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Oral history interview with Joe Mitchell by William Link


Date: September 27, 1989

Interviewee: Joe Mitchell

Biographical abstract: Joe Mitchell (1930- ) was a member of the NAACP and Greensboro Citizens Association during the civil rights movement, and active in later voter registration efforts.

Interviewer: William Link

Description:

In this transcript of a September 27, 1989, oral history interview conducted by William Link with Joe Mitchell, Mitchell discusses his childhood and education, and describes race relations in Northampton County. He characterized the national and local NAACP organizations and his participation in their activities. He also discusses his personal experience registering to vote, the importance of enfranchisement, and his subsequent voter registration efforts. Other topics include the role of black ministers, Jesse Jackson, and Ralph Johns in local civil rights activities and politics; his arrest for demonstrating in Greensboro; and the merits of the district system of city council elections.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: GreensboroVOICES Collection

Repository: The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Item#: 1.10.559

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 Joe Mitchell by William Link

[Begin Tape 1, Side A]

WILLIAM LINK:

This is William Link and the date is September 27, 1989. I'm in the home of Mr. Joe Mitchell. I wonder if we can start just by talking about your childhood—where you were born, and in particular some memories you might have about, as a child, about how race relations were. You were born in?

JOE MITCHELL:

I was born in Northampton County. That's the eastern part of the state. That was April 24, 1930, of course I cannot remember that. [laughs] But my childhood, I was reared in a family with nine brothers and three sisters, and ever since I could remember we had owned our own farm. And we went to a school which was about two miles away, and we had to walk to school at the time. There was no busing, no transportation. The school we went to was a two-room school, big pot belly heater, and the larger boys would get up early in the morning and make the fire. And all the grades from one through—or from primer through fourth were in one room, and the other grades in elementary school were in the other room. There were two teachers, a man and a woman.

WL:

How do you remember the teachers? Were they good teachers?

JM:

It was—we had a teacher named Mrs. Perkins, she was a very lovely person. I thought the world of Mrs.—she was more like a mother than most of the teachers are today. The teachers cared about the children; whatever happened to you, the teachers were there to help you out. And we had the male teacher concept of a man by the name of Harvey Young. He was a rough old man, but very stern, and he would walk beside the boys, ran [unclear] and very few [unclear]. At that time you would spank as much as you wanted to, nobody would say anything.

And so the school was very disciplined. It wasn't like [when] my children were going to school. But it was very much different. It was a place that you know that you couldn't do what you wanted to do. You had to study when you went to school. So this was early school, and from that we moved into a—we didn't move, we went to finish elementary school and went on to high school. We went to—and our high school was called Coach High School. It was the high school in the little town of Seaboard. This little, this school had four—

WL:

Was that still Northampton County?

JM:

Still Northampton County. And it had four grades in it and it was three and a half miles from this school. And of course, the only way you can get to this school, we had to walk too. Later on, when we first started to walk—later on there was a bus put on the route, and then we rode the bus to school and back home. And when you get home from school, you have to go to work. We were farmers, and the only thing we know to do then was cotton, peanuts, and corn, and very little tobacco in that area. But we did work and [unclear]—

WL:

Excuse me, I was going to ask how, how would you characterize relations between white people and black people in the communities you lived in as a child?

JM:

There was very few white people in the community. I think there was about two families, or three families in the community, and there—and one of the families had two or three boys—of course, they were older than we were. And the other family—I can't remember whether there was any children there at all. I think he was a dairy farmer, he had a lot of cows, and he had to run the hower[?]. And of course we had very little to do with that family, because that family's house was fenced-in with a big white fence, and we was always going around the fence. So we never come directly in contact with the hower family. And then the school, of course, it was completely segregated. We had no mixing in the schools.

WL:

And not much contact with, between white people in the community?

JM:

Very, very little unless you was an older person, maybe. But the children—of course, there wasn't that many children, there wasn't that many white children in the area; I guess there were two or three in the whole area.

WL:

What brought you to Greensboro? How did you—

JM:

Well, I went from Northampton County after completing the high school. I went and finished high school there, then I went to New Jersey. I had brothers that all was in New Jersey, went to New Jersey to look for work.

WL:

Whereabouts?

JM:

Huh?

WL:

Whereabouts in New Jersey?

JM:

I was in Orange, New Jersey. I went to Orange, New Jersey, and I lived in East Orange, New Jersey, for about two years, and I lived in Newark for about four years. I was in New Jersey altogether about six years.

WL:

How did you feel coming from North Carolina to New Jersey?

