Civil Rights Greensboro

UNCG Home > The University Libraries > Civil Rights Greensboro Home > Oral history interview with Arnold Task by Kathleen Hoke

Oral history interview with Arnold Task by Kathleen Hoke


Date: January 25, 1989

Interviewee: Arnold S. Task

Biographical abstract: Rabbi Arnold S. Task served Greensboro's Temple Emanuel from 1968 to 1988 and was appointed to the Citizens Review Committee that investigated the November 3, 1979.

Interviewer: Kathleen Hoke

Description:

In this transcript of a January 25, 1989, oral history interview conducted by Kathleen Hoke with Arnold Task, Task recalls his involvement in the Citizens Review Committee that investigated the 1979 Ku Klux Klan/Communist Workers Party shooting, and the outcomes for the city. He talks about his work on the Human Relations Commissions, the role it played in Greensboro, and the work it accomplished during his tenure. He gives his opinion of how far Greensboro has come in terms of race relations, and where it needs to go.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: GreensboroVOICES Collection

Repository: The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Item#: 1.10.586

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 Arnold Task by Kathleen Hoke

[Begin Tape 1, Side 1]

WILLIAM LINK:

This is William Link, and we're in the office of Rabbi Arnold Task. The date is January 25, 1989. I wonder if you'd mind telling me just a little bit about your background—your educational background, where you were born, some of your early experiences with regard to race relations, and, well, finally, how you came to Greensboro?

ARNOLD TASK:

Very good. I was born in Chicago in 1932. I went to the public schools in Chicago and undergraduate work at the University of Chicago, graduating from there in '52. And then went to the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati for rabbinic training. I was there from '52 to '58, and then in June of '58 moved to Saint Louis, where I was assistant rabbi there for two years. In the summer of '60, we moved to Newport News, Virginia. And I was there from '60 till December of '68. Then in the December of '68, my family made a move here to Greensboro, where I've been ever since.

WL:

What sort of—of course, the period that you first became a rabbi up until the time you came to Greensboro appears to be a very intense change in race relations. What sort of things did you see in Saint Louis and Newport News? What sort of experiences did you have? I suppose they're radically different communities, obviously—Saint Louis and Newport News.

AT:

Fortunately, the senior rabbi that I was with in Saint Louis, Ferdinand Isserman, had been very conspicuously involved in inter-group relations, black/white and Jewish/Christian relations, over a long period of time, and that happened to coincide with interests that I had. So I had a very, very good exposure to the larger community process of developing understanding among peoples there. This was extremely helpful to me when I made the move to Newport News, because by that time I'd had enough good experience, with good background. Also, in my growing up in Chicago, there had been—those were good years as far as race relations were concerned. I remember the president of our high school graduating class, Terry Hatter, was black, and he was an attorney. And this was a natural thing. It was the kind of thing that you just didn't even think twice about. So, my—

WL:

There was a lot of interplay and contact between white and black in your school?

AT:

Right, in the normal course of things. No, no problems at all in those years. So the high school years being '46 to '50, and the high school [being] Hyde Park High School, so it brought in people from the Hyde Park area as well as South Shore. And it was a good mix. So a good background for that.

In Newport News, I came there at a time where they were going through the process of developing better relations. I really had not been aware of what had preceded my arrival in Newport News. And a lot of good work had been done prior to the time that I was there. However, while being there, I was involved with clergy dialogue groups, dialogue activity. I was able to meet a number of people from various communities in Newport News and develop good working relationships with people in both the black and Christian community to deal with problems that the community faced from time to time.

I was there during the time of the killing of Dr. Martin Luther King, where the city itself faced a good bit of reaction. A large section of the business district was burned during that time. And the sit-ins, by the way—what had begun in Greensboro—Newport News had its schedule. It was on the schedule for sit-ins. My understanding was that in Newport News some very good contacts were made with the faculty and student body at Hampton Institute. And the scheduled time of the sit-in there was for five o'clock on a Saturday afternoon, so that by the time Monday came around, the newspaper could not make an issue out of it. And I thought that reflected very, very good, careful planning. If it had been done earlier, and if there had been a lot of publicity, the newspaper at that time would've really made quite a point of that, which would have been counterproductive in the relationships in the community.

WL:

Were the newspapers hostile to the idea?

