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Oral history interview with George Roach by Eugene Pfaff


Date: November 17, 1978

Interviewee: George Roach

Biographical abstract: George H. Roach (1909-1984) served as mayor of Greensboro, N.C., from 1957 to 1961.

Interviewer: Eugene E Pfaff

Description:

In this transcript of a November 17, 1978, oral history interview conducted by Eugene Pfaff with George Roach, Roach primarily discusses the aftermath of and his reaction to the sit-in of February 1, 1960, and subsequent demonstrations. He describes the actions of members of the city council, merchants, university administrators, and leaders of the black community in responding to demonstrations, as well as the role of police and press, both local and national. Notable are Roach’s memories of conversations with the president of Woolworth’s and the mayors of Durham and Charlotte. Other topics include the closing of Gillespie Golf Course and Lindley pool, lack of support for school integration, and the long-term effect of the civil rights movement on downtown commerce.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: GreensboroVOICES Collection

Repository: The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Item#: 1.10.570

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 George Roach by Eugene Pfaff

Eugene Pfaff:

—first learn of the sit-in demonstrations at Woolworth's?

George Roach:

On the morning that it happened, the city manager called me and told me what was going on.

EP:

Would this have been February first?

GR:

I believe that is correct, yes.

EP:

And what was your reaction?

GR:

My reaction was that they were entitled to use the counter facilities at Woolworth's just as much as they entitled to buy from any other department or counter in Woolworth's.

EP:

What decisions, in terms of reactions by the city government, did you and city manager General [James R.] Townsend choose to pursue that first day?

GR:

We called on the manager of Woolworth's and asked him to integrate his counter.

EP:

This would have been Mr. C. L. Harris?

GR:

C. L. Harris, that's correct. And he would not go along with it at all.

EP:

Did he indicate this as a personal decision or a policy of the store?

GR:

He, he said it was a policy of the local community and that the national office left it entirely up to him.

EP:

Did you consult with the entire city council, or was this merely a decision between yourself and General Townsend?

GR:

At that time it was between the general and myself. We sought no publicity, tried to work it out peacefully.

EP:

Had you anticipated a test of segregation at this time?

GR:

Yeah, yes. It had started with, as I remember, the Gillespie Golf Course.

EP:

This was being pursued by Dr. George Simkins and the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], is that correct?

GR:

As far as I know, yes.

EP:

I see. Did you—why had the downtown stores remained segregated when the airport, the public library, bus station, [and] police force had been integrated, and there was a black man on the city council at this time?

GR:

It was purely the merchants' decision, I presume.

EP:

In other words—

GR:

The council—I mean, the city government had taken no action to bring about desegregation in the stores downtown.

EP:

In other words, the public facilities, public services, had been integrated, but the private sector remained segregated.

GR:

That's right. That's right.

EP:

What was the nature of the race relations in Greensboro at that time?

GR:

We thought it was very, very good. We had no—had had no indication of problems existing.

EP:

I ask that question in light of the fact that you mentioned there was a test case to desegregate Gillespie Golf Course. The outcome of that was that the course was closed and allowed to cease functioning.

GR:

That's correct. And that was a council decision in '55 as I remember—'55 or '56—the council decided to close.

EP:

And also, there had recently been the decision, as I understand it, to sell the Lindley pool.

GR:

That is correct. Rather than integrate it.

EP:

There certainly have been certain allegations that this was the policy of the city to sell the pool into the private sector rather than integrate as a public policy. Would you agree with this assessment or disagree?

GR:

I think that is correct.

EP:

The question arises in my mind then—there seems to be a dichotomy here, or two situations in parallel, in which the city government had decided to integrate the police force and public facilities such as the bus station, the airport, and the public libraries. But on the other hand, they—rather than integrate the recreational facilities—they had sold it into the private sector. How do you—how would you interpret what appears to be two different forms of action or plans?

GR:

I think public opinion was so strongly against integrating the pool is the reason the council took that action.

EP:

Whereas there was not intense public reaction to integrating these other facilities.

GR:

No, no, no, not to the police department or, I guess, fire department. And, of course, the airport had always been integrated.

EP:

Who would you identify as the principal proponents for integration of the stores and other facilities that remained segregated in Greensboro at this time? We've mentioned Dr. Simkins of the NAACP. Were there other individuals you can identify?

GR:

I don't recall now. With the approval of the council I appointed a—or re-appointed, rather—a committee to work with the merchants.

EP:

Was this the committee headed by Mr. Edward Zane?

GR:

Ed Zane was chairman of the committee. We had two members of the [city] council, two members of the [Greensboro] Merchants' Association, as I remember, and two of the [Greensboro] Chamber of Commerce. And I, I don't—I'll have to look that up. I don't remember who all's on it. But anyway, that was the committee; Arnold Schiffman was on it, Oscar Burnett, Bill York, Ed Zane, Jim Doggett—I'll have to look that up. I, I just don't remember who all was on it. Anyway, before then, though, I had met with Dean [William] Gamble and then several of the, the people who sat in at Woolworth's. I also met with Dr. [Warmouth] Gibbs [president of North Carolina A&T State University (A&T)], talked to Dr. Gibbs.

EP:

Who would be some of the persons who were opposed to integration, who wanted the status quo of segregation maintained?

GR:

Well, I think generally the majority of the people, of the public, at that time—

EP:

Is there any one individual that stands out in your mind?

GR:

Well, there were several that were, shall we say, rabid against it.