JM:

Well, I was working at Academy[?] Plating Company and they went on strike in 1957. This was in 1957 when they went on strike, and we, I came here. I was going to see a girl which lived in Northampton County at the particular time, but had moved to Greensboro to take care of her sister—my brother's wife now—which was Kathleen. I came here and visit my brother-in-law of 1609 Pichard Street in the fall of 1957, and I liked Greensboro from what I could see of it. Of course, at that time none of the motels or hotels was integrated. And the only place that you could live was a place on Martin Street, the Manor Hou[se]—the [Plaza] Manor, on Martin Street. It was a little motel there that you could live. So I, I spent a couple of days here in 1957, and from that I came back again in 19—early 1958, I think at Easter. My wife and I, the girlfriend which was Kathleen at that time, we got engaged. And in December of 1958, I was at my home in Jackson, [Northampton County, NC] and her home was in the same town. And we was there, so we got married in 1958, December 27 we moved to Greensboro.

WL:

You moved right at the end of 1958. And how would you describe Greensboro as a person just arriving from eastern North Carolina, New Jersey. Any differences in terms of—

JM:

Well, when I got here in 1958, I thought Greensboro was a nice place, but it had no—the transportation was very poor. I had no car. And it take over a half an hour or forty-five minutes to go downtown, and you couldn't get the bus. No bus—the bus transportation was still poor here at that time; there wasn't good transportation at that time, even '58. And Duke Power bus [unclear] go downtown on the bus. If you want to go somewhere else on the bus—you could go downtown, but you couldn't go nowhere else. I couldn't go nowhere but back from where I come from, because I did not know the place at that particular time.

The transportation running up and down Market Street— and I lived on Willow Road and McConnell when I first moved here. I moved here and I stayed with my brother-in-law about a week, and after the week I stayed with my brother-in law I moved to a little house on McConnell Road. So I was close to the bus line, but it was very poor transportation as far as the bus was concerned when I first stayed here.

And I joined the—I first come to know a man by the name of W. M. Nelson, and when I learnt Mr. Nelson, he was connected with the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], the Knights of Pythian, and some of the other organizations, and all the organizations that he was in. He saw me as a young man and he told me, he said, “You ought to join these organizations so you'll have somewhere to go.” So I paid very strict attention to him because he was a man that talked like he knew where he was going and what he was going to do.

WL:

So he introduced you to some of these other organizations?

JM:

Yeah, he introduced me to most of the organizations of the town. He had—he was a professor, early professor, at [North Carolina] A&T State University.

WL:

How was, what kind of organization was the NAACP? This was in 1958, 1959.

JM:

Nineteen fifty-eight the NAACP was an organization that was moving. We had Dr. [Edwin] Edmonds at that particular time as our president, which had—which was over at Bennett College. And he was a professor at Bennett College, and he was doing some great things over there. But I think because the NAACP and the heat, Dr. Edmonds had to leave during the heat of the winter of 1959.

WL:

Had to leave Bennett?

JM:

Bennett. And I think he had some reprisals from the other part of the community that caused him to move on to some other place, and he went from here to Boston.

WL:

The community didn't like the NAACP? Some people in the community.

JM:

Well, at that particular time the NAACP was a pretty bad word in the community, it was a pretty bad word. And of course I—now, Edmonds was president when I come, so I don't know the full story about why and how he left, other than I knew that they put pressure on him. Bennett is a college that is mostly funded by gifts from big donors and from churches. So the Methodists at that particular time didn't see fit to keep Dr. Edmonds because they needed, I guess, they needed to move forward with what they were doing. He was very outspoken.

WL:

He was outspoken and he was with the NAACP, and so there was pressure from Bennett perhaps to—

JM:

To relieve him of his job.

WL:

To get rid of him, to put a lid of the NAACP. What was the NAACP, what were their objectives in those times?

JM:

Well, their objective then was a, we was a, we were civil rights fighters, and anything that came up that was against the, our cause, of course we would fight it. And we had had a young man that was here then by the name of Dr. George Simpkins, which was vice president of the NAACP. And when Dr. Edmonds left Dr. George Simkins took over and Dr. George Simkins held the position for twenty-seven, twenty-eight years, from 1958 close to 19—another twenty-eight years, yeah.

WL:

[Nineteen] eighty-five or eighty-six?

JM:

Yeah.

WL:

So, after the, after Edmonds was forced out—

JM:

Dr. Simpkins took over and then Dr. Simkins stayed there until '57, '56—'86, I mean '86.

WL:

NAACP was one of the—objectives was to end segregation, at this point?

JM:

Yeah, we were [unclear]—our aim was to integrate the school systems. In 1954, the civil rights bill had passed [Brown v. Board of Education] some time and so it was about to get on with moving the community farther, as any civil rights organization was supposed to do.

WL:

How segregated was Greensboro in 1958?

