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Oral history interview with Pat Patterson by Eugene Pfaff


Date: July 17, 1979

Interviewee: Robert Tyrone Patterson

Biographical abstract: Robert T. "Pat" Patterson (1941- ) was active in the civil rights movement while a student at North Carolina A&T State University from 1959 to 1963, and served as vice chairman of the Greensboro CORE chapter.

Interviewer: Eugene E Pfaff

Description:

In this transcript of a July 17, 1979, oral history interview conducted by Eugene Pfaff with Pat Patterson, Patterson describes how the first sit-ins occurred, events that led up to the formation of the Greensboro CORE chapter, and the key players involved. He explains strategies behind the CORE planning sessions, how demonstrations and pickets were carried out, and reactions on the part of the city police.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: GreensboroVOICES Collection

Repository: The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Item#: 1.10.565

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 Pat Patterson by Eugene Pfaff

EUGENE PFAFF:

This is a tape for the Greensboro Public Library Oral History Program. It's being taped in the home of Mr. Robert T. Patterson, who was vice chairman of the CORE [Congress of Racial Equality] chapter in Greensboro in 1963.

Mr. Patterson, I was wondering if you could, as detailed as possible, describe the events that led up to the massive demonstrations in May 1963, going back as far as the sit-ins?

ROBERT PATTERSON:

Well, as I remember in 1960, about January, there was a group of fellows, and one night we were studying for chemistry—a chemistry examination [at North Carolina A&T State University]. The question came up concerning a boycott that was being conducted in Wilmington involving Pepsi-Cola, and one of these fellows came from Wilmington, Joe McNeill. Joe McNeill, and David Richmond, Ezell Blair, and Franklin McCain were very good friends. And at the time, there was about seven or eight of us studying some phases of engineering, and consequently was taking chemistry.

So, I remember the night before the first of February in 1960. We were studying for this examination, and this topic came up, Why didn't we do something like this in Greensboro? It was decided at that time we would do something, sort of—I thought that it was a kind of half-hearted kind of decision and didn't think any more about it, really, until the next day. And I was on my way to an electrical engineering class when Joe McNeill and Ezell Blair, Frank McCain and David Richmond passed me going to class. And they indicated that they were going to go downtown, and they were going to sit-in. I said, “Fellows, I really don't have time to just go downtown to drive around if you are not going to do it.” Well, obviously I didn't believe they would do it.

EP:

Did they ask you to join them?

RP:

Yeah. So they went down and they did, they sit-in at Woolworth. And I guess the next day was when my—when I got involved directly. We started demonstrating at that time, and did a lot of demonstrating. I don't remember the dates, but it sort of had a mushrooming effect. The Bennett College kids got involved. I remember one specific incident where things were getting a little hot in the city, and A&T had just won the CIAA [Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association] championship. And all of the football players put on their CIAA jackets and what have you. And they sort of patrolled the marchers or the picketers. And things went on for a while, and they kind of died down. And in 1963 I think is when things really started picking up again.

EP:

You were one of the A&T students that sat in at the lunch counter?

RP:

I wasn't one of the original four, but I did sit-in at Woolworth. Not that it matters, but my picture was in Jet magazine back in those days [laughs].

EP:

What sort of things were done to the students who sat there by what was called the—in '63 they were called the Confederate Calvary, but I think in 1960, I think they were generally called white hecklers.

RP:

Well, I'll have to honestly say that the Greensboro Police Department did a fine job in its protection of us, in that they sort of knew what we were going to do during the early parts of '63, when things really began to become a community activity—a community involved thing. We were getting the people that lived in the Benbow Road area that was the upper crust of Greensboro in terms of blacks, that had an awful lot to lose, because most of them were teachers or what have you.

And we used to meet at Providence Baptist church, one of the, I would say one of the bigger and probably influential black Baptist churches in town at that time. And from there it, you know, it just continued. I think the kinds of confrontations that took place in Greensboro and when the real results came about was as the result of a CORE chapter that was formed here. [It] was formed during the summer, I believe, of 1962.

EP:

So CORE was not formed until summer 1962?

RP:

That's my thinking. I'm not sure about those dates because the only way I could be specific about it—I know it was during the time that Bill Thomas—the year that he graduated from high school, if I remember correctly. Because most of the college kids were home at that time, and they—the CORE chapter really was developed around a group of high school kids. And Bill, I think, was just getting out of high school. He could verify that. But—

EP:

He said something about that he was president of the student or high school—student equivalent of the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People]?

RP:

He could have been. I don't know that he was, but he could have been. But I know that Jim Forman [executive secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinator Committee, SNCC]—that was about the time, if I remember correctly, the things were happening with the bus rides down in Birmingham, and a CORE chapter was developed here. Because as I go back and I think, I'm remembering some people—I can't remember their names, but [they] were field workers for CORE that were working with us in an advisory capacity.

EP:

Are you a native of Greensboro?

RP:

No I'm not. My home is Laurinburg—Laurinburg, North Carolina.

EP:

Could you describe your involvement with the founding of the CORE chapter here in Greensboro?

RP:

Well, I can't really take claim to being one of the founders of CORE, because, as I said, if my memory serves me correct, they had either already developed it, or it was in developmental process. I was vice chairman. But, as far as my memory, it doesn't stand out in my mind that I was involved in the formation of the local chapter. However, I did serve as the vice chairman of that chapter.

EP:

How did you come to join CORE?

RP:

Well, I had been involved in the early sixties, and things had died down. And I still had an interest in the overall civil rights of blacks at that time. And I saw CORE as a group that I, as a college kid, could identify with, in terms of their tactics and the kinds of things they were trying to do. I honestly felt that, at the time, that the NAACP—while I have no kicks about that organization at the time, I just didn't think that they were doing the kinds of things that it was going to take in order to get some things done that, as a person, I thought ought to be done. That was one of my reasons for getting involved with CORE.

EP:

Did you become vice chairman right away, or was this sometime later?

RP:

You know, that ought to be easy to remember, but it really isn't. It's—I honestly don't know. I'm trying to remember. I just don't remember the incidents around the organizing of CORE here in Greensboro. That's some of the—

EP:

Did you remember some of the other senior officers? I know there was William Thomas as chairman, yourself as vice chairman. I understand that Elizabeth Laizner was on the executive committee.

RP:

Right.

EP:

And Mr. James C. McMillan.

RP:

Right.

EP:

Or is it Doctor James C. McMillan?

RP:

It's—I don't think he's a doctor.

EP:

Are there—and also Lewis Brandon.

RP:

There was a Reverend [John] Hatchett, and there was a [A. Knighton] Tony Stanley [that] were involved. Tony was one of our advisors. I'm trying to remember some of the—there were a lot of girls at Bennett College that were involved. And their names right now slip me.

EP:

Was that a separate CORE chapter?

RP:

No, it wasn't. You know, it's—strange enough, the Bennett girls got involved a whole lot earlier in the game, and were more active—more actively involved in the civil rights movement in Greensboro, more so than the girls and the fellows at A&T, because of Lewis Brandon. There were about fifteen or twenty of us at first, and we sort of—there was a large number of girls at Bennett College that played a very important role. I remember people like Regina Carpenter, Patricia Murray, there's another young lady but I can't think of her name, that was very, very active as a student. But a lot of our leadership and a lot of the people that were involved in the early part of '63 basically were a few fellows from A&T and a lot of girls from Bennett College, and some—and a few people from the community.

