as a result of any of these arrests?

JM:

Yes. There was a final trial, I think, when the whole thing was being resolved. And as I recall, my own involvement was, I think, was considered nolo contendere. What I—I'm sorry.

EP:

What sort of sentence did you receive?

JM:

Well, the nolo contendere was no contest, which I interpreted, according to the lawyers, to mean that there was, that my civil rights really were being exerted, and that though the laws were broken, that they could not prosecute based on my civil rights. And it seems like it was a kind of a stalemate with regard to the legal action. And out of that, there was no sentence. So I think that was the way it, it was resolved.

EP:

In retrospect, what do you think was the overall significance of the Greensboro demonstrations?

JM:

The significance?

EP:

Locally and on a national scale.

JM:

Well, I, I think that it, it was simply a kind of a [noise]—I think it was—something tells me we're going to have some problems here with that noise. So if we can just kind of hold that just for a little bit.

[End of Interview]