EP:

I know that after the protest demonstrations had been going on for some time, George Dorsett of the Ku Klux Klan was here. I assume this was the type of person you're referring to as being rabid segregationists.

GR:

Yes. He was, he was one of them. But there were others who were good citizens who were just unalterably opposed to it. And I think it was an educational process. Things today people don't object to at all that were violently against it in those days. It took time for it to, to convert people, to change their minds.

EP:

In connection with the timing of the change of that racial attitude, why do you think it was that at this particular time that four students, and then later the student bodies of the various colleges and the black community in general, chose to test segregation, and why Woolworth's, in particular?

GR:

Well, I think the reason they chose Woolworth's was because of the number of, of other things that were sold there, whereas S&W and Mayfair [Cafeterias] served only food. They chose it because it was a better argument why it should, I think—that if you can sell me candy or thread or belts or jewelry or anything else, any other merchandise—but why, why can't you sell me food? I think that was the question. That's the reason—

EP:

And whites could buy these other items?

GR:

Oh yes, there's no question. They purchased anything in the store, but they just wouldn't, didn't want them to sit down. And eat—

EP:

It sounds to me—excuse me.

GR:

—and eat with the, mix with the whites. That was the objection.

EP:

Sounds to me, between the pool situation and the Woolworth, that it was—arguments were veered along what would amount to health lines, or health arguments, that this interaction in eating and swimming and—

GR:

That's right.

EP:

—because they were black.

GR:

It was too close. That was the, the—just put the blacks too close to the whites, is what I think.

EP:

In your opinion, how was the issue resolved? Was there a just and honorable solution to this problem?

GR:

The committee met repeatedly and tried to work out something with the group downtown, the group of stores. And they hit an impasse, impasse—and they could not. I went down to the Carolina Theatre one morning to welcome a group of ladies that had a program down there, a downtown program, as I remember. And I met the manager of Woolworth's. And he said, “For God's sake, do something. The boycott, black boycott, is about to ruin me.” I said, “my friend, you do something. We've begged and pleaded, the committee's worked—now you go see the committee and get them to work something out.” This committee had worked tremendously hard. And they was an outstanding group. Howard Holderness was on it—president of Jefferson Standard—and Arnold Schiffman, who's one of our best citizens. All of—all of them were great. Oscar Burnett, and Oscar was in favor of it. And—

EP:

I understand that the final report of this committee was to urge total integration of the stores—

GR:

That's right. That is correct. Not only did this committee work, I went to the manager of the O. Henry Hotel. I went to others, personally, [unclear] with General Townsend particularly.

EP:

I gather then that the reason that there was a final resolution of this problem and that integration occurred was from the pressure of economic forces more than moral.

GR:

I think that's— I think that's the answer. Yes sir, the merchants downtown were suffering because of the boycott.

EP:

I see figures indicating a loss of revenue of some six thousand dollars for Woolworth's the first day of the, of the sit-downs and the sit-ins. And that continued to drop off from their previous best year of 1959.

GR:

Well, I'd think that was the beginning of the end of downtown in my opinion.

EP:

Do you think the integration was the reason for the—

GR:

No. I think that, I think the marches—which happened after I was over there—people quit coming downtown. Used to [be] the S&W Cafeteria was full at night, the Mayfair Cafeteria. It stopped.

EP:

This paralleled the growth of the shopping centers. [Do] you think that they were not the total reason for the decline?

GR:

Not the total reason, no. No, I don't think so.

EP:

What were your instructions to the police department? The police department, and Chief Paul Calhoun in particular, were highly praised consistently by the protestors [and] the news media for keeping the situation from getting out of control. What were your instructions to the police department?

GR:

Any instructions to the police were issued through General Townsend. It was his responsibility as city manager. Of course, I was conferring with him all the time, smoking about four packs of cigarettes a day. [laughing] But it was to preserve law and order, to be—that was their responsibility and they did.

There was Jackson, Lieutenant [William] Jackson, in the Police Department, Paul Calhoun, chief, the two majors, Dickie Berts [?] and Howard Moose [?]. And the, and the, and the patrolmen, all of them, did a terrific job, immanently fair.

One of the biggest crises we had was on a Saturday, when they almost came to a conflagration in Woolworth's, you know: the whites, the rabble rousers, and the others, the sit-ins. And, as you know, Woolworth's took the students out. Stopped serving food—

EP:

Was this—what was the specific date of this Saturday, do you recall? Was it early in the demonstration or later on?

GR:

Do you have a copy of the statement I issued on Sunday, in the Sunday paper, front page?

EP:

Yes, sir, I do.

GR:

It was the Saturday before. It was the Saturday before. There was a bomb scare at the—at Woolworth's. And they cleared the store. And after that—I've forgotten. But probably—-I know the city attorney was there, Jack Elam, General Townsend, probably Ed Zane. I don't remember.

We had a meeting with—I'm just sketchy now because, you know, seventeen years. We had a meeting with Colvin Leonard, editor of the Record, Miles Wolff, who was executive editor of the News, Carl Jeffress, the owner, and maybe Bill Snider [associate editor], I'm not sure, General Townsend. I'm not sure Ed Zane was there. I don't believe—no, I think it was just the general and myself representing the city.

And we, we tried to get in touch with the president of Woolworth in New York. We were going to get Spencer Love, who was president of Burlington Mills, to work on him from in New York. And he wired us back that the president of Woolworth's wired us back that the mores of the community governed their actions, and he'd take no part of it.

EP:

It seems to me that some of the major industrial figures such as Ed Zane, Spencer Love, were supportive of your actions.