EP:

Was Mr. Brandon—was he a student, a member of the black community, on the faculty? What was his position?

RP:

He was a student at the time. Lewis was very, very active, and still until today is. I won't say he plays a role, he's not out in front. But he still is very active in the civil rights movement in a kind of low-key kind of way.

EP:

The impression I get from the newspapers and from talking with other members of CORE at the time is that there were a series of pickets in the fall of 1962 of the S&W and the Mayfair [cafeterias]. I don't believe that the theatres were involved as strongly as later.

RP:

No, we picketed Woolworth and S&H. I don't remember for—over a long period of time.

EP:

Was this after the sit-ins?

RP:

This was after the sit-ins.

EP:

And was it geared more to employment rather than being served at the lunch counter?

RP:

At the time, it was to be served at the counter. I believe that Kress and Woolworth were the first two that opened up.

EP:

My impression—the newspaper headlines of July twenty-fifth of the Daily News, or the [Greensboro] Record, says that they agreed to desegregate, and sometime between then and the fall, they did desegregate.

RP:

Right.

EP:

Was there continued picketing after that time?

RP:

Yes, we picketed the two movie houses, the Carolina [Theatre], and I don't remember the name of the other.

EP:

The Center [Theatre]?

RP:

Yes. The Center, I believe, is the one up on Elm Street, and the Carolina. Those stand out in my mind pretty much. Because I remember we went to the movie house to get tickets, and that particular night we were arrested because we were considered a fire hazard, or something having to do with the fire codes.

The times that we picketed the Carolina Theatre, I remember there was some heckling going on from the, from a group of looked to be high school kids; I don't know whether they were or not. It was the first time that I felt any uneven-handedness being given by the police department, because we were told that we could not sing, because they were afraid we would incite a riot. But at the same time, these hecklers were coming by saying, “Two, Four, Six, Eight, We don't want to integrate!” And I specifically, at that time, remember going to one of the policemen and saying, “Wait a minute, you're saying that we can't sing, but yet you're letting them sing.” And—

EP:

What was his response?

RP:

He gave me a very short remark and I went on about my business, because I saw right then I wasn't going to get any kind of action from him, at least action that I thought would be positive. I went back, basically.

We went on very silently, because we weren't interested in causing any riots or causing any—a whole lot of people getting hurt and all this kind of thing. We just weren't interested in that. Our movement was totally nonviolent. And we had taken the position that we would not fight back if we were attacked. And at that point, I thought it was more important to try to—instead of trying to argue a point of who was being favored, I thought the group was more important at that point then taking that situation. Because we had agreed that it was going to be a silent march. But I thought that it was a little bit unfair they were going to allow them to do all of this singing if we were going to incite a riot by singing.

EP:

What were the—or what was the nature of the decisions in CORE to begin these demonstrations? I don't mean right away the mass demonstrations, but in '62 and later, in—I believe there were two picketing incidents at city hall before the mass demonstrations. Was this made by the executive committee or the entire CORE chapter as a whole?

RP:

Our group normally worked—really the committee worked. They had a function, and it was more—even though they were called the executive committee—it was more like an advisory committee. Because most of these people were people that were much older than the average age of the members of the CORE chapter. And usually, the whole chapter made decisions. The executive committee sort of planned and decided upon what things we would involve ourselves in. But at the same time, it was then left up to the group to decide what we were going to do as a chapter.

EP:

Sounds to me like you would make the decisions and then present it to the group, for a “yea” or “nay” vote.

RP:

Right. That's the way that I remember it.

EP:

Was there much dissention about the choice of tactics, or targets, or methods of demonstration?

RP:

There wasn't a lot of it. There was some disagreement on how we should go about doing it, and what we should be doing, and this kind of thing. I think that, while there weren't any real, real radicals—radicals to the extent that somebody wanted to go downtown and start burning and beating up people—but there were some of us who thought that the groups were making promises to us that they weren't keeping. Because we had negotiating committees and all this kind of thing. I remember meeting with several groups of people out at the—I think it was a part of the Red Cross, sitting down trying to talk across the table and resolve these problems. Nothing ever came out of those things.

EP:

Was that as a—was CORE involved initially in that?

RP:

Yes. We had a group. We had, we met several times that I remember, or at least two times that I remember, with two different groups of people from the white community. Because I think at that time was when the Human Relations Committee [Commission] sort of got involved in the thing. And I remember one person that stands out in my mind, and that's Mr. Ed Zane. I remember negotiating with a gentleman that was—had the National Shirt and Hat Shop, I think it is or either—downtown. He was one of the fellows that was in on this thing. Mr. Zane stands out in my mind. Those two fellows are the ones that I can remember the best.

EP:

Do you recall who were the people within CORE and the executive committee that wanted a more activist form of demonstration?

RP:

If I remember correctly, Reverend Hatchett and Dr. Laizner. And, if I remember correctly, Bill Thomas was a part of that group. And Bill pushed for a more—not a very radical thing, but something to move faster and move on some things that other people didn't want to move on. So as I remember it—Reverend Hatchett. There was another gentleman but I can't remember his name. He was a reverend too. He was from Bennett College. I can't think of his name right now, but I thought [he] was one of the ones that wanted to push hard. I think all of us wanted to push, but it was just a thing of how you go about it.

EP:

Would that have been Reverend Bush?

RP:

Reverend [James] Bush, right. He was—I would put him in the category of being one that was, “Let's go! Let's go! We need to do something.” And, you know, we had some people that were—said, “No, we need to think this thing out. We need to do it this way.” And I think Lewis Brandon probably would have fell in that category.

Tony Stanley, Knighton Stanley was a very good advisor, and a person who did a lot of thinking and who thought about some of the problems that we could run into. And was sort of a stabilizing effect on the group, as I remember him.

EP:

What camp would you put yourself into?

RP:

Well, I would say I was somewhere in the middle. Some of the things I couldn't agree [on] with Reverend Hatchett and Doctor Laizner and some of the others. But I would say that there were more things that I agreed on with them. But I would have to say, even during that time, I probably would have been considered a moderate.

EP:

Did you get much direct help from the national CORE office, or was it pretty much a local decision?

RP:

Well, we got quite a bit of guidance from the national office, as I remember. Because, as I indicated, they had a field man here, and on two or three different occasions [national director James] “Jim” Farmer came in during the heat of all this thing and spoke to the group. And we moved on. And then there was [attorney Floyd] McKissick down in Durham, who was by this time, was beginning to get actively or was actively involved with CORE.

EP:

What were your specific goals? Was it just desegregation of the—

RP:

Our goals at that time, primarily, was desegregation.

EP:

Complete desegregation?

RP:

Right. We hadn't given much thought—at least when I was involved, not much thought had been given to jobs or anything like this. Because I remember the time after that—after the Woolworth's and Kress opened up, I remember saying to myself, I said, “We've opened these places up, now we can't even go in and buy a hamburger because we don't have any jobs.” I think that's when the jobs part of the thing began to, to surface.

EP:

So you'd say that was the secondary goal? Or a goal that came later?

RP:

I would say that it was a goal that came later. Because I don't remember us discussing—most of the thrust of what we were doing was primarily to go into these places and be able to eat. It wasn't until after that that we discovered that, you know, “Wait a minute, we've got these places open, but we don't have the jobs, we don't have the money in our pockets to afford ourselves to these things.”