JM:

Oh, well now, you know. Greensboro was like any other Southern town. You couldn't go downtown and have anything to eat. You couldn't get nothing—you couldn't go to the bathrooms unless you were invited. I remember one time I went to a little furniture company and I was buying some furniture. I was just a young man who moved here, and where I left from New Jersey you could go to the bathrooms there, and it was a little different there, but here I went into Little's to buy some furniture, and I asked to use the bathroom. And he said, “We don't have a bathroom that you can use.” I said, “You mean to tell me I'm going to spend five, six hundred dollars for furniture, and I can't go to the bathroom?” [laughs] I thought it was ridiculous, and it was a ridiculous thing, because after all I wasn't going to tear the place up going to the bathroom, you know. He said the bathroom wasn't for use, for, I don't think he said blacks, but he said for customers.

And the fountains, the water fountains, he said now there you couldn't drink no water out of the water fountains. Very few water fountains was there then, but do you find water, you'll find some water fountains, but a lot of times they won't let you drink no water. You have to go either to the courthouse or somewhere to get it. I deplored that, I thought it was one of the things that leaves a person to feel—shopping should be able to use the facilities where they're shopping.

And the same thing was about the food places. There was nowhere in town that you could get no food uptown. You had to come down Market Street, down below the dry dock[?], and get anything that you—down below the railroad, had to go there in order to get you something to eat or drink or make yourself comfortable.

WL:

What made you—what attracted you to the NAACP? I mean was there some—

JM:

Well, the NAACP, I had been a member of the NAACP in the state of New Jersey and in the Northampton County. The NAACP was not new to me. I joined the NAACP at the age of about twelve years old. I been a member of the NAACP for about forty-eight years, I'll be sixty on my birthday. I had been in the NAACP for forty-eight years so I been there a long time.

And I also worked with the youth group, the youth council of the NAACP when I was in the state of New Jersey, and I kind of liked it. It was something to do, and it was a change. That day you didn't have a whole lot of things to do. So anything to keep a young person moving and going was good, because you know I was young too at that time. I was in my early twenties and teens.

WL:

Were you, you were involved as well in the Greensboro Citizens Association?

JM:

Yeah.

WL:

At what, at about the same time or later?

JM:

Oh, the Greensboro Citizens Association wasn't actually going when I first come here in 1958. I joined the Greensboro Citizens Association later on, at about, I guess, in the mid-sixties.

WL:

What was the relationship between these two organizations?

JM:

Oh, they worked hand in glove. The Greensboro Citizens Association and NAACP had worked hand in glove during this first inception, because most of the people of the Greensboro Citizens Association was also members of the NAACP. The NAACP is non-partisan, and the Greensboro Citizens Association—it stands for good government, so it work with things that NAACP cannot work with. Like NAACP does not endorse candidates for city office or nothing. And the Greensboro Citizens Association, the Political Action Committee which I was a part of, could. And, but the people, the people in the NAACP—NAACP is a national organization. And in a national organization, the charter, the by-laws, or what have you does not allow you to endorse candidates. It is not non-political, but it is non—it doesn't endorse candidates or what have you.

WL:

I see. So they would work in coordination—

JM:

They would work in coordination; the people may be the same people. I mean, one hat on today and another one tomorrow]. I mean it was, it's like any other group, sometimes you belong to a group you can't do certain things. You belong to church you don't do certain things in a church, but you do do the things at some other place at some other time.

WL:

[In the] late 1950s when you joined the NAACP and came to Greensboro, it must have been, there must have been a feeling that things were going to change.

JM:

Well, we—well, whether it was going to change or not it was good to join something that was progressive. And the NAACP I thought was a very progressive movement to voice that things are changing.

I remember when I went to register to vote. The first time I registered, I was twenty-one years old. I just got back from the service. I was coming back out of the service the next year, or whatever it was. And I was in my hometown then of Seaboard, North Carolina. I went to register, and the lady told me I could not register unless I could read and write the Constitution, the preamble to the Constitution by heart. And I said to the lady, “Look, I just came out of Korea.” I said, “You mean to tell me the only way I'm going to be able to register today is read and write the preamble to the Constitution by heart?”

And she said, “Yes, that's right.” Her name was Mrs. Taylor. I'll never forget her. And to several of us boys that had just [unclear] been in the service and come back, I and Eddie Faison[?] was there to register. I wrote the preamble to the Constitution and punctuated it correctly, and so she let me register. Eddie Faison was at NCCC—North Carolina Central College, because he didn't go in service; I went in service. And they wouldn't let him register because they said he was unqualified. And so—

JM:

Unqualified in what sense, I mean he didn't—

JM:

He couldn't read and write the preamble to the Constitution by heart. I don't know why I could do any more on it than he could, he was as fair a student or a better student—and he should have been a better student because he was already in college—than I was. And so we started to protest there. And we had a lawyer at that time by the name of—what was that lawyer? It's been so many years ago, it's been thirty-some years ago.