GR:

Oh, yes, no question about it, no question about it.

EP:

I would like to get into the substance of the discussions you had with General Townsend, in that it was the two of you who would prescribe policy and react to the immediate situation. What sort of things, topics did you discuss in your meetings together in determining the policy and the situation?

GR:

Well, the council was kept informed of everything. And they, they were 100 percent with us.

EP:

Who would have been the members of the council at this time?

GR:

In '60?

EP:

Nineteen sixty.

GR:

Ed Zane, Dave Benny [?], I believe—I don't know Dave if Dave Benny was or not.

EP:

We can certainly—

GR:

I've, I've got all that information at home.

EP:

What, what sort of topics did you discuss? I know that the options that were available to you were on a more conservative side—were put into practice by mayors of other cities, such as calling out the police to disperse the demonstrators. And so as the sit-ins spread to other cities in North Carolina and other states in the country, South and North, this was an option by some mayors. I gather—was this ever considered by you?

GR:

No. The different cities have different forms of government. Council-manager form—it's the city manager's responsibility, don't you see? He made the decision after we consulted, it was—what was going—he directed the police department, the detectives.

EP:

Also in the system, the policy is set by the city council. I was wondering about your discussions within the council as to which policy was reached. How, how was the policy that was carried out reached in the council?

GR:

Well, the council was just pretty well in agreement, as I remember, on, on what we recommended, what the manager and myself recommended. Is that what you were saying?

EP:

Yes. I gather that there was the public policy of needing to maintain order and try to work out a reasonable compromise with the merchants on the one hand. But on the personal preferences of the members, of several of the council members, was such that it, they would prefer to maintain segregation. Would this be an accurate analysis—statement?

GR:

No, I—we had no choice. We, we were in favor of integrating the restaurants, particularly in the Woolworth's or the stores that offered other services.

EP:

I find this particularly interesting, in that the first civil rights legislation was being debated by the Congress, but it had not been enacted into law. So there was no federal, national mandate for you to follow. This was totally involuntary approach on part of the council.

GR:

That's right. You see, these sit-ins—Greensboro wasn't the first place that it happened. It happened in Tulsa, Oklahoma. First it happened in Tulsa. But these were—well, it snowballed from here. They picked it up all over. Martin Luther, you know, had been marching through Birmingham—

EP:

Martin Luther King?

GR:

Yeah. And he had been very active. And it, it was—that, I think, is the thing that induced the students down here to start, was the activity that the, that Martin Luther King had started. Don't you?

EP:

Yeah. I wonder how well do you think the police performed in maintaining order? We've, we've touched on this earlier. In terms of—I'm thinking specifically—what threats of violence did you foresee, and what violent incidents did indeed occur that were reported to you?

GR:

Well, the only one I remember—having a pushing contest in Woolworth's. A local painter wired the governor, or called the governor's office-[Luther] Hodges was governor then—and told him things were out of hand. And I talked to—General Townsend and I both talked to Governor Hodges. He wanted to send help if we needed any help to preserve order.

EP:

Did he mean by calling out the National Guard?

GR:

He didn't say that, but he said if we needed help—I imagine he meant Highway Patrol and probably the Guard if we needed it. But we felt all along that we had the situation well in hand, because we had well-trained policemen. And, personally, I had a good relationship with Dr. Gibbs—no problem with him.

EP:

Could you identify this painter that wired the governor?

GR:

I don't remember his name.

EP:

That is the only incident of—

GR:

That's the only one I remember. It would be well for you to interview Bill Jackson and Paul Calhoun.

EP:

They're, they're on my list.

GR:

Well, I'm glad, because I can't give too much credit to Bill and Paul Calhoun. Paul Calhoun was one of the best police officers in the country, in my opinion.

EP:

Was it the policy to try to avoid arrests when possible and only under the most extreme circumstances?

GR:

Yes. That is correct. And I don't remember—if there were any, there were very few.

EP:

You must have been under intense pressure as, as mayor, being a politician to—from various segments of the community. Can you identify some of these pressure groups?

GR:

I think it was—I don't know if there was any particular group. But it was mostly individuals. George Dorsett had some following. They were all opposed to it. I don't—I just—I can't remember. It was just the order—sort of the order of the day. And it wasn't integrated, don't you know, especially in light of what we'd been hearing about the South down around Birmingham and, and those places.

EP:

We've identified the Klan as a white extremist group as a source for perpetual violence. Were there any comparable black groups that you could identify at this time that might be a source of trouble?

GR:

Not to my knowledge. I don't remember any that were a source of trouble. They conducted themselves well.

Dr. Simkins was a personal friend of mine. I'd, I'd known his father when he was a student, a young student. And our relationship had always been very good.

EP:

Given the fact that he was pushing to have integration on the Gillespie Golf Course, did this put a strain on your relationship?

GR:

No. No.

EP:

Did he try to—

GR:

I was just a member of the council when they closed that and not a, not the mayor.

EP:

You describe your meetings with Dean Gamble of A&T and President Warmouth T. Gibbs. Could you describe the meetings that you had with members of the A&T administration, the black community—?

GR:

Yes. They were very—they were very friendly meetings, that Dean Gamble, as I remember, maybe two of the—were there four who sat-in?—were there. And—

EP:

So they did include the members of the students who initiated the sit-ins?

GR:

What was the boy's name?

EP:

There was David Richmond.

GR:

No. The other boy that I, I—his name fails me right now.

EP:

I have the names of the four individuals here, if I can bring them to your attention. It was David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair—

GR:

Ezell Blair. Ezell Blair was there. And—

EP:

Joseph McNeil was the fourth.