EP:

You say there was some dissention as to the form of the strategy that should be employed. And you've mentioned the activists who thought there should be street demonstrations. What were the other alternatives suggested?

RP:

Well, the other alternatives were that the Human Relations Commission was doing this and was doing the other with different other groups in the community. But we felt like that we had reached a point where just talking—just us sitting across the table talking wasn't getting anything done.

EP:

Was there a continuous boycott, or periodic boycotts?

RP:

As I remember, we called several boycotts where we asked people to abstain from buying, period, with the exception of the basic necessities, food and what have you. For a while there, that was almost 90 percent effective.

EP:

As Dr. Laizner related a series of events to me, she said that there was a period of truce, a cooling-off period, in December and January and into February of '62-'63, while there was hope that there was going to be a meaningful report on what was not then the Human Relations Committee, but the mayor's special committee.

RP:

Right.

EP:

And that once this was released, she said the bottom paragraph said, “Unfortunately, these are the recommendations we make, but unfortunately, we have no means to enforce that.” And she said it was then CORE said, “All right, we've abided by that, and we've waited for this report, and it turned out to be really meaningless.” Would you agree with this assessment of the events that were building up to actual street demonstrations?

RP:

Yes. I would have to, in terms of the masses that were—that eventually evolved into mass demonstrations in the, I would say, along from about March of '63 all through the closing of school. In fact, I think the last day I remember of schools turning out, that was the day of the sit-down in the middle of the square.

EP:

The first instance of actual—what is attributed as the beginning of the mass demonstrations, at least in the newspaper, and the first of arrests, of any larger number of arrests, was on May eleventh, when yourself and Dr. Laizner and two other members of CORE were arrested for picketing—or attempting to enter the McDonald's on Summit Avenue. Do you remember this incident, and could you tell me how it occurred and what transpired?

RP:

As I remember that situation, we had meetings and we decided that—we had a meeting and we decided that we were going to start some mass, a mass demonstration. And we just picked out McDonald's.

EP:

Is there any particular reason why you picked McDonald's?

RP:

Well, we knew that a lot of college kids—and at that time, we were depending primarily upon college kids in this town to support us—a lot of college kids ate at McDonald's. And there was another place right across the street that we didn't bother, that they—a lot of college kids were eating there also.

EP:

Dr. Laizner said that that was important, across the street, because CORE had been successful in desegregating that place in '62. Is this right or is this—

RP:

I don't, I don't—I really don't remember. I remember going over there. I remember going over there eating, but I don't remember that situation.

EP:

How many—I believe the newspaper said that there were about twenty-five CORE members that accompanied you, and that you four remained at the window and were arrested on a warrant signed by the manager. Could you give me the specifics of what occurred that day? Had you planned to be arrested?

RP:

No, we didn't really. I don't think we planned to be arrested, but it was kind of a—as I remember it was kind of a spontaneous thing. The man said we were going to be arrested. And that was the time we just decided that, well, we'll go to jail if it takes that to get this place open. And I remember it was Bill, myself, and I believe—I thought it was Knighton Stanley, and I don't why I thought Reverend Bush was along.

EP:

Well, I think he was. This is the name that—these are the four names that I recall. I don't believe—Dr. Laizner said she was there, but said she wasn't arrested.

RP:

No, I don't think she was.

EP:

She wasn't there?

RP:

No. She was there, but I don't think she was arrested. There weren't too many things that Dr. Laizner—that we had that she wasn't there.

EP:

So were there these same white hecklers that day, or did they come later?

RP:

This may sound very, very strange to you, but the hecklers—I just don't have much memory about that. I remember two incidents. I remember one fellow, I was told, was coming towards me with a knife, and a FBI agent grabbed him. This was one time when I was picketing up at the—at Kress. The word got out that there were certain people involved with CORE that—somebody that was never identified—they were going to do this and they were going to do the other. And I never really paid it much attention, because for some reason I wasn't afraid. I don't know why.

EP:

Did you all think that you might be attacked?

RP:

We thought there was a possibility. And we always talked about the possibilities of that happening and what we should do in the event that it did happen. We sort of were prepared for whatever happened in that sense.

EP:

Had you attended classes that CORE conducted throughout the South on nonviolent demonstrations?

RP:

No I had not. Not myself personally.

EP:

What happened when you were arrested on this first day? Were you taken downtown and booked?

RP:

Right. We were taken downtown, pictures were taken, we were fingerprinted, and put into cells.

EP:

Were you kept overnight or were you released?

RP:

No. We were kept—we were there overnight. It was, I remember it was Mother's Day. I think it was about ten o'clock or so in the morning that we were released on bail.

EP:

What happened at that point to turn this into mass demonstrations? The paper says that picketing continued at McDonald's, as well as downtown, for four days—that Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, I believe—and that there were other arrests on those other days. What did you do once you were released?

RP:

In my own case, I got back involved into picketing and what have you. And, if I remember correctly, that was what really led up to the big, mass demonstrations. I think that was the thing that after a few of us [had] gotten put in jail, and the fright of going to jail was no longer there, this was about the time that we decided, well, we'll fill the jails in Greensboro, if it takes that, to obtain the goals that we want and the things that we think ought to be—the changes that ought to take place.

EP:

Was there a call for mass meetings or a call for students to participate by CORE?

RP:

Yes, we had several mass meetings. We had, as I indicated, each time that we—I remember one particular meeting at the Y[oung Men's Christian Association, YMCA], and I remember having several meetings at Providence Baptist Church.

EP:

Why was there this move to mass demonstrations so late in the school term? I believe it was about two weeks before exams, or less, before exams were to begin.

RP:

Well, to give you an honest answer to that, I really don't know. I think it was more like a chain of events more than anything else. We just decided that this was something we had to do. I don't think anybody gave any thought to the fact—the matter of school was just around the corner from turning out. I think it might have been out of just general frustration that we just weren't getting anyplace. It was sort of like—probably wasn't good timing, but the community seemed to be at the point where they would support the mass effort that we thought we were going to have to mount in order to get some things done.

EP:

What led you to this conclusion? Was there any sort of communication between the adult black community of Greensboro and the students of A&T and Bennett?

RP:

Well, on some of the marches that we had—and I'm trying to remember whether that took place before all these mass arrests or not—but we had some people that were marching at that time that we just didn't believe would march. We felt like at that time, that we had the general support of the community. And consequently, we felt like that if we were going to meet with any good results, now was the time to do it. Because there had been some criticism from the black community in terms of the way we were going about doing things. But we felt at that time, or at least it is my feeling, or what I remember is that we had the support of the community, and we felt like that was the time to move, when we had that good support.

EP:

Where would most of the mass demon[strations]—the meetings take place? You've mentioned Hayes Taylor Y[MCA] and Providence Baptist.

RP:

We had some meetings—we had a meeting at Trinity AME Zion Church. Those are the three places that I remember.

EP:

Was there much influence on outside events, such as in 1962 the furor in James Meredith's enrollment in Ole Miss [The University of Mississippi], and the freedom rides of '63?

RP:

Well, I think the freedom rides did have some effect and played a part, because I think that's when CORE itself really started making its presence felt. Because this was national stuff that people were reading about, buses being burned and all this kind of stuff. So I think that it did go a long ways to give—it did influence the movement here in Greensboro, and especially those of us that considered ourselves a part of the CORE national organization.