But anyway we had a lawyer. And that lawyer at that time took our case and we took that case to Supreme Court of North Carolina, because of Mrs. Taylor would not allow us to register. And that was a big thing at that particular time, to get people to register. They did something with the books in Seaboard. They took everybody's name off in the book and lost the book. And everybody in the town had to re-register over again. It's been a history of that going on for many years. Not only, not only in the eastern part of the state, but across, people had a pretty hard time to re-register.

WL:

Was, do you think it was harder in a small town like that than in a big town like Greensboro, big city?

JM:

Well, Greensboro had no problem when we came here. I had no problem when I came here to register, because one of the things, first things we'd done—not the first thing—but as soon as registration commission was being appointed here, I was appointed to the registration commission in 1962, and I did that until 1986, '85. So about twenty-four years, twenty-five years, probably twenty-five years I stayed on as a registration commission[er]. Of course, I registered lots of people here. That was one of the things that I've done. I was a commission register, and I worked as a membership chairman of the NAACP. So I worked—mostly my work was day work—was during nights, so I had a lot of time during the day. I've always had a lot of time during the day. I've always worked at night, and so my days have been pretty well free to do what I want to do with it. I did a lot of registration, getting people registered to vote.

WL:

As a commissioner you could, actually you would register, you could register people to vote?

JM:

Yeah, we, anytime, the books never closed, other than when thirty days prior to an election. When books closed we couldn't register. But other than that, you were given a free hand to walk about in the community and register people in the community, register people at the church, register people at the—anywhere that you saw them, you know, as long as you gave them the proper oath, and had the proper, and they had the proper addresses and everything if you want to register.

WL:

So the problem was getting people registered, rather than facing obstacles?

JM:

There were no obstacles here at that particular time. Nobody would do anything much to you in this, in this city for registering people. We had it pretty good here. We registered at UNCG [University of North Carolina at Greensboro], A&T, Bennett College—what was that—Guilford College, Jamestown, anywhere in the county. We did a whole lot of that.

By the way, when we first started, we only had about three thousand blacks registered. And today there is some twenty-odd thousand registered here. During our registration, we didn't have but two commissioners, Robert R. Brown at that time and Joe Mitchell. And we—and I, me, myself—and we registered people all over this town. And after that they added more registration commissioners, and of course today—I don't know how many they got today—but once upon a time there wasn't but two of us in the, particularly in the black community, that were doing the registering, and we did a lot of it.

House to house in 1962, we went from door to door, Warnerville, the Washington Street Station, around Bennett College, A&T, Morningside Homes, Warren[?] Homes. We went through seven thousand homes and getting people registered. We had a team of people that came in here from Ohio, a professor from Ohio University back there then named Brad Bayus[?]. And we worked with that group getting people to register. It looked like somehow people was led to Greensboro at that particular time, because we was the only group I guess anywhere around here had commission to register. No other towns, Durham, they wasn't allowed to register nobody but the people in their—they had to register in their community, and we could register anywhere in the county.

JM:

I see. As a commissioner you had countywide powers.

WL:

We had countywide limits that we could register in. And nobody bothered you. We'd go set up in the church or set up in the school and get the people registered. And it was a lot of satisfaction just to work and see the people registering, because you know that's the first step. If you're not registered, you can't vote. I've always thought that voteless people was a helpless people, and a person that votes has power. I found out the more, the longer I live the stronger that the vote is, and it's all in the vote. This other stuff that we do may be great, demonstrations and all, but none of it counts like the vote. If you can put a person in office, if you can put somebody in a position of power, a position where he can move, a position where you can—you got a great thing.

WL:

The political power is the key.

JM:

Yeah, political power. You can say what you will or may. You lay down tonight, you rise up in the morning, the first thing will be—political power will be there. It controls all, everything in life. It controls taxes, the politics, whatever you got, the vote controls.

WL:

Do you think that that has been the case in Greensboro, has increased political power through registration?

JM:

Yeah, by that we have received a lot of recognitions, and we have sent people on to do great things. A case in point, Henry Frye. I remember when Henry Frye ran for the [North Carolina] House. We had—before he ran for the House, Major High, an attorney, ran, and he lost. And then the next group, the next person who ran was Henry Frye. And then Frye ran and he lost. And the next time—we kept on getting people registered, we kept on building the books up. Next time Henry run, Henry won.

And he was the first [black] person that went to Raleigh since Reconstruction. He was the first representative in the state that went there since [George Henry] White, which was from Eden, yeah, I think. I read about this, and the fellow down in Eden had been in the House of Representatives down from Kinston or Lenoir [New Bern], somewhere down in that part of the country, where— it's in history. But Henry Frye, as I was saying, was the second person that went, that was a first person since that group of people went way back there during Reconstruction.