GR:

Well, I'm not sure. But I, I remember Ezell Blair. I knew his father. They were very friendly meetings. We discussed it and, and there wasn't—they were unwavering. There was no giving in.

EP:

What sort of—

GR:

Dean Gamble said clearly what they wanted, and they would not alter that.

EP:

Did the students, students speak for themselves or through Dean Gamble?

GR:

No. As I remember, it was around the table.

EP:

What sort of compromises did you offer initially to the students?

GR:

There was no compromise to offer. The only thing we asked them to do was to be law-abiding and that time would take care of this. It was an educational process on account of the merchants; that's when they put the boycott in, you see.

And that, that—they had threatened boycott. Which was all right as far as I was concerned, because I saw no reason why Woolworth, Kress's or any of those that were serving food—

Boyd Morris [Mayfair Cafeteria manager] was just as adamant as he could be. The S&W was, the O'Henry Hotel. And I believe Duke—I'm not sure about Avery Duke at the King Cotton [Hotel], whether he—I think he was still living. Anyway—

EP:

They all refused to serve blacks.

GR:

All refused. They, they sort of was going along because they worked together, don't you see?

EP:

Miles Wolff in his book, Lunch at the 5 & 10, mentions that several things that were attempted by Woolworth's to try to end the demonstrations were, for instance, stand-up service only or a separate section for whites only at the lunch counter. All of these were rejected by the students.

GR:

That's right.

EP:

Were any of these suggestions offered by you and the city officials?

GR:

No, no.

EP:

They came strictly from Woolworth's.

GR:

If they, if they were offered by anybody it was the committee. And I, I don't have knowledge of that.

EP:

Were things at an impasse when Edward Zane came to you and offered to act as mediator of the situation? Did the suggestion of his acting as mediator come—initiate with Mr. Zane or with yourself?

GR:

Mr. Zane, as I remember it, had been acting on his own without my manager or my knowledge. And then when we, when we found out, why, that was when we appointed the committee, as I remember it.

EP:

It's my understanding that Mr. Zane resigned as a member of the council prior to initiating his efforts to mediate the situation—

GR:

No, I don't believe that's correct. I don't think Ed resigned. No.

EP:

The reason I ask that is that this is the, what is stated in Miles Wolff's book, that at some point in these negotiations, he—

GR:

He offered. He might have offered, but we wouldn't accept it. I, I don't remember.

EP:

Did you feel it was better for him to work as a member of the council or as a private citizen?

GR:

Yes, sir. Yes. Ed Zane was heartily in favor of integration. Ed Zane told me that he had been embarrassed himself. One time, he was called—Jews wasn't wanted in certain hotels in Florida. Ed Zane said he had been embarrassed because of his dark complexion and his name. And he knew what, what it was all about. And I, I think that's right. And Ed would tell you the same thing. Ed's a good friend. But, as far as I know, the thing that broke its back, the merchants' back, was the boycott.

EP:

From what source did the invitations to serve as members of this compromise committee emanate? Was it from your office or—

GR:

My office, and at my recommendation—with the council approval. I always sought council approval. A mayor would be foolish not to unless it was a situation that demanded a decision immediately.

EP:

On what basis did you select specific individuals to serve on the committee?

GR:

Well, I selected the leaders of the community. The Merchants' Association ordinarily controls the merchants. They're all in the Merchants' Association. The chamber of commerce affects the business and industrial community. The real estate business—does it say who in—let me see that book a minute.

[Recorder is turned off and then back on.]

EP:

I do have—regarding the substance of the students' demands, did they want voluntary compliance by the store managers and owners, or did they want to see a piece of local legislation enacted?

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

They did not ask for a local ordinance of the city council on integration?

GR:

No. Not to my—I don't remember having that request.

EP:

There was a seven-week truce. Now did this come about—

GR:

There was what?

EP:

I understand that they suspended demonstrations. Initially, it was to be a period of two weeks and extended it to seven weeks during March and April. Is this correct?

GR:

I—yes, I believe that's right.

EP:

Did this come as a result of your statement to the press?

GR:

Not only that, but one man I failed to mention was Dr.—Woman's College [now University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG)], the head of the Woman's College at that time—Blackwell—

EP:

Dr. Gordon Blackwell.

GR:

Gordon Blackwell. I had worked closely with, with Gordon Blackwell. And he, he was very helpful. And I discussed this committee with him before it was ever appointed. We, we did everything that you could possibly think of to settle it peacefully, peaceably.

EP:

Were you concerned that the students from other campuses such as Greensboro College and, at that time, Woman's College, were—might heighten the chance of violence, particularly in that they were young white women who were participating in the demonstrations?

GR:

No, I, I don't remember that we did. Who was president of Greensboro College?

EP:

I do not recall at this time.

GR:

Anyway, Dr. Blackwell and—anyway, we kept them informed of what was going on, and I think they—I think Blackwell made a speech to his students.

EP:

There was some criticism of him concerning the speech, and the Greensboro Daily News and Record later came to his defense. And in light of that, there was criticism that he was urging the students not to participate.

GR:

That's, that's right.

EP:

Would you—you say you weren't concerned about an increased chance of violence—

GR:

We, we knew that could, could happen, yes. But we felt like that Dr. Blackwell and the president of Greensboro College would be able to control the situation.

EP:

But you did not urge them to prevent or request the students not to come downtown?

GR:

No, not to my—I don't remember doing that, no.