EP:

Did you feel yourself part of a national movement?

RP:

Yes, we did. We really did. Even though what we were trying to do was a local thing, we felt like that we were part of the national group. We did not involve ourselves so much in things that were going on a national level. But CORE was a group that believed in action. They didn't believe in sitting around talking about things. They believed in doing things. So I'm sure that had some impact on our decisions in some of the things we did.

EP:

Do you remember how the decisions were made to have daily or nightly marches, and which targets were selected, and whether they were to be silent marches or chanting and singing, and that sort of thing?

RP:

Well, as I remember it, we used to sit down and we would talk. We would have meetings and have strategy meetings on what we were going to do. As I indicated, our primary concern or one of our biggest concerns was that we did not want to start any riots or anything. So we wanted our presence to be felt, but we didn't want our presence felt in a means that we went downtown and a whole bunch of people got hurt all up, and this kind of thing. Because we thought that that would have an adverse effect on what we wanted to accomplish. So we would try to assess what the overall feelings in the community were. Just, you know, we wanted to do enough to keep it on the conscience of everybody, but at the same time, we didn't want any riots or anything like that.

So, I think the silent marches were situations—as I remember it, we did a lot of singing and carrying on. And the police department came to us and said, “Wait a minute, this could cause a whole lot of problems.” Because I think this was during about the time that I mentioned to you that we had agreed that it was going to be a silent march and that we weren't going to be, we were not going to do a lot of singing and chanting and carrying on. And as I mentioned before, this group of whites came by singing and chanting, and all this kind of stuff. But that was a part of our strategy, in terms of not causing any riots or anything. That was the biggest concern.

EP:

What was the philosophy behind the freedom songs, the chants? And by that I mean, one that was quoted in the paper, that one in particular said, “CORE wants freedom. We want freedom. Captain Jackson wants freedom,” and I believe a number of other specific individuals were mentioned.

RP:

Well—

EP:

Was there a real fundamental reason for these, or was it publicity-getting, or was it something that provided unity to the group?

RP:

I think it was a unity thing. We probably threw Captain [William] Jackson in for a little humor, because Captain Jackson obviously had to play a fairly neutral position in terms of being chief. Well, he wasn't chief police, captain of the detectives. We probably chanted his name simply because most of us that were involved, at least in the leadership of CORE, knew Captain Jackson, knew him very well.

EP:

How did you know him so well?

RP:

Well, on several occasions, as I indicated, we notified them when we were going to go downtown. Nobody's ever told me this, but I believe that Captain Jackson knew very well who I was, knew very well who Bill Thomas was. He knew the leadership of CORE. And, you know, there was no doubt in my mind that he knew who I was, and as a consequence I knew who Captain Jackson was.

But the songs that we sang basically were songs that—thing, songs that we thought would help us in our dedication to the movement, like, We Shall Overcome Someday. I mean we had—I think we had to believe that these things were going to happen, because they were coming so slow. And the songs, I think, was an expression of what we really felt, and it was a way to sort of keep us all together. Because even when we weren't successful, we weren't successful in doing some of things we were attempting to do, these songs and things kind of held us together as a group of people.

EP:

Was there much difficulty in maintaining a nonviolent stance when dealing with so many people?

RP:

We had no difficulty whatsoever. We talked that so much that there wasn't much doubt in anybody's mind that that was the kind of thing that we were—that was what we were all about. And we would, to a great extent, would not tolerate any other way. Because we didn't think violence was going to get us anything.

EP:

Did the students and the adult black community—residents of Greensboro—march together or separately?

RP:

We marched together. When they were involved it was a together kind of thing. You just sort of got in line and got wherever you wanted to get.

EP:

Were there any specific tactics adopted to protect the marchers, particularly the female students?

RP:

We always had monitors all over, all down the line, and we tried to keep communications open. For example, we would have—we'd let a group of people go out and then we'd have one of our persons that we had confidence in to maintain control, [they] would take off. And we did it that way. I might end up at the end of the line one time, or somewhere in the middle, or on the outside, and this kind of thing. We recognized there were a lot of girls involved in that. And we didn't want to get any of these girls hurt. Because as I indicated, we were trying to take care of our troops, and to a great extent at that time, the troops were young ladies.

EP:

How would you assess the reaction of Captain Jackson, the police department, and what you could discern was their attitude?

RP:

Well, I honestly felt like that Captain Jackson looked at it as a job. He tried as best he could to be as fair as he could. I don't know what his personal feelings were, but he projected a kind of attitude, I thought, that [said], “Fellows, I'm out here to protect you just as I'm out here to protect the other people. If you get out of line, we're going to have to arrest you. As long as you are within the law, we are going to protect you.”

EP:

Do any incidents come to mind wherein the police acted specifically to protect marchers, or failed to protect marchers?

RP:

I don't remember any incidents where anybody got hurt because a policeman didn't do something. It could have happened. Some of those marches we had, you know, we might have had three or four thousand people. I don't remember anywhere I was directly involved where this kind of thing happened. I do remember having some bad incidents with isolated situations with different policemen and that kind of thing.

EP:

Could you describe those?

RP:

Nothing where I was hit over the head or anything like that. Just some remarks that were made. And I think it was the kind of thing where you're going to have—the policemen, Captain Jackson, as best he could, tried to get his force to portray an image of “We're out here to protect everybody.” But there were—

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

RP:

It had gotten to the point where things like that didn't bother me. I remember that night when we were in jail. They left the windows up, and it got down to thirty degrees. And we had on short-sleeve shirts, and we almost froze our behinds off. It was a Saturday night and I guess they hadn't had a chance to clean up from Friday night.

Now, if you've never been in a jailhouse, you don't want to go. The commode, the drinking fountain, everything was made together. And to have to go in one of those cells, where somebody's been drunk, and urinated all over the place, the smell [audio malfunction]. I remember not sleeping on the mattress. Generally, I don't think that—generally, I think that the Greensboro Police—I mean jailhouse was in fairly good order. But I would imagine Friday and Saturday nights were pretty rough nights, and this was a Saturday night that we were in there. I tell you, the aroma from the urine was something to behold. And that was my first experience in going to jail. And it was a—

EP:

Was there any flak from white prisoners there?

RP:

No, I don't even remember. I think they must have isolated us. I don't know if they did it intentionally, I never looked into it. But I don't even—oh yeah, there was one. I don't even remember if he was white or not. I don't remember whether he was white or black. But one of the fellows that was with us was in a cell, seems to me, [unclear—audio malfunctioning]. They were talking, and somehow or another they found out that this was a minister, and this was [unclear]. And he said, “What are you doing in here?” [laughs] [unclear] But I don't remember whether he was black or white. I believe he was black, I'm not sure.

EP:

Were you ever arrested again?

RP:

Yeah. I don't remember how many times I was arrested, to be honest with you.

EP:

Were you ever incarcerated in the National Guard Armory—

RP:

Yeah.

EP:

—or the convalescent hospital?

RP:

I've been to both places.

EP:

What were conditions like there?

RP:

Very crowded. That's about the only thing I can say. The Greensboro police—the Greensboro jail facilities just would not hold people that were being arrested. I know there has been a lot of talk about how bad it was. It was bad, but I don't know of anything that could have been done about it in the first place.