AT:

The owner of the newspaper, Dorothy Bottoms, is from an old Civil War family, and she, she had some rather strong feelings, which were reflected in the editorial policies. Newport News [Daily Press?], by the way, is the only paper that panned The Rebellion [sic-Confessions] of Nat Turner. And apparently [William] Styron's first novel, major novel, Look Back in Anger, included the story of Dorothy Bottoms' father. And she never forgave him for that. And so it's—I remember having read the review that was written by the book editor, who really had no choice. He was on the staff of the paper; he had no choice but to do that.

WL:

To write in a certain way? Coming from the North, did you notice any sort of differences, or—obviously you would, coming from Saint Louis, which is sort of, I suppose is—

AT:

It's a border state.

WL:

Border state, yeah.

AT:

Newport News, because of the military, is a different kind of community. It's not really southern. Nor is Greensboro really a southern community. And certainly with the military in the Newt News area—Fort Monroe, the continental army command; Fort Eustis, the transportation copormmand; Langley Air Force Base, strategic—or the tactical air command; and such.

WL:

But public places were still segregated when you first came. Did they follow the southern—

AT:

I had not been aware of that. So apparently it had probably undergone change just before I got there, and the same thing here. I'd really been—I remember being quite surprised to learn about what had taken place just prior to my arrival in Greensboro, from a lot of older people who had experienced segregation. And so I've learned a lot about it after my arrival. And the book, Civilities and Civil Rights [by William Chafe] provided a very good education for me on what preceded my arrival here.

WL:

Did—when you came to Greensboro, what sort of impressions did you have of the community as a community?

AT:

That relations were extremely good. That Greensboro was a community that worked hard to overcome whatever problems the community would experience. And it was something that brought the black/white community and the Jewish/Christian community together, or at least representatives of the communities, to solve the problems. So it was a matter of arriving at a very good time.

WL:

How would you characterize the leadership in Greensboro? How was the leadership—how did leaders interact?

AT:

All that I could tell, it was very positive. I do not recall any individual who was perceived as being negative or—nor was I aware of any particular businesses that had any kind of negative reputation. So I—whether I was naive, unaware, or whatever, I don't know. But I don't recall any, any one area that was a—you know, the incomplete work of relationships.

In Newport News, the James River Country Club did not permit Jews, and to my—as far as I know, continues not to permit Jews to belong there. And that was always an ever present symbol of the unfinished work of an open community. In Greensboro, while the Jews belonged to the country clubs here, I had not been aware of whether or not blacks were given opportunities to be there.

I've learned that the hospitals, for example, during the time that I was here, provided more opportunity for black doctors and staff people, nurses, to come in. And I've been aware of the—these are changes that are sort of taking place, and I've watched it, where black and white patients would be in the same room.

WL:

Of course, by 1968 things were really beginning to change quite a bit. And this was several years after sit-ins, but also, especially, several years after the Civil Rights Act of '64. And everywhere in the South, and especially a place like Greensboro, things were changing very rapidly.

AT:

I think another factor in Greensboro—Hal Sieber at that time was the executive director, or executive vice president, or director of some aspect of the Chamber of Commerce. And he was—he spearheaded efforts here in Greensboro to develop better understanding and greater sensitivity, as far as the business community was concerned, to the changes that were taking place elsewhere in the country. And I count myself as being very fortunate to have been involved in a lot of the discussions and programs that Hal arranged. He does deserve great credit for what he did. He certainly enhanced my education.

WL:

One of the first things you must have run across, I suppose, in the first two or three years that you were here would have been the school desegregation case and the way it unfolded in Greensboro. You were involved in—

AT:

Our children were in public schools. And we had—there was no question for us, we were committed to public school education. We—our children remained in the public schools, while many others who were their friends were withdrawn from the public schools and enrolled in the private schools. So we were part of that process of change.

We felt it was important, and we appreciated what—I think we had gone—one of the schools that one of our daughters was going to, we had gone to the school building during the summer before it was to be desegregated, and it was in very bad condition. [phone rings] It was quite amazing. And the transformation between the school that summer and the beginning of the school year was really extraordinary.

WL:

This was the school located on the east side or—

AT:

This was—it's the south. I can visualize the school. GTCC [Guilford Technical Community College] now has one of their facilities in the school here. But we had gone to see it. And a year after, there were even greater changes as far as the physical condition of the building was concerned. So we had seen—

WL:

Pretty rapid, dramatic improvement in the facilities.

AT:

Yes.

WL:

How, as a parent, how smoothly did this process take place, you know, once the city complies with desegregation in 1971, how smoothly does the process take place, from your perspective?