EP:

During this seven-week truce, you've mentioned that you consulted frequently members of the black community, A&T faculty, individual merchants and the Merchants' Association. What other efforts did you make during this period of seven weeks where there were no demonstrations to come to a resolution of the situation?

GR:

Well, it was the continuous concern of the council. And it was sort of, sort of—we didn't know what to do.

EP:

What was the prevailing mood of the council at this time?

GR:

Well, it was, it was—I think the council was—well, I know the majority of the council was, was with me, with the city manager.

EP:

So the majority—can you think of any individuals— [unclear]

GR:

No, no, I can't. If they objected to it, they said very little, if anything.

EP:

What was the prevailing mood of the city, the community at this time?

GR:

Well, I think the majority of the people were against the integrating of the, of the eating establishments in Greensboro.

EP:

Miles Wolff indicates after the first few weeks of— it was somewhat of a novelty, a new situation, but that public interest began to wane.

GR:

Yes.

EP:

And that it was receiving very little attention by the, most of the members of the community. Would you say this was an accurate statement?

GR:

Yes, I think so. As I said in the beginning, people became educated to it, sort of. They, they knew downright it was right and just.

EP:

During the seven-week truce, was the lunch counter closed, or did it remain open?

GR:

I believe it was closed during that time.

EP:

There have been some charges that the council did not act boldly in the situation, even to the effect of perhaps being ineffectual. What's your reaction to these charges?

GR:

I don't think that's true at all. I think that the statement that I issued on that Sunday—it certainly evidenced that they did act on it. You'd be surprised at the, at the number of people that were just up in arms about this thing. It was a whole change of society. And it took time. It took time. I don't, I don't know how most, much bolder the council could have acted.

EP:

One of the suggestions that was mentioned in the press that was attributed to you and members of Mr. Zane's committee was that they encouraged letters from the populace through letters to the editor, through the newspaper and individual letters to the council. Was the council inundated with letters?

GR:

No, not to my knowledge.

EP:

Were there attempts by individuals in the community to try to pressure or influence the council into one form of action or another?

GR:

Yes, both ways. I got a card at home now. I was number ten that was to be killed.

EP:

So you were threatened?

GR:

Oh, yes. I was the whole, the whole—Oscar Burnett and all the committee was threatened and numbered. Well, I don't know if it was the committee, but it was those who were really in favor. I mean they said so. Oscar Burnett was one. Carl Jeffries was one. I was one. Ed Zane was one. Ed Zane was threatened.

EP:

Was this an intense threat campaign against you? Were there continual telephone calls and letters?

GR:

No, no, no. No, not a, not a continual thing. It was the rabid "anti's" who did it.

EP:

Did you take any steps to protect yourself?

GR:

No, I didn't. The director of public safety did on one occasion. The Ku Klux Klan had called for a meeting at Country Park at night. And we were—the police chief came in—the General and I decided that they would not hold a meeting on city property in Country Park—you know where I'm talking about. So I sent a letter, hand-delivered it, to Dorsett, I guess, I've forgotten who it was, that the meeting would not be held—that they could not hold it on city-owned property because of the inability of the police to properly police it. And you can see why—in darkness and the trees and fields and hollows.

So the director of public safety had a police car watching my home that night—Bill Greene, who's dead now. And I wasn't concerned about it. I went to Raleigh to a basketball game with one of the councilmen, Elbert Lewis. Got home about midnight or a little after. I noticed [unclear] unbeknown to me, but they had police cars watching.

EP:

Did any members of your family suffer adverse reaction [unclear]?

GR:

Yes. My daughter was in elementary school, in the lower grades. In '60 she was probably ten years old. We had some harassing phone call, my wife did, at home, about the child.

EP:

Were you worried about possible violence towards other members of your family?

GR:

No, not particularly. But on that occasion, that threat, I did have a detective check her on the way to school and also checked with the principal of the school. She assured me that what they had said was absolutely not true—[unclear] child nine or ten years old. And a few, just a few of the rabid "anti's" tried to harass me, tried to harass Ed Zane. And he'd had some threatening calls. I ordered—asked the general to talk to the police chief and he called the major and had his home guarded a night or two because of threats.

EP:

But no incidences of violence against anyone ever occurred?

GR:

Oh, no, no, no. People without courage would make such threats. They—they had no—they didn't have the guts to do it.

EP:

What is your reaction to the tactic of nonviolent protests, the sit-ins, the boycott, et cetera, at the time? This is marked change from the concept of preparing legal briefs and court arguments of the NAACP.

GR:

Yeah. Well, I never believed in taking the law into your own hands. In light of pickets and peaceful protests, that's all right. I think that's all right, but—

EP:

There were some charges that this was unlawful activity, and yet, could you foresee the—both locally and nationally—that the breakdown of segregation and the public pressure to initiate something [unclear]?

GR:

I was just as satisfied at the beginning of the end of segregation. And it was going to be an educational process. People had to, to get, had to see that, the fairness of it, and the right—the black man's just as much a citizen as you and I are. I think he's entitled to all the rights and credits as anyone else.

EP:

Do you think the tactic of peaceful confrontation was effective in breaking down segregation?

GR:

I don't think there's any question about it. I don't think it was going—anything else would have done it. I think it had to be this way. People wouldn't recognize it.

EP:

In light of later civil rights confrontations and things, specifically the riots in the large northern urban centers in the late sixties and then the incidents of shootouts in the seventies, early seventies—in retrospect, do you think that this was more effective, that this was perhaps very mild by comparison?