EP:

You remember the joint interview we had with Mr. McMillan and Dr. Laizner?

RP:

Right.

EP:

She particularly characterized it as very unpleasant, indicating that perhaps the sheriff and the sheriff's deputies deliberately did some things to make it unpleasant, like threatening to cut off the water if they didn't stop singing, not giving them Cokes.

RP:

That didn't happen where I was. And I guess the needs of—in all situations, they separated the males from females. I guess the general needs of the males were less than that of the females. I remember the convalescent home down here. Hell, I had to sleep on the floor. I don't even remember whether I had a mattress or not, or a blanket or not. And out at the armory, sleeping on concrete. That's the way it is, it's not a comfortable situation. But I look at that mainly, not that it was contrived, that the situation was—not that they developed the situation so it would have to be that way.

But the thing was that you had arrested a whole bunch of people, more than normally you would arrest. And a part of that was our strategy, to fill up the jail. And there was no way that they could have accommodated us, made the kind of accommodations that anybody would have wanted, especially if you didn't consider yourself a criminal. You wouldn't want to be—I think a criminal probably doesn't get as upset with the surroundings in jail as a person who doesn't feel that he is a criminal. You kind of go in, kind of expecting things not to be a certain way, but none of us at that time, I don't think, had experienced being in jail or knew what would be the circumstances of mass arrest.

EP:

Did you experience a sense of outrage that you were arrested for what you—what were, essentially, demanding your civil rights?

RP:

No, we weren't outraged by it. We expected it. I mean, it was the kind of thing that—some of the things that we were doing, we felt that like it was just a matter of time before we would get arrested anyway, because we thought they'd use that tactic to try to slow us down. That was one of the reasons why we used the strategy of mass arrest, just to show them that, you know, just putting us in jail isn't going to solve—isn't going to keep us from coming back. So you're not solving your problem by just putting all of us in jail.

EP:

This is a point which I'm very interested in. Because it looks like there was a deliberate strategy for mass arrests to flood the jails, the court system. To more or less make it so—break down the judicial system, or bog it down, and make it so expensive in the procedure of booking, and arresting, and trying these demonstrators, students—that it would put pressure on the city to work out some kind of compromise. Was this the strategy, and do you think it worked?

RP:

Well, I guess you could get some people to say that that was a strategy to bog down the judicial system. I don't know if that was the strategy or not. I think to myself, the strategy, as I remember, the strategy was more to the effect that they had done about everything they could to us at that point but put us in jail. And it was felt—at least I felt—that there were a lot of people that were willing to demonstrate and what have you, and were not willing to go to jail if that's what it took.

And so I think out of, out of all those mass arrests, a lot of these same things you mentioned—bogging down the judicial system or the court system—some of that did result. Whether or not—I don't clearly remember in my own mind if that was the strategy on our part. We probably—if it was, it probably was a strategy after the fact, because they did—it was a terrible situation in most cases. All they were doing was going in, taking our pictures and fingerprinting us, and we were walking right back out.

EP:

Being released on your own recognizance?

RP:

Yeah. So it was just a whole lot of work. We were tying up the complete police force, the whole police force.

EP:

The way I was reading the newspapers, in preparing for this interview, was that there were more and more students being arrested, and the city was worrying about how we were going to feed them, and how much it was costing the city. And that apparently a compromise or deal was worked out.

The newspaper indicated there was conversation between the mayor's office, the governor's office, the chief of police, and Judge Herman Enochs, who was superior court judge, that they would be released—the students, male students would be released in the custody of A&T, and female students would be released in the custody of A&T and Bennett, and that this more or less emptied the jails. And Mr. Thomas indicated that this was a surprise move that was done very late at night. Does this indicate to you that this was a way of the city of getting around this?

RP:

Yes, I very definitely, very definitely think that, because it was—some bad situations developed out of all these mass arrests. And the point I'm trying to make is that I don't think that it was planned on the part of the city. The city was just not prepared to handle those kind of things. And then at the same time, it was tying up the police, the whole police force. It was tying up a lot of the highway patrolmen, the sheriff's department. It was tying up the whole law enforcement group in this city, but let alone the—and I do think that they struck this thing up, and they emptied the jails. And to us, this was a surprise move, because we—our intents were at that time, were to fill the jails and just see what would happen.

And as you mentioned, the strategy of bogging down the court system is something that is not very clear in my mind, but I remember that situation. It was on a Sunday afternoon that everybody was turned loose. And this deal was worked out with, I think, Dr. [Willa] Player [Bennett College president] and Dr. [Lewis] Dowdy [president of A&T] at that time.

EP:

Could you describe the normal procedure for a march, such as where you met beforehand, what kind of instructions were given out, what was the normal route of the march, this kind of thing?

RP:

We usually got together and we decided where we were, I mean, where we were going to go, the routes we were going to take. And we would always, we would always leave from one point, and we always made a practice of always coming back to that same spot.

And as I indicated, certain people in the group were given the responsibilities of monitoring the mass march so as to hold down as many problems as we could in terms of—because, I don't think any of us wanted the, the responsibilities for causing a riot. And we took particular—well, we tried to do, we tried to make sure that that didn't happen.

EP:

Why did tactics fluctuate? Sometimes there seemed to be a desire to be arrested, sometimes a desire not to, a desire to make only a token attempt to enter these buildings, sometimes a concerted attempt, and sometimes a silent march in which there weren't any stops at the traditional targets?

RP:

Well, some of it was strategy. It was an attempt on our part to try to keep them off balance to some extent. A lot of times we would be in the process of trying to negotiate something and we didn't want to cause—for that to cause any problems in terms of making any inroads into some of the things that we were asking for.

EP:

Which do you think was the most effective tactic, and were there ones that were more effective than others?

RP:

I would have to say the mass marches were [more effective]. The mass marches were the thing that turned [things] around in this town. There is no question about it. There was a lot, a lot of picketing and all this. The mass marches really got the results in the final analysis.

EP:

You said that James Farmer, from CORE, came down here. Do you remember any other national civil rights figures that came here, and was their suggestions and input meaningful, and were they adopted?

RP:

As I remember it, Farmer's talk was sort of—a kind of thing of informing us on what the national group was doing. And sort of an inspirational kind of—his speeches and things that I heard were more inspiring, rather than coming in saying, “You ought to be doing this and you ought to be doing that.”

EP:

In other words, they didn't try to channel your activities?

RP:

No. I don't remember it being that way.

EP:

The impression I get in looking at a number of these demonstrations is they seemed to be carefully timed, very carefully planned, almost like military operations, in that one wing would go off to the Mayfair, one to the S&W, one to the Carolina, one to the Center. Was all this carefully planned, and how many would go to what target, and when, and that kind of thing?

RP:

Right. We had—I don't remember the terminology that we used—but we had a certain person who'd be given the responsibility of picketing or marching—mainly picketing a certain area. And we did. We did a lot of planning. The reasons for doing this was purely and simply to get the most out of what we had, and that was bodies. And we wanted to hit as many places as we could.

EP:

Do you think that the charges on which most people were arrested were not to say necessarily trumped up, but, in other words, they would not under normal circumstances be arrested for this? Or do you think that they really were trespassing, and blocking fire exits, and this kind of thing?