WL:

Was Henry Frye's campaign a—it must have been a sort of exciting campaign—

JM:

Oh, it was. It was exciting, it was, and when Henry was running. And I don't exactly know who was running against him, but I know Henry came out and managed to be—and he was the first person we sent to Raleigh from Guilford County, black person. He was there for ten, twelve years. I think he stayed in the House of Representatives for five terms and then the Senate one term. And then Henry went on to be chief justice [of the N.C. Supreme Court]. He is Justice Henry Frye now. He was my neighbor, we lived back here on Dunbar Street when he ran. And of course he had two boys, and his wife Shirley. They worked. We worked [Jim and Dudley?] to get him in. Many people did a lot.

WL:

What kind of work? What kind of—[unclear] work?

JM:

I mean, what I'm talking about—No, I don't mean just work, I mean we was out there—well, we did work, too, because the political process is a lot of work. So you have to get out there in the field and tell people who is running and let people know who's running, and carry out fliers and put out your pamphlets and what have you. But during the time when Henry run, it was one of the things that was a moving experience. Because we needed, we needed a person to go to Raleigh, and Henry made it. And then after he went a year, every two years he had to be re-elected again. We just kept him down there for ten years or twelve years.

WL:

How did, how did—you mentioned the NAACP, the Greensboro Citizens Association, and efforts to increase voter registration—how, over the last thirty years or so, has the black community become mobilized? Has it been through churches? Has it been through organizations like the NAACP? When you had a candidate like Henry Frye, has it been certain agencies or institutions?

JM:

Well, the—well, we will never say that church wasn't a part of the civil rights movement. I think the church has always played it's part. And it may not have been given the credit, but the ministers on Sunday morning has a direct channel to move people than any other agency in the community, because he speaks to three, four hundred or five hundred on Sunday mornings, where the NAACP can speak to the masses, but not to that many each day. And, of course, we would never—because many of our leaders in the NAACP like Reverend Otis Hairston that served as the membership chairman prior to my serving in 1961 when I came here—Reverend Otis Hairston [of Shiloh Baptist Church] was 1960 was membership chairman.

And of course then we had the pastor of Providence Baptist Church was the Reverend [Lorenzo] Lynch, took it over after Reverend Hair[ston]—took the membership thing over after, after Reverend Hairston left. And I joined him to work with Reverend Lynch. And after Reverend Lynch left and go to Durham, to White Rock Baptist Church, our Joe Mitchell in 1962 came to be membership chairman. And we worked with it, and this was a help in my line, because I was right out there in the field doing registration work. And of course it fell right in line for what we were doing.

WL:

So you had the active cooperation and participation of churches?

JM:

Yeah, we, well, the churches have always worked with us. Not all of the churches have worked as good as we liked to, but we have had a good relationship with most of our churches. You know, some churches just doesn't believe in certain things, or certain government, or certain civil rights movements. And I guess they have a right for it. The individual pastors has to have a right for their belief.

WL:

Have there been certain churches that had a tradition of being involved?

JM:

Well, yes. Shiloh in particular has a great history of civil rights. Providence has a great history of civil rights movements, because of, I guess, the makeup of the people that they have in the churches. Also, you know, Providence has most of our teachers. And St. James Presbyterian Church was one of the churches that was a leader in the civil rights—well, St. James Presbyterian Church should be called the leader, because the pastor himself served as the president of the NAACP, Rev. [Julius T.] Douglas, which was back in the 1950s. That was before my day, but I know of the history.

WL:

The St. James, and Shiloh, and Providence are—

JM:

Yeah, those are three of the churches that have did a lot of the work. And of course, we had another church, the church I'm a member of, Institution, has did a lot. United Institution Baptist Church has worked with NAACP. And most of the churches have worked. But I can say that those three churches are the churches that have stood out. And, of course, Bethel was a church, a Methodist church right across that did a lot of civil rights work. And you can go on and recall a bunch of churches, we had a lot of churches.

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

WL: Yeah, we were talking about the role of churches in the black community, and in activism, and in, particularly in political involvement. [I] wonder if we can talk a little bit about the period of activism in the early 1960s that puts Greensboro in the national spotlight—the sit-ins in 1960 and the street demonstrations in 1963. Any perceptions or impressions that you have of that?

JM:

Well, the, first the thing I think we had the four young men that really moved the city and the nation: Ezell Blair, David Richmond, Joe McNeil, and [Franklin] McCain. McCain and Joe McNeil were not from this area but from some other area in the state. I think one was from Wilmington and the other was from Charlotte.

But anyway, the two boys that was here, I know the families—the one of them lived out in White Oak and the other lived in Warnersville. And their mother and fathers was—one of them, I think one of them's daddy worked for the city, and Ezell Blair was a teacher—Ezell Blair Sr. was a teacher at Dudley [High] School, or the high school at that particular time.

And, of course, they was very interested in moving things forward in Greensboro. And so [was] another young man that lived, that had a store down on East Market Street by the name of Ralph Johns. And as it to be, the kids that, at this particular time, was interested in moving the vision forward, moving themselves forward, or moving the city forward, or getting involved in what have we. And they was interested in, also in the good city government at A&T—they was all freshmen at A&T at this particular time—and so they went up town and sat at the lunch counter.