AT:

We felt it was very good, and we felt it was good with our children. They seemed to react, respond very nicely to their classmates. There were some friendships that developed. The—we hadn't even been aware of the fact that teaching staffs had been segregated before, and there were black teachers that our children had. And they were very pleased and we were very pleased with the teachers. We didn't realize that was a new phenomenon in Greensboro. But it seemed like there were a lot of activities that were taking place around the city to develop good relations among people here. And we were, we were right there. We wanted to be conspicuously a part of that.

WL:

Such as the dialogues that went on, the forums that took place?

AT:

That's correct. And we were actively involved in PTA. [Parent-Teacher Association]. We believed that was very important.

WL:

What about the attitudes of other parents? Obviously you had, in your position, you had a lot of contact with not just people in your synagogue, but you also had contact with a wide variety of people—I would imagine—people in the city.

AT:

Right. There were many who withdrew their children and enrolled them in the private schools here—the Friends School, and Greensboro Day School, and—

WL:

In direct response to the disruption of the public schools?

AT:

Or what they maintained, they wanted to get a better education for their children. And people always have that privilege. So we never were involved in any efforts to try to talk anybody out of that, nor were we ever approached with the idea of withdrawing our children. We did what we felt was natural as parents and demonstrated our commitment to the public schools.

WL:

Were your children moved from one school to another as a result of how they were—

AT:

That's correct.

WL:

What schools did they move from? Do you remember? Did they move from the—

AT:

They started at Sternberger, and wherever Sternberger was paired—I remember one of the steps was Lindley, but I can't remember the first school they were at. I can visualize it, but I can't remember the name of it.

WL:

How soon do you think this—how soon do you think, as a community, Greensboro accepted school desegregation? Was it relatively quickly?

AT:

I think it was relatively quickly. I think a lot was learned from Charlotte and the resistance in Charlotte. The same thing with Newport News—a lot was learned from what happened in Norfolk, where there was resistance. There was a—I think that provided a very good training ground on how not to do things, and the awareness of the fact that this was the law of the land. And—

WL:

For Charlotte, they had a very bad experience for a number of years there. And the leadership in Greensboro was looking very closely at the developments of Charlotte and consciously trying to avoid that situation.

AT:

Correct. That is correct.

WL:

Interesting. Let's go back a bit to 1969 and the problems that affected Dudley High School. What sort of background or conditions do you think made that into a crisis?

AT:

[phone rings] At that point, I had not been that fully involved in the community, so I was still going through the learning phase, having arrived here in December of '68. I remember the curfews that had been imposed during that period of time, and it was really after that that I became involved in contact with a lot of people.

I understand that there were questions about how the police functioned on the campus at A&T [North Carolina A&T State University] and how the police responded during that entire period of time. Family members of ours called in response to the tanks that were supposed to be in the city of Greensboro. We hadn't seen the tanks. We didn't go out of our way to go where the tanks were or where the National Guard units were located, so we had to rely on news reports and concerns expressed by relatives to know that there was something taking place here.

WL:

How did the curfew affect people in Greensboro? Is it something—obviously you'd have to notice it. You couldn't go out shopping or anything [unclear]—

AT:

Well, it seemed to me people simply made their plans accordingly or simply stayed home. We changed our service time, that Friday evening service at eight o'clock. I think we wound up with an early service that evening. So it was no great problem as far as the temple was concerned. But there really was a desire on the part of people in the temple to [phone rings] do whatever was necessary to keep things moving along as far as the community was concerned, and to help whoever was involved was trying to overcome the bad feelings that were taking place.

There's a family that was a member, that is a member of our temple—John Kilimanjaro, his wife, and their children. And they're black. John is owner and publisher of the Carolina Peacemaker and has been an extraordinarily good friend—he and his wife and their children. And so they provided a good deal of insight for me during all of the time that I've been here on the historical experiences within Greensboro. And [they] gave me insights with regard to the Dudley-A&T problems in '69 and beyond that.

WL:

One of the other things that interests me about Greensboro in the last twenty years or so has been the area of politics and the attempt to increase or augment the degree of black political power through the ward plan. What—to what extent do you think—or I don't know if you can answer this question or not—but to what extent do you think, based on your first experiences in Greensboro, do you think—to what extent do you think the blacks in Greensboro were properly represented in the political system and to what extent weren't they—just when you first arrived, say the late 1960s or early 1970s?