RP:

The trespassing—the only reason that we were trespassing is because—the trespassing part was a bunch of crap, I think. Now, the question of getting locked up for standing there in front of the—blocking up the passageway from the movie house, you know, that might have been a legitimate thing. But as I remember it, we didn't just huddle up all around the place so nobody could get out. We were in lines, as I remember it. Lines that—we were there in a way that, if they wanted us to go into that movie, they would have no difficulty in having us file right on in. But because of the fact that they didn't want as to go in, [it] generated the fire situation.

When you say “trumped up,” I think it was trumped up in the sense that we did not just totally surround, or totally bog up all of the exits so nobody could get out. So as far as I'm concerned, they were trumped up in that sense. But in a mass—in a confused kind of situation, if the person, you know, left for interpretation—one could have made the determination [that] if we were to turn out now, and some problems did start out here at the mouth of this thing, it could spread all over. It could spread and there could be a fire problem.

EP:

So in a sense they were trumped up?

RP:

Yeah, I, you know, I feel like they were, because we were always orderly. We never just bunched right up. Now, like the times when I remember when we went to the S&W and places like that, we were in line. We weren't just spread out all over the place. We were filed down the street. We weren't all out in Market Street where traffic couldn't flow and this kind of thing. We were in line. They just would not let us in, so nobody else could get in. So, I mean, you know, they didn't want us there, so we were trespassing.

EP:

Do you think the police maintained an objective point of view? Or do you think they more or less were enforcing the laws as written for the businessmen who operated these businesses?

RP:

Well, I think that they were, primarily—if one issues a trespassing warrant, I don't know that the police has any choice but to enforce it.

EP:

Were you involved in any negotiations?

RP:

Yes.

EP:

Could you describe these negotiations and with whom?

RP:

I remember one with Mr. Zane and, like I said, the fellow with the National Shirt and Hat Shop. I just don't remember his name. I remember Mr. Zane as being a very calm person. I remember some things coming out of those negotiations from persons that I don't remember now. Mr. Zane stands out in my mind as being a very, very fair, honest and understanding person, and was really trying to do something to resolve the problem.

But even though we didn't get much out of those negotiations, I think it helped me as a person. Because I began—there were times when I hated. And I began to understand some of the fears that some of those people sitting across the table from me were talking about. And the fears that they had were legitimate fears as far as they were concerned, but they were totally off base.

EP:

What were their fears?

RP:

Things came up like—you just didn't expect some people to say, I mean I mean, not an intelligent person, things like, “You all do this, and you all do that.” A lot of the people in the community are afraid that you're going to be, get involved with their daughters, and all this old crap. I thought it was very, very humorous, myself. I don't mean—most of the, most of the persons there were genuinely concerned about solving the problem. It was a kind of thing where they were saying, “Yeah, I think this is the right thing to do. This is the right thing to do, but we just don't know if we can get it done.”

EP:

Do you think that the Greensboro businessmen involved in these negotiations, and those that were not, were just dragging their feet in hopes that this would just die down and go away? Or do you think that they recognized the inevitability of desegregation and were just trying to find a way to do it? What was your assessment of their reaction?

RP:

I think at first they thought it would go away. And then I think some of them made the decision that, you know, it's not going away. In the case of Woolworth, that was a national chain that we went after. And as I remember correctly, everybody went after that chain. And they were—they eventually folded. When I say folded, they bowed to the pressure that we were putting on. The local groups were something different. I remember one person who was an ex-mayor—I don't know, he may have been the mayor at that time—that had the Mayfair Cafeteria—

EP:

Boyd Morris?

RP:

Boyd Morris. It was a personal thing with him, I think. And I think back now and wonder sometimes if—I don't regret—I regret the fact that he, as a result of what we did, he went out of business. But I just—I regret the fact that he couldn't—that he did not wake up and see the light and go ahead and open up. And I think now, if he were to think about it, if he had opened up that place, I don't think it would have caused any problems at all. And I think, I think now he probably knows that. But I got the feeling that as a person, he probably felt like that that just wasn't the thing to do. I don't know if he—in some of their cases, I think they were doing it because they thought that there would be a customer rebellion.

EP:

Do you think his was customer rebellion or that he was a bigot?

RP:

I don't know. I've often thought about that. Mayfair Cafeteria was—I just don't know. It's a funny thing. I went to his place in Thomasville, in 1968 I think it was, and over there it was integrated. And, of course, a lot of water had gone under the bridge by that time. And I just don't know. I think at that time, it was hard to determine whether the one that owned the business was a complete bigot or whatever you want to call him, because the people that were [clears throat] that were going to these places—I think they were so concerned about their customers, whether or not they would accept it. That was the thing. They were businessmen first, I think.

EP:

What do you think was the effectiveness of Dr. George Evans' committee? Do you think it accomplished anything? Apparently the theatres were desegregated under the efforts of his committee. Or do you think that any of these committees were particularly effective?

RP:

Well, obviously, that one got some results, so you would have say they did all right. But as a whole, I don't think the negotiating committees during that time got very much done. I think the, as I indicated, I think that the mass demonstrations—and it became so massive that people [would] just say, “Well, you know it's going to be easier for us”—or the city fathers, and the people involved—“it would be easier for us to just open these places up.” And I don't know if they figured it out before we did, that 95 percent of them out there marching around are not going to be able to come in and eat anyway. And the ones that can are going to be the doctors and the lawyers and what have you, and they're all nice people.

EP:

Were the arrests as formal and as nonviolent as have been described in the newspapers? The way it's described in the paper is that the demonstrators were told by the police that if they didn't move they'd be arrested, and when they didn't move, they were arrested. They were lined up, they entered the buses, were—to various places where they were booked or processed, and then incarcerated. Was all of that nonviolent and formal?

RP:

It was—I don't remember. There might have been some incidents but I don't remember. I would say 95 percent of the arrests were very routine in nature. Basically, you know, they would come up and state their situation, and say, “If you don't move we're going to arrest you.” And in most cases the fellow just said, “Go on and get on the bus” and not even say that we were to consider ourselves arrested. It was a matter of just standing there and letting him go through their thing, and we paraded onto the bus. It was that kind of thing.

EP:

What were your personal discussions with some of the members of the executive committee and members of CORE? For instance, you've indicated that you were very good friends with Mr. Thomas at this time.

RP:

Well, the thing that always concerned me was I was a person who believed in results. I didn't believe in doing things just to be doing them. I had mixed emotions about some things that, certain things that we would do. When we did something it was always the thing that, you know, let's have something specific in mind that we—as always, stay goal oriented in terms of this thing. Let's just don't do it and get caught up in it, because you're the leader—or we're the leaders, or something. That we've got to always be doing something that lets the people know that we're still out here, but, you know, let's have something concrete. Something that if we do go out here, and we take these kinds of chances of people getting hurt and this kind of thing, let's have some hard, fast things that we're after.

EP:

There's been a lot of talk in the books and histories that have been written about the civil rights struggle, the newspaper articles and editorials that were written at the time, that '63 was a particular year of emphasis. There's been some talk—I don't know how important it was—but it was noted that it was the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. There had been earlier successes. Was that a particularly strong year when you thought things were going to or had to happen now at that time?