But prior to sitting at the lunch counter I think they had had several meetings with people in the community and also with Ralph Johns. Ralph Johns was a—considered him a Jew, and he owned the clothing store on Market Street as you go up on the right. And Ralph was very interested and very in the movement. And he was also a member of our NAACP at this particular time; he was on the board. And so Ralph Johns, as a merchant, was very interested in the students and what they was about to do. And so they sit down at the lunch counter. [unclear] And this was part of what actually took place in back there in the sit-down at the counter in Woolworth's. Of course they arrested them. They arrested these four boys.

WL:

Did they have a, did they have a strategy that came from consultation from other people?

JM:

Yes, they had had several strategy meetings. I don't, I wasn't there when they had these strategy meetings, but I understand that they had strategy and was talking with Ralph Johns and other people in the community. So they—this led to the sitting-in at the Woolworth's situation. Many people at that time was hoping that this would happen, because just was nowhere to relax yourself in the city, and we had to start at some place.

WL:

So it had a lot of support in the community?

JM:

Oh, it had the support of the community, somewhat, yes. It had a lot of support in the black community, I know.

WL:

Was there any fear about it?

JM:

Well, there was fear of reprisal of some nature from certain people, but there come a time when you don't let that stop you. You move ahead, and we moved ahead. For instance, many people went to, a lot of people—not at that particular time, but I think the four students was arrested—they went to jail, but they didn't stay in, they got out on bond. And so that was in 1960. And so things begin to wake up, and the lunch counters finally opened. And today it's, today everybody's enjoying themselves there. I mean, you know, this was—before this time there was nothing open up in Greensboro where a minority could go in and sit down and eat.

JM:

What about the 1963 marches?

WL:

In the 1963 marches, we had a fellow over there at A&T, and Jesse Jackson was there at that particular time in '63. These are the boys that had went to sit down at, was, I guess was, I don't know whether they was a part of this at this particular time or not. But in 1963 they had a young man there named Jesse Jackson and he was in charge of the student movement of A&T. And we had a lot of consultations, and a lot of things we hadn't really—well, the Woolworth's opened up, you know—but there were other things, there were other priorities, there was other things needed to be done.

And so in 1963 there was, we, you know, we couldn't, they didn't want us to do certain things, so we sat down in the square. I remember it; I was there. It was on, I don't know exactly what night it was, but anyway we sat down in the square. And the police went all the way around us and they said that anybody that doesn't move now, you are going to jail. [laughs] They blowed the bullhorn or what have you. And so I was young and I was working at P. Lorillard, and I said, “Let's go to jail.” And I went to jail.

We didn't really go to jail, either, we went to the coliseum. They just got through building the new coliseum there, I think was around '60, something like that. And we went out there to the coliseum out there and that's where they fingerprinted busloads of people. It was, I would say five, six hundred people that sat down in the square, maybe two thousand or three thousand was in the march. But all of them didn't get to go to the jail. And they also carried some to, sent, carried a group to the coliseum. They carried a group down to the convalescent home [polio hospital] down on Market Street. And they was not only putting them in the jails, because the jails wouldn't hold them, they were putting them where they could charge them with, and fine them, and turn them loose or whatever they could do with them. But most of them was fined.

In the convalescent hospital they took most of the Bennett College students, and A&T students, students from school, and I think the governor sent blankets in. Scott I believe it was, I don't remember whether it was Scott or Hodges. But anyway they sent blankets or something. And they called out the national guards and all of that, you know, because of that movement they had there.

WL:

Did they, and they would not keep you long, just keep you there long enough to process you and then—

JM:

Well, they would—

WL:

They'd hold you there?

JM:

They held some people, but for the most part most people was working people. Some people had to get out, you know, had to go back to work. But just to show support, many people went through the process of being arrested for—it was more than just being arrested, it was being, it was showing your support for the movement. And many people showed support for the movement. We had school teachers. We had lawyers, doctors, preachers, what have you. The whole community rallied behind it. And then we had several meetings at different churches for support for these kids and for the troops that had took their part, their actual part in the demonstration.

I believe one time we was, we had, we called in Martin Luther King. I think Martin Luther King came here and spoke during the height of our sit-in. And Dr. [Fred] Shuttlesworth, out of Mississippi or Alabama or somewhere down there, he was here. And we had to raise money for the fines of these people [unclear] at that particular time. Then the Greensboro Citizens Association and NAACP all went together, and there was money, there was a whole lot of money, money raised to take care of the bonds of the students that had been—and then we had to, I had to also have to hire attorneys. CORE [Congress of Racial Equality] was an organization that came out of Durham that came in here that kept us out. Floyd McKissick, the lawyer at that particular time for a group out of Durham, and they came in here. And I think the lawyer [Clarence] Malone was the lawyer for getting a lot of the, following-up on the cases.