GR:

Oh, yes, yes. And I think we had so many people of goodwill that were willing to, to work it out and try. And it took time. It took time to work it out.

EP:

What was the effect of the presence of the national news media on the situation? Do you think that it exacerbated the situation? Did it help give strength to the demonstrators?

GR:

I think it helped give strength to the, to the demonstrators but—

EP:

Do you think it hampered efforts at reconciliation?

GR:

No, no, I don't think so. I don't think it did.

EP:

There were some charges that—not in Greensboro but in surrounding cities—that the demonstrations were staged for the news media, or else they would not have been called, had the news media not been there.

GR:

Well, that's, that's true. We had—I had several requests from national television to go on television but declined it. This is local, as far as I was concerned. I was concerned about Greensboro.

EP:

What was your reaction to the position taken by the local news media—television stations and the Greensboro Record and Daily News?

GR:

It couldn't have been finer in my opinion.

EP:

Did they work in cooperation—

GR:

Yes, sir, absolutely. The Daily News was kept informed. And I worked with Miles Wolff and Colvin Leonard. News reporters, you know, they always, they're after a story.

I remember, I recall right now the first time the general and I went down to see [Woolworth's manager Clarence] Harris, where the newspaper reporter caught us coming out, don't you know. We had nothing to say. Nothing had been resolved. It [He] was still adamant, “I'm going to run my business like I want to, and I'm not going to feed them—and that's it, period.” So we had nothing to say. But they—the, the newspaper, in my opinion, did a tremendous job. The television did.

EP:

Do you think they were objective in their news reporting?

GR:

Yes, I think so.

EP:

Did this emanate spontaneously from them, or did they have to be urged or cautioned?

GR:

No, sir. They were never urged because they're—they were too good newsmen, in my opinion.

EP:

How about the national press? Do you think they were objective in their reporting of the situation?

GR:

As far as I know, yes. I, I don't recall much that they did or didn't do.

EP:

This situation was even brought to the attention—it was brought to the attention of the incumbent governor, Governor Hodges. It was brought to the attention of former President Truman and current President Eisenhower, at that time President Eisenhower. Did you feel any sort of national pressure or national attention?

GR:

No. It remained strictly a local incident. Governor Hodges let the school board bleed and die here when they integrated the schools.

EP:

Could you explain what you mean?

GR:

He took no active part in it. He didn't protect the school board or—and yet when Jack Kennedy ran, he became his [unclear] integration in the South, he and Senator Collins, if you remember, from Florida.

EP:

So you think that Governor Hodges—

GR:

I don't think—I don't think Hodges did anything to help Greensboro, certainly not the school board. He, he offered his help. But we didn't feel we needed it.

EP:

So the image he projected as a liberal progressive Southerner in terms of race relations and integration is more or less to attract the attention of the Democrat nominee and then President Kennedy?

GR:

No. I wouldn't say that. I would say this: that he, along with countless other citizens, were not ready to go all out as we were

.
EP:

You—what basis did you have—what do you mean by go all out? Total integration?

GR:

Well, yes, yes. The problem was then the eating establishments, don't you see? And we thought if we could get that problem settled, it would—the others would, would come along.

EP:

Did you perceive this as being limited just to those eating establishments, or did you see that integration, if accomplished there, would then broaden to all facets of society here in Greensboro?

GR:

Well, the public—yes. The public places would be open to all of society.

EP:

Is this indeed what happened or—

GR:

Well, I think it is. Yes, that's what happened. But the marches started, you know, even after—as I remember it—after Woolworth integrated. And the Mayfair and the S&W said, “we're not offering any services except—to, to blacks” and prohibited them from eating. But they didn't open up theirs until later on, as I remember.

EP:

This would have been spring of 1963.

GR:

Well, yes. And I, I didn't—I was just glad to get out. I had to go back to work.

EP:

How large a factor was this controversy over integration of Woolworth and Kress's in the eating establishment? How large a factor was this in the decision not to run again for election?

GR:

That did not enter into it at all. I went on the council in '55, was elected mayor in '57. The mayor's job takes about 90 percent of a man's time and almost a 100 percent of his thought.

I was in the real estate business. The real estate business is a personal production. I had a small office and just—I didn't have a salesman. And financially, I had to, I had to go to work. But it did not enter into the decision whatsoever.

And I think another thing that entered into it was that six years was certainly long enough, maybe two years too long, but certainly long enough to serve.

EP:

Why did negotiations fail on March thirty-first? Was it the intransigence of the store managers? I gather that negotiations broke down completely at that time and that the demonstrations began again on April first. And this is the end of the seven-weeks truce.

GR:

I believe that's right, yes. They were just as adamant as they could be.

EP:

And so you would blame the store managers for the breakdown.

GR:

Absolutely, absolutely.

EP:

Was there any element of compromise on the part of the students and the blacks in the community?

GR:

No. No element of compromise.

EP:

So they were as adamant as the store managers.

GR:

Yes.

EP:

What was your opinion of the students' seriousness and earnestness?

GR:

There was no question about it, they were dead serious.

EP:

What was your—

GR:

And they were backed up by Dr. Gamble and Dr. Gibbs and Dr. Simkins. The whole black community was in favor.

EP:

So you think that the administration of A&T, which had traditionally been—had a reputation of being conservative under Dr. Bluford and the early administration of Dr. Gibbs, was really behind the students and in favor?

GR:

Absolutely. They were behind them. But they were in favor of peaceful—I'm satisfied of that.

EP:

Did you try to urge them to initiate curfews or not allow cutting of classes, anything to keep students from downtown?