RP:

No, I don't think—that might have gave us more drive or more—made us rededicate ourselves to what we were doing. But I don't think that we put any pressure on ourselves to accomplish any specific goals. At that time, I think our whole thing was to continue doing what we thought was right and to push for those goals and those things that we thought—the civil rights that we thought we ought to have.

EP:

Did you have any trouble maintaining the spirit of commitment on the part of the students and the adult black community?

RP:

Well, that, you know, I think that's just like anything else, you know, you have to keep morale up. And you have to, every once in a while, we had to really sit down and do some soul-searching. We talked about commitment quite a bit, and dedication, and that you had to believe in it. Because things weren't coming fast, and a lot of people want results and they want it right now. And we were—I don't think we anticipated things happening, opening up a lot of places when they opened. But we just felt like it was something we had to do, and we would continue to do this until it did happen.

EP:

What do you think were the overall results of the demonstrations in Greensboro?

RP:

You mean the mass demonstrations? Well, I think that for one time, in Greensboro especially, they found out that there was something that the black community could rally around, and that they weren't splintered about. I think up until that time, the NAACP, through George Simkins and a few people, sort of voiced the sentiments of the community. And I don't know whether the white community really believed that when George spoke, that [he] really had spoken for all of the blacks in the community. I think after that, I think they believed there were certain things, and there were things that black people in Greensboro really wanted and in this country really wanted. And that when these things were being said, that they had to believe them now after those demonstrations.

EP:

Elliott Rudwick and August Meier wrote a book in '68 which was entitled CORE: A History of the Civil Rights Movement. And they mentioned Greensboro, credited it favorably in terms of initiating certain actions. But they said that—the way they reported it, CORE national leadership regarded Greensboro as a mixed success, in that a certain number of businesses, restaurants, theatres were desegregated. But that, for instance, Mr. Thomas wanted to renew demonstrations in the fall, and these two authors said that the adult black community was tired of working up this commitment. And that this was the third major push for massive demonstrations for desegregation, and that it was hard to maintain this spirit of commitment on the part of the students who were pursuing degree programs at the same time.

Would you agree that it was—or disagree that it was mixed—with their assessment of the situation? In that it was a mixed success and that this was the reaction of the adult black community and the students?

RP:

Well, at that time, I probably would have to agree with that, if you're talking about after those demonstrations. Because I think that it was mixed for many, many reasons. As I indicated, when these places opened, we recognized right away that we had them open, what can we do about it?

EP:

In other words, now the thing to do or the pressure was on employment?

RP:

Economic.

EP:

Economic. In the—when the permanent Human Relations Commission—Committee—or Commission—was established under W.O. Conrad, Reverend Stanley and Mr. Thomas were frequently quoted in the newspaper, or often quoted in the newspaper, as saying that they were still dissatisfied with the rate of desegregation, the emphasis of the committee. And it did seem sort of strange, because when the committee would give out statements of what kind of progress was being made in the fall of '63, on into the spring and summer of '64, they would list the number of seats in restaurants that were desegregated, rather than the number of restaurants. They'd list the number of rooms in hotels and motels that were desegregated, and they specified hotels and motels that had convention facilities.

In other words, it seems like they carefully constructed and manipulated the data to make it sound more impressive than it was. Would you agree with this assessment or not?

RP:

I would, very definitely, that they did all—in fact, they used all kinds of tactics to make it appear. And I think that was to splinter the group, to dilute the backing of the organization in the community at that time. I remember what you're talking about, because I remember the Holiday Inn North and the Holiday Inn South was the first motels to integrate. And they did use all kinds of tactics like that. And I think that this was one of the problems that we ran into here in Greensboro. You had a level of sophistication [that] was very high here, and they used all kinds of tactics and techniques.

I think their thinking was that these are some restless students and eventually they're going to just—their leadership will eventually move on out, and if nobody—there didn't appear to be anybody developing behind them, and this kind of thing. Because Jesse Jackson was a senior at that time. I was a senior at that time. Lewis Brandon was about to graduate. At this time, Reverend Hatchett had already left.

So, a lot of the leadership in the organization—that's why I say I know that Captain Jackson knew who I was. And I'm sure that there were a lot of other people who knew who I was. And they knew the other people too. And I'm sure they knew, probably knew how close they were to graduation, and the prospects of graduating. Most of us were in fields that were probably, if we were going to get a job, was going to take us away from this place.

EP:

What happened to CORE after this? The mass demonstrations stopped on June seventh, and then this committee was set up in July. CORE very quickly, on a national scale, seemed to split between those who wanted what was then termed radical reaction—the incident in New York and San Francisco of dumping garbage and sitting on bridges—and those who were for traditional nonviolent demonstrations. As a matter of fact, I believe this is why Farmer eventually left CORE. What happened on the local level with the CORE chapter here in Greensboro?

RP:

Well that was—you're talking about now leading into '64. I remember myself. I remember what happened to myself. I remember thinking the fall of '64, I said “You know, there are a lot of things that are happening, doors that are opening up.” And at this time the job situation was beginning to—you know, I was getting close to being a senior—well, close to graduation, and did have to start thinking about what am I going to do with myself. Am I prepared? And to be perfectly honest, the last year I was in school, I really had to do some tall studying in order to have any decent grades to offer anybody that wanted to look at my transcript.

Quite frankly, I kind of, after June seventh of '63, I kind of drifted away. I was still actively involved, but I was not a part of the leadership anymore after that. Because I remember something happening. One of my instructors called me in and said, you know, “Pat, I admire you for what you are doing,” she said, “but you are going to open up doors you won't even be able to go in yourself if you don't prepare yourself.” And by that time I had gotten myself behind. And I had to rededicate myself to the thing of trying to get an education, so that when I did get out of A&T, I would have a fighting chance to get a decent job.

And so I think that kind of thing did happen. I don't know, my—with me, it wasn't a disenchantment with CORE so much. I think after Farmer did step down, CORE sort of started to become—it was probably looked upon as being a very, very radical group from the beginning, because it did some things different from SCLC [Southern Christian Leadership Conference], and it did some things different from the NAACP. But the kinds—the people that were beginning to infiltrate CORE then were getting involved in some things. And there were some people in the civil rights movement, I'll have to admit, that were crisis-oriented. Every once in a while, you know, you'd have a lull, and they said, “Well, you know, we just got to go out and do something here so people still know we're around.”

But I think out of all of that, what really happened was that the viable groups, as far as civil rights groups after sixty—after the big push in '63, was SC[LC]—was Martin Luther King's group [SCLC] and the NAACP. And by and large, the ones that weathered the storm were the ones that were, that had the grassroots backing. Because the group I was involved in, CORE, probably would have been considered a very radical group in terms of civil rights groups at that time, because we were a little bolder. We weren't willing to wait and fight in courts for no great long years at a time, and this kind of thing. But the groups that have stood have been the ones that—SCLC has faded, but I think it's primarily because—my personal feelings are that [Ralph David] Abernathy is a good man, but I don't think he has the kind of charisma it takes to lead that kind of group.

EP:

Are you saying that the groups that were primarily student-based tended to pass away?

RP:

Very definitely.

EP:

What was the reason for this?

RP:

Well, as I indicated, you know, all I can relate it to is the chapter here in Greensboro. I can't relate it to any other place because I don't know the situation. But I remember as our people began to graduate, there weren't people stepping into, into those slots and they kind of moseyed on away. Because you look around now here in Greensboro from a student, from a student—in terms of students that were involved at that time, there just aren't that many of them here.