This was an earthmoving thing. It not only started here, but it went around the whole country. I think from the 1960 movement, I think it sprung up and you could hear people doing this in that place and all over the different parts of the country from what they had—the Atlanta movement and some of the other movements.

WL:

Took a—obviously it took a lot of coordination and organization to get all this happening, didn't it? I mean the 1963 especially, when you got all these people out there marching every day.

JM:

Yeah, but the 1963, that's when the, when it actually gelled together. But, you know, it took a lot of coordination and organization too, but it took people that were willing to do it. For the most part, you might think we had all the educators behind it, but we didn't. We had a lot of them, but—sympathetic and worked with us, but most of the time it was just the ordinary average person that helped put this thing together and put it on the road. Because a lot of—a person, you know, that is doing well tends to not to rock the boat [laughs]. I guess you know what I mean. And for the most part the job was done, but it was done by maybe those people supported but their support wasn't up front. Their support was, in other words—have you heard of United Fund? You don't know who you know give all the money to the United Fund but it gets there. Yeah, so we don't know exactly how much they did but it was still through that organization bringing it in to the NAACP and then the Citizens Association.

WL:

So a number of people lent support but were reluctant to be directly involved?

JM:

There was a lot of them people that would—I remember when I was working at the NAACP and those people would tell you, said, “I'll take a membership, but don't put my name on it. I'll give you a ten dollar membership. I'll give you a five dollar membership. I'll give,” whatever, a two dollar membership, whatever back then. “Well, I did give you some money.” But they didn't want it by name associated, because, you know—you would name a child or name somebody else to it, because they felt that the membership might fall into the hands of some of the people like they did in Alabama or somewhere. You know Alabama was outlawed for NAACP for several years and nobody—and of course, I guess they felt like they may have some problems. A lot of the people wouldn't let you put their name down but would give you money.

WL:

In 1963 you mentioned Jesse Jackson as one of the leaders that emerged. Can you say a little more about his role?

JM:

Yeah. Well, Jesse Jackson was a leader, was a very known, great football player, and he was a good spokesman. He was in charge of—he could hold the congregation at that time. And of course he was destiny to be a preacher or something. Jesse was one of those rare types of person that you just don't get. You just don't get a leader from a group that people will follow like they would Jesse, my students in particular. The university had leaders there before, but we had nobody to cohesive the group as Jesse did. And Jesse was able to take the students by many places and do many things. You know, some people just can lead.

WL:

So he was able to get the numbers out?

JM:

Yeah, he was able to, they was able to get the students out.

WL:

How did the police, how would you mention the arrests? How did the police handle all this? Were they—

JM:

Well, the police was not brutal. I don't know why the Greensboro police was never, what I would say, “using the stick.” They didn't have to, I don't guess. It was never, it was a lot of arrests made. A lot of people went to the coliseum, a lot of people went to jail, a lot of people went this place or that place, but there was never nobody that actually, [pause] I don't know the word to be said, but defied going.

In other words, you can't hardly beat a person that's ready to go to jail. See, people just [unclear] look it like to go and be arrested. You know the crowd sitting in the street, [unclear] normally, and after they ask you up, but the people sat there. People come, get in the bus. It was you not really arresting nobody if you walk on the bus. You see, you open the bus door and everybody that was sitting there get in the bus and go on to [unclear]. And when you get there you'd fingerprint them, and fine them or concentrate them, put them in the holding cell, and they call somebody to do the bond, and you turn them loose.

Because, you know, you, I know they'd charge you for trespassing, but trespassing didn't stick. Obstructing traffic, I think that's what the arrest warranted, obstructing traffic. Of course, most of the people, when they did, they throw the thing out of court, and everybody, no bonds, or very few bonds, or very few people paid to get out of these things, you know.

WL:

Was there a daily—these marches went on everyday for about two weeks, didn't they?

JM:

Well, they went on, yes, nights and evenings, nights, days. They went on, yeah, I think for two or three weeks maybe.

WL:

Was there a daily ritual that people would gather in a certain place?

JM:

Well, now that was mostly in the schools, that was the most of the schools that they went out and they come back, and went out and come back. And of course the community, the people in the community would join them. Some would join them and go back out. I think it always originated and it started at the schools, uptown, and they'd march up for a certain thing, and then in front of the police station, and do this. Jesse would speak, and the march would, and come back and dismiss, and then the student body would go back to the campus, and of course they'd have their thing over there. But being, not being a student, you wouldn't really know what, unless you went over there sometime to see what was going on.