GR:

No, no. I didn't get into that.

EP:

Did you have any personal opinions about some of the demonstrators themselves? For instance, what was your attitude of Ezell Blair?

GR:

Well, I, I thought Ezell Blair was dead serious. And, and he conducted himself as a gentleman.

EP:

Do you think that it was their stable influence of the leaders of this demonstration that prevented any outbreak of violence on the part of the students?

GR:

I think so, yes. And I think the students realized that the police department was, was imminently fair.

EP:

So there were no charges of police brutality.

GR:

No, sir.

EP:

Did you get the clear impression that the leading force was coming from the students themselves rather than older members of the black community?

GR:

Well, I think they were, they—I think George Simkins was very instrumental in NAACP. Yes, I think they were instrumental. And I think the students were just as dead serious as they were.

EP:

One point that Miles Wolff brings out in his book is that the organization like NAACP more or less came in after the demonstrations had become accomplished fact, and that the students led the demonstrations and formed these new groups such as the—well, CORE had been in existence for quite some time, since the forties—but that SNCC, for instance—Students Nonviolent Coordinating Committee—came out of the sit-ins in the later demonstrations.

GR:

I think that's true, yes.

EP:

An interesting point is, though, that the resolution occurred—compromise with the store managers, at least of Woolworth and Kress—came with older members of the community rather than students?

GR:

Yes.

EP:

Was there an insistence that they would work with the older members of the black community but not with the students?

GR:

I really don't remember, because that was worked out with the committee. We had a brainy committee and they were smart. I left it up to them.

EP:

What was the result of your personal actions to try to work compromise, such as your wiring the national president of the Woolworth's and Kress's, urging them to open the lunch counters? Meetings with the, or offers to meet with the mayors of Durham and Charlotte, and your personal visits with General Townsend to see the store managers and leading blacks. Were any of these efforts successful?

GR:

Well, as I told you, the Woolworth president said, “we leave it to the mores of the community.” What [E. J. “Mutt”] Evans, who was mayor of Durham, a good friend of mine—we went to Carolina [The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill] together—he said he saw no need of it or he would be glad to meet with us. And the mayor of Charlotte wasn't interested at all.

EP:

So you got no cooperation from your counterparts.

GR:

No cooperation. From the Charlotte mayor, no, none whatsoever. But said he saw no good could come out of it. But we tried, you know, tried to work every angle, if you please.

EP:

And yet there were similar demonstrations going on in their cities, were there not?

GR:

I don't believe it started then. Maybe they had. I don't remember. But [James] Smith, I think, the cracker man down there [Smith's predecessor, Phillip Van Every, was president of Lance, Inc., the cracker manufacturer]. He wasn't interested at all. Charlotte being so much bigger than Greensboro and he wasn't interested. But Mutt said he'd be glad to but he saw no good could come out of it.

EP:

In your personal preference, did you decide to side more with the students, as the store managers maintained their intransigence? Were your loyalties beginning to be identified more with the students?

GR:

My personal opinion was that it should be done and therefore was on the side of the students. But I couldn't walk from my office, which was in the Piedmont Building, to the City Hall without just people shaking their fist in my face [saying], “You're not going to let the so-and-so eat.” And that's the attitude that we had—I mean that they had.

EP:

These were private citizens.

GR:

Yeah. Yeah. And a lot of them were good citizens, too. I mean well-to-do people. But you know, they eventually came over. They saw the light.

EP:

Would you say they came over after the settlement was made, and that in the process of time over the years?

GR:

Yes. After the settlement was made, Woolworth's counter was open to them. Now see, all this other, the marches happened after I got out, when Boyd Morris and the S&W wouldn't integrate, as I remember.

EP:

Was your stand unusual for a Southern man?

GR:

Well, I don't—I don't know.

EP:

In other words, feeling that it was right to integrate and searching for a positive compromise—

GR:

I don't think it was too much of—I think my opinion, my, my stand is clearly stated in the, you know, when I called on all the citizens. I don't—I think that—and I think that statement did a tremendous amount of good to get some of these people off my back.

EP:

Was this the only time that you made such a statement?

GR:

Well, of course, the newspapers quoted me, said a lot of times. But we felt like that at that time that was what was needed. I can't remember. I believe maybe the whole council was there and approved that statement. I, I think they were. We met on a Saturday. That was after the, the really the hottest day at Woolworth's for me, when the bomb threat was. That was that afternoon.

EP:

That was early in the—

GR:

Early in the demonstrations, yes.

EP:

Was your subsequent business career ever intimidated, or threatened or adversely affected by your stand [unclear]?

GR:

Not that I know of. I don't think I lost a single friend or customer. You know that's something you can't tell.

EP:

Did you ever, at any time, perceive this as being more than just an isolated local event? That it would start this wave of national protests and what several writers characterize as the modern civil rights movement?

GR:

I think it—I think it was the beginning of the end of segregation.

EP:

Could you see this at that time?

GR:

I, I thought so, yes, yes sir. And General Townsend was an army man, regular army. And he had a tremendous perception, tremendous brain. And you'd do well to interview him, too.

EP:

I, I have called General Townsend. We are going to interview him sometime in the next two weeks.

GR:

Well, great.

EP:

I'd like to close this session by, by asking you, do you think it was beneficial to Greensboro ultimately, and do you think that Greensboro can take pride as being the center, or the whole start of—if not the first sit-in, one of the major—

GR:

The one that really started the ball rolling. Yes, I think Greensboro can take pride in it.