EP:

Were the more established groups like SCLC, NAACP, that dependent upon membership of the older adult black community which did have jobs and were in the professions.

RP:

I wouldn't say SCLC was that way. SCLC was a pretty much grass-root operation.

EP:

Would you say, though that—would the things that were accomplished in '63-'64 have been accomplished if they had used the traditional means of going through the courts?

RP:

No. No.

EP:

It did take the students in the streets.

RP:

I think it did, I really do. It was something that I think that—I think there were a lot of people that finally realized that we have a generation of blacks that are just not going to tolerate this. Whereas the NAACP was a kind of—was a group that had good financial backing, they had lawyers and all this stuff, and they could go through courts. But at the same time, here was a group of people that were getting out of school with degrees, and they just operated a little bit differently. They were going to push harder.

EP:

One thing I meant to ask you earlier and I did not, was that there seemed to be a radical change in tactics with the sit-ins on Greene Street on June fifth, in which Jesse Jackson was arrested, and the sit-in in the square the next evening. Were you in on this planning?

RP:

No.

EP:

Were you present at that time?

RP:

No. No, I wasn't. I was somewhat against that, myself, to be perfectly honest with you. In fact, I was on my way to catch a bus to go to New York to go to work, so that I could go back to school next year. I was somewhat against that. I had my own reasons for being against it, which I would not like to discuss. But I did not participate in that, and there were some things that took place prior to that that led me to think that I, that I didn't want to get involved in any of that, involved with that.

EP:

Well, without getting into the—your personal motivation, your personal aspects you'd rather not discuss, is there anything you could tell me about what was it in this apparent shift in tactics that bothered you, that you were opposed to?

RP:

Well, I wasn't so—as I remember, this was a very, very young group of people. These were mostly high school students, because most of the college kids were gone at that time. And I just felt like that that group of people were going to be harder to control and tended to be even more emotional than those of us that were in college and were a little more mature.

I just didn't think that we had, at that time, had—we didn't have all of the people that we needed that had gone through this nonviolent thing to monitor that thing and to carry it through the way it ought to go through. I disagreed with them on that, and, you know, they decided to go ahead with it. It wasn't a thing that I was copping out or anything. And I felt like, too—and I remember discussing it, and I remember saying that, “I would hate to be in on the decision, on this decision, because I know what I've got to do. I've got to get out of this town and go make some money so I can come back next year.”

EP:

So you more or less withdrew yourself from the decision-making process?

RP:

Right, right, because I was on my way to catch a bus the same day that that happened.

EP:

In retroscect, do you think that many of the businesses that CORE sought to desegregate were in fact desegregated as a result of these activities. Or did it take the passage of the '64 Civil Rights Act to meaningfully desegregate—

RP:

I think what we did probably had a lot to do with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. And as a result of that I think—

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

EP:

Did you consider continuing on in civil rights activities after your graduation, or were you pretty much committed to your career?

RP:

Well, I thought about that an awful lot. I remember discussing it with Jesse Jackson, and discussing it with Tony Stanley. And I kind of knew that I wasn't, I wasn't the kind of person that could balance work and this kind of a thing. And by this time I had come to believe that all of us, regardless of what we were doing, could play a part in the civil rights of black people, regardless of what they were doing. And I likened it to a stage where you have people acting. Everybody can't play the star roll, you know, you've got to have a supporting cast. But all of them are important. And I felt like that at this time, that I wanted to get involved in helping black people in another way.

And a lot of people would argue the point of whether or not, because I'm in banking, “part of the establishment,” that I could make any contribution. But I think I, I think I can, and I think I have made some contributions. Because I'm a little older, for example, than most of the youngsters who are coming into banking now. And I know some of the things that they're going to run up against. And so, you know, I try to advise them in terms of things. And, for example, I go out to A&T and often times talk to different classes. I kind of inform them about what to expect, what kind of courses they ought to be taking in order to, to get into banking, if banking is their thing.

And so, I just knew that I wasn't a Jesse Jackson. And there was no point, there was no point in me thinking that I was, because, you know, I am just not that kind of person. I'm pretty much—and as much as I was involved in civil rights, it might be hard to believe, but I'm basically a loner type of individual. I mix well with people when I have to. I try to get away and by myself most of the time.

But—and think that I got caught up in the civil rights movement when I was at A&T. I grew up in a very quiet, lazy town, Laurinburg, quiet. And when I got here, you know, these things became so clear to me, that what had happened, that what was happening, that I didn't have any choice but to get involved. And I think it sort of set the course for my whole life. And even till today, I find myself thinking back and wondering what I'd be doing if I had not gotten involved in those things.

EP:

You mentioned that you were of the generation of black students that opened the doors. And also you had the conflicting pull of making sure that you were prepared to enter these doors that you opened. Do you think that a significant number of blacks, first specifically in Greensboro and then on a broader spectrum in the United States, have entered these doors or have not?

RP:

I think that we've made a lot of—a lot have entered. I think, I think that we still have a ways to go. I don't think you can point to too many institutions, whether they be private or what have you, where they don't have blacks. But I think that, for an example, I've been in banking for ten years. I think that, I think it's another, personally, another ten years off before you really start to see blacks move in the upper echelon of the different institutions we have in this country.

I think that you are going to see it quicker in certain places than you will in others. For example, in government and things like this. But in private industry, we probably reached a point when—I don't know, I have some really mixed emotions about the Barkey[?] case, for example. The situation that happened down in Louisiana sort of made me feel good, because, you know, it's interesting to look at this thing in terms of how some people view it.

I wish there was a way that blacks could overnight catch up. And no preferential, no Affirmative Action programs would have to be in place, but I just don't see, see how anybody with—in his own good mind—and it's surprising, it's really surprising to me how many people think that we've reached a point where reverse discrimination is going on. I think that, you know, it's probably—it may be a little of it going on, but I don't think it's a hell lot of it.

EP:

Open housing has theoretically been in effect in Greensboro since '64, and yet you don't see a lot of blacks moving into white communities. Is this an economic—still an economic barrier to them doing so, or is there a preference for blacks to remain in their own community?

RP:

I think it's a combination of the two. I think that a lot of black adults that have children are concerned about having their kids grow up in a community where they may or may—where they probably will not be—grow up in what they consider to be a good environment for a child. I don't know that that's—you know, that's one thing, and a lot of them express the idea that, well, you know, I don't want to live in a white neighborhood. But I think that is gradually changing in this city. I think people now are buying where they can afford, and they don't care too much about what their neighbors are going to think. If they can afford the house, they buy it, and the other things take care of themselves.

EP:

Well, since you live in what obviously would be considered a black middle-class community, and before the time of 1963 when the demonstrations were going on, it appeared that this was pretty much lunatic to ride around the Benbow Road area—

RP:

That is very true.

EP:

Do you think that the black community would be characterized as—that middle-class jobs and housing has expanded in Greensboro at a meaningful rate? Or has it been very slow?

RP:

Well, depends on what you call middle class, I guess it'd be hard to put a monetary value on that. There's no doubt that blacks are buying houses, blacks that owned homes in good neighborhoods and this kind of thing in 1963, as opposed to now, has jumped tremendously. But I don't know if, if we kept pace with the progress that has generally taken place in this city.

[End of Interview]