WL:

Where it started. Yeah. Right. But it was spontaneous? [unclear]

JM:

Well, it weren't everyday. It wasn't a, it wasn't a, it may have been a week or so, but it wasn't a thing they just out there in the street every morning, like somebody going to work. But they'd go up at night. Most of the times, they'd go up in the evening. I know several evenings and nights sometimes we would go [unclear] in front of the police force headquarters. Then the time when they had the big arrest up there, I was there that time. Most of the other times I wasn't there. You see, I was a working man.

WL:

Did—we talked about, we just were talking about the police. What about the city government? How would you characterize their reaction toward the marches, and toward more broadly, just sort of the question of whether they wanted to change things or not? How willing were they to change?

JM:

Well, the city government at that time—and I didn't go to city council that much—once in a while I'd go to hear the city council—but at this particular time, I think Jack Elam was the mayor. I may be mistaken, it's been a long time. The city, for it's part, didn't like what we were doing, but I don't think they went so far as—well, they didn't like it, and I guess they condemned it. But for the most part, nobody was actually caring about what the city was actually doing then, because they hadn't did nothing before and what they was doing then didn't look like it was nothing to benefit anybody but the city council itself.

And, of course, the form of government they had then is a little different from the form of government they have now. They had an at-large system. Almost all of the city councilmen then came from the northeast section of Greensboro, and I don't think they had but one person of race. They didn't have nobody on city council at this particular time, unless it was Waldo Falkener. Falkener did serve in city council for six, eight years, but at this particular time I don't think they had a black in city council. There was people that kept up with city government, but I did not because I was a young buck and I [unclear] go to school. I was trying to raise my, start my family, so I did not have a part in—

WL:

Do you think city has ever got more responsive over the years?

JM:

Well, city government is much more responsive now, and of course I know they'd be right on top of it now, since we have the district system. At that time we did not have the district system, we had the at-large system. And like I said, most of them could care less what went on over here at this particular time, you know. Because unless you—well, you know, unless you—and we was—now when we went uptown we were in different territory, but when we got back down below Market Street, this is where we were supposed to be, and they did not say anything about it, much.

I mean, there was consultations going on, you know, don't get me wrong. The city council did meet, I guess, and probably made their decisions. But when they made their decisions they would let us know, you know. But for having a part in the government at that particular time, we had very little.

WL:

The district reorganization—having used the district plan in city government, I gather, was a long standing was a long standing objective goal.

JM:

Well, that district plan started way back there in '63, '64. They were asking for a 6/3/1, I think it was, and a 6/2/1. And then they asked for a, I think we finally had a 5/2 or something like that. But anyway we didn't have the backing for—we asked them for representatives that could serve from your community. Now if we run for a city council that come from one, then you had to come from your specific area. If you come from two, then you had to come from the area in which our person who is on there now, which is Dr. [Alma] Adams, and Earl Jones was in this area.

And then we have five different, 5/2 at-large, and then they had—I think they had they have [unclear] on city council. And of course at-large system, you couldn't come from at-large system and come from this area too. But representative government, which was represented up and down, will actually speak for you, you know, for this particular group. I mean the Jones' would speak for number one, and then two, and three, and five would speak for their, and that's a different setup from what they had but at that time it was at-large and everybody would represent everybody.

WL:

Was the district plan then, was a, was a goal since l963 or so?

JM:

Yeah, the district goal, the district plan had been a goal for a long time, and we had fought hard to get it. We one time come close several times. But until 19—I don't know exactly what year it was—let's see.

WL:

Eighty-three or was it eighty-two?

JM:

—Eighty-three or eighty-four when they came in. But when it came in, it was a compromise from what we wanted. We wanted the 6/3 something, we got the 5/2. [unclear] But anyway, they have it now.

WL:

How would you characterize the change in the last, well, thirty years, since you've been in Greensboro? Do you think Greensboro's a much different place?

JM:

Yes, Greensboro is, Greensboro has changed a lot. Greensboro has changed. Its goal, its direction seems to be much different from what they was in 1958. Of course, in 1958 or '60, when I come here, you didn't hear anybody talking about no goals and any objectives or what have you. But now we have, where they have people on boards, people on committees, people serving in city government. When I come here there was very few people that had ever served or that was serving in city government. Now you got somebody on every board and just about someone on every commission that's in the city.

You have even a man on the ABC [Alcoholic Beverage Control] Board, I think. You have people in housing committees and zoning commissions, and the different things, and the library committees. So you got some people who—parks and recreations—whatever you might call now, you at least know what's going on or whether you can't do anything about it.

What I'm trying to say, if you ain't got nobody on anything, you is misinformed. You know, used to be somebody asks you, says, “Well, how's the libraries doing?” Or “How is the parks and recreation?” Or-“well, I know don't got no idea, I don't know nobody, I don't know anything about it,” you know. But now, that's the reason you have organizations, so the organizations can come together. And somebody—everybody might not know exactly what's going on, but somebody in the community has touched hands with whatever is going on in the city. And I think an informed person is a much better than a person that is not informed.

[End of Interview]