EP:

Some people have said that all during this time there was the feeling that—of the Greensboro populace—that we are a moderate, progressive city in our race relations, but that this incident and the demonstrations in 1963 argued against this; that things were not as hopeful or as positive as people believed in the race relations in the city.

GR:

Well, I think Greensboro was much more liberal than most other cities in the South. And I think that—then the fact that these other eating places didn't fall in line is the thing that that caused those demonstrations.

EP:

Do you see a—

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

EP:

Do you see a certain irony that certainly 90, 95, perhaps More, percent of the customers of the downtown stores are black, given the fact there was such resistance to allowing any blacks in the eating establishments? And do you think that the presence of black customers had anything to do with the outward movement of retail sales from downtown Greensboro?

GR:

Yes, I think it affected the downtown area.

EP:

In what sense?

GR:

People got out of the habit of coming downtown, shopping downtown. They went to the shopping center. And the eating establishments—I mean, S&W and the Mayfair and Woolworth's and all were integrated. I think a lot of people stayed away on that account, yes.

EP:

Because of the presence of black patrons.

GR:

Yeah.

EP:

What is the final legacy or statement on the integration of the eating establishments in downtown Greensboro? Do you think it was a positive factor? Did it have immediate results in the rest of the city in opening up eating establishments to blacks?

GR:

State that again, now.

EP:

What was the final outcome of it? Did the other eating establishments in Greensboro open up to blacks, or was it confined to the downtown area?

GR:

Well, all of them as far as I know, the shopping centers opened up, too. I think the thing that—the marches is the thing that hurt the downtown. Traffic was blocked for blocks and blocks around.

EP:

So this was—

GR:

This after I'm out, now, remember that—this was in '62-'3. The policemen—I mean, there were hundreds of students parading down—people got out of the habit of coming down to S&W to eat at night, or the Mayfair.

EP:

What was the difference in the shopping centers? That seemed to be a different situation. For instance, several students one day attempted to enter Eckerd's at Friendly Shopping Center and were told it was private property and they'd be arrested if they entered, and they did leave.

GR:

That's right.

EP:

Why was this situation different from the downtown? This seems not to have been a tactic used for many weeks in the downtown—

GR:

Well, I, I, I've often wondered about that. Of course, the shopping centers owned their streets. It's not public property in the true sense of like Elm Street or Market Street. I think that's the difference. And they were told they were on private property. And [they] were setting up pickets, as I remember—but they were not on public property. Of course that, I imagine, legally would be some question about that, don't you? Where—I mean, they invite the public there. It's open to the public. And I think maybe it is.

But I think they maintained—that was one of the things that they—of course, that was before the days of Four Seasons, Summit Shopping Center; Oscar had already taken care of that, don't you see. Friendly Shopping Center, that was the—those two, I guess. Maybe Golden Gate. Not Golden Gate, but Northeast, I'm not sure. But I'm, I'm not close to that situation. I wasn't close to it. And I didn't know too much about it.

EP:

The—after the—Mr. [H.E.] Hogate of Kress Store and Mr. Harris of Woolworth's did agree to serve black patrons at the eating establishments, they were somewhat concerned, angry that the other establishments weren't opening up. Although they were the first two and they didn't want to be the pioneers or groundbreakers in this, did the other establishments rather quickly fall into line, or was there a time gap?

GR:

I think there was a time gap, as I remember. I don't think they—I think they finally did it very reluctantly.

EP:

Was it a matter of months or years?

GR:

Oh, oh, no. I think it was a matter of months, maybe weeks.

EP:

The compromise that was worked out with the NAACP and the black ministers, in speaking to their congregations, was that there was a fear there'd be a mass influx of blacks. And so a compromise—according to Miles Wolff, once again, in the Lunch at the 5 & 10—they came in small groups. And it was stated as being a deliberate attempt to show the white store managers and white patrons they need not worried about massive, en masse [unclear]. Did your office have any influence in reaching this decision?

GR:

No, no. The committee worked out those details.

EP:

So you would give a great deal of credit to Edward Zane's committee for working this out?

GR:

Yes, sir, definitely. And they did. They limited—but the problem wasn't to eat downtown. They did—they didn't want to particularly eat downtown. They wanted the right to, the privilege to, to eat downtown.

EP:

So they did not immediately and in a massive way take advantage of this new privilege, new right?

GR:

After Woolworth integrated, I dropped in that store every day or every other day at a mealtime, a different time. My office was in the Piedmont Building, almost across the street. It wasn't a problem at all, not at all.

EP:

The final bottom line in this seems to be—besides the effort of a number of individuals—that the real deciding factor was the economic power of the black community.

GR:

That, in my opinion.

EP:

Do you think this still holds sway in Greensboro and perhaps has even increased?

GR:

I'm not in a position to know. They do have tremendous buying power.

EP:

Well, thank you very much, Mayor Roach.

GR:

I'm afraid I haven't helped you much, but I really ought to go back and review the—if you look at the five folks—

[Recorder is turned off and then back on.]

EP:

What do you think would have been the result? Or can you speculate on what would have happened if the sit-in demonstrations had failed, if there had not been a compromise reached?

GR:

Well, I think it would have been, been conflagration.

EP:

You think there would been violence?

GR:

Yes, sir. I think there would have definitely been violence. Because these young men were, were dead serious. And they were ready to fight for what they believed was right. I don't think there would have been any question about it.

EP:

Thank you very much, Mr. Roach.

GR:

That's all on tape [unclear].

[End of Interview]