AT:

I think there was a good deal of exclusion. There were individuals like Jimmy Barber and Zoe Barbie who were part of the political system, and they were conspicuously involved with that. But the black representation in positions of political prominence were really few and far in between. As to how Jimmy Barber was perceived, and others, it seems that his presence was always good, through my involvement with the National Conference of Christians and Jews, from the very beginning.

I got to know Walter Johnson and others who were at that time and even before that working very diligently for good relationships. Elreta Alexander was at that time a judge, and I had gotten to know her very early in my arrival here. And she, too, did marvelous work as a judge and provided, I guess, a remarkably fine model to the city.

But I had not been aware of the extent of exclusion until time went on. I became aware of how times now—whenever the now was—was different from what it had been before.

WL:

Was there much—in your experiences with the city administration, to what degree, or, was the black community included in the normal kind of administrative decisions or staffing of the city government?

AT:

I think I'm probably lucky in this regard, having come in when I did, and at the point at which a lot had already been accomplished or was in the process of being accomplished in a very natural kind of way. So I was not aware of any of the limitations in staffing.

With my work on the Citizens Review Committee that dealt with the Klan-Nazi/Communist Worker Party's shootout, I learned that there were a lot of areas that still needed to be worked on—this was in 1980—as far as city administration, school administration, and the police. And these were things that we noted as part of our report. Many of the underlying causes of anger that were still very present in the city. I think November of '79 had the affect of lancing the sore and allowing the community to see what unfinished business is still in its midst, as far as relations were concerned.

WL:

Was one of the conclusions of your board that indeed there was such a sore, and there were underlying conditions that would make this kind of event possible?

AT:

That is correct, among many. There were so many different factors that related to that. But the matter of the state of race relations was—there was a lot that had been assumed at that point. But I think there was much that was learned from that experience. The effects of that, to see the changes that took place in the police department, and city administration, and in the Chamber of Commerce, and in a whole variety of other things in the city, in the schools—I think it has—a great deal has been accomplished since that time. And as to the feelings that go along with the accomplishments, that's something that needs, that continues to be worked on. But I believe that there's a lot that is being done in good faith. And I'm very pleased with, with that.

WL:

Tell me a little bit more about the Citizens Review Org[anization] or Committee—how it was formed, who was on it—you said that you remembered these details—what your mode of operation was.

AT:

We were appointed by city council, and A.S. Webb, Ervin Brisbon, who was a tremendous teacher for all of us—Ervin is from Morningside Homes. We learned a great deal from him [and] A.S. Webb, with a long history of involvement in problems in the community. Barbara Gore Washington was a member of that. Mark Schott was the chairman of the Citizens Review Committee.

And we had evening sessions that lasted for many, many hours. And we learned a great deal about some of the, first of all, the errors in judgment that were involved with the police response. One of the rather amazing things that we found out was the fact that there were two different police channels—the radio channels—operating. And at that point there was no apparent way of bringing information from two different sources together. Since then, one of the most important things that happened was that a more sophisticated communications system was put in place where things could have been—could be correlated.

In looking at the transcript of communications from two different police cars assigned to two different units, and looking at the time frames of this—to read this, you can see the storm clouds, the two storm clouds coming together. But apparently someone was not in place to be able to see that, or not able to do much about it. So that certainly was something that was corrected.

The presence of the police in all parts of the community has undergone a great deal of change. The police had not been well perceived at that point, and I believe a lot has been accomplished there.

WL:

Could you elaborate on that, I mean the police perceptions, perceptions of the police in the black communities were not positive?

AT:

Not positive—the matter of patrols and whether they were really giving fair treatment to people in all segments of the city. There seemed to be evidence that, that there was reason for concerns that were there. A lot of these concerns were not always expressed, but they certainly did find expression in the aftermath of November '79. And so among many things that we were able to highlight was the need for better community relations as far as the police department was concerned. There was someone with that responsibility who did the work as best he could. But there needed to be much more in the way of sensitivity.

WL:

Was there any conclusions, were there any conclusions that the committee—Citizens Committee—drew about the actual event, the shooting, in terms of its immediate cause or in terms of responsibility for it, or was there any responsibility? Any individuals or groups?

AT:

In July of '79 there was a confrontation at China Grove [North Carolina]. The Klan had a rally at their, at a clubhouse that they owned. And they were showing the film Birth of a Nation. The Worker's Viewpoint Organization at that time—the name eventually became the Communist Worker's Party—disrupted the gathering of the Klan there, and tore down their flag.

And in September of that year there was the announcement of a “Death to the Klan” rally that took place in Greensboro. One of many things that we were amazed at was that there had not been the kind of information from the event in China Grove that would have been helpful to anticipate what was likely to happen, especially when the Worker's Viewpoint Organization publicity challenged the, the Klan members to come to the this “Death to the Klan” rally.

[recorder paused]

WL:

We were talking about the confrontation between the Klan and the Communist Workers Party, and you were mentioning there wasn't information or intelligence on the part of the police here. Is that what you were suggesting?

AT:

Or the state department, the SBI [State Bureau of Investigation]. Looking at all this material in retrospect, all of the signs were there for a violent confrontation. And given the twenty-twenty hindsight, it was easier to see that. This is the kind of information that should have been much more current.

And also, we discovered, our committee discovered, the limitations that the law imposed on what can be done if someone is suspected of having firearms in a car and whether a car can be stopped and, and searched. I think the various ordinances that have developed since have been extremely good in prohibiting firearms and other things that could be used to inflict harm. So there were a lot of, just a lot of gaps in the way the laws were, had developed up to that point and the way they were administered.

The, with the Communist Workers Party, many of these people were labor organizers. And that in itself raises another question with regard to North Carolina history and its relationship to labor unions and whatever antagonisms were there. The fact that they were Communists, that already waved the red flag, literally, for the Ku Klux Klan and for the American Nazi Party. Communists were among those seen as the, the enemies of American society.

WL:

The arch-villains. What was the attitude, based on your review, of local government toward the CWP [Communist Worker's Party]? Were they—obviously there was some interests in their activities. How did they regard the CWP before the shooting?

AT:

I don't think there was that much attention paid to the CWP or the Worker's Viewpoint Organization, WVO, prior to that point. Nelson Johnson had been involved in a number of organizing activities—and that goes back again to the Dudley-A&T thing, [and the] Industries for the Blind episode in the early seventies. So I think there was a good bit of awareness of his activity in setting the stage for things to happen. And the people who were killed November third were among those who were present in China Grove. It seems that they were already known by the Klan-Nazi people.

WL:

To what extent do you think the city had responsibility here—of course this is the subject of extensive litigation—based out of, on your extensive knowledge about the events? Do you think the city was gullible, or do you think it was—obviously mistakes were made, and I may be asking an unfair question, asking you to make a judgment, an essentially legal judgment.

AT:

I don't believe that there was a desire on the part of anyone in the city to have any harm happen. If anything, it might be an indifference, or an assumption, that problems will take care of themselves or—[pause]. It's really hard to judge whether there was a conscious effort on the part of anybody in administration. I doubt it, that there was any conscious effort to create a situation where trouble would actually take place. So if that becomes a basis in judging culpability, I don't know that that would be the cause of it.

I think the attitudes toward race at that time may still have separated large portions of the community from one another. And so things happen, and probably things were viewed with indifference, which so frequently is as much a cause of difficulty. Certainly it was true in Nazi Germany. Some interesting studies about what happened during the Holocaust was that—indicated that there really wasn't as much widespread hatred among the Germans, but there was a good deal of indifference. Things happened, and people simply didn't want to get involved in what was taking place. And people were going about their business and could, with indifference, could very easily be mobilized for any cause that was determined. That's not here, that's Germany.

WL:

Most people are probably indifferent about most things, I suppose, unless they get, they are assaulted with it or it's something, it has something to do with their current condition, something they have to deal with.

AT:

Speaking about the Klan-Nazi thing, I think the city's response to the Klan march several years later was certainly very good. And also Richard Barrett marched with the Klan one or two years after that. So I think a lot was learned about how to respond to any threat that would be issued to the community.

WL:

When you—the committee also looked at the subject of underlying causes. Was there a connection? I've heard the case made by of a number of people that this just happened. Greensboro just happened to be the place where these two groups clashed. The fact that it was in Greensboro was not relevant. Apparently—

AT:

Well, except that Nelson Johnson did live here.

WL:

Yeah. There were underlying causes, your committee felt. Or at least there were conditions that made this possible, problems in the way the city government operated and also the black community functioned, problems within the black community.

AT:

Right, that is correct.

WL:

What, what was the experience of the aftermath of the shooting, in terms of black/white relations? Did they get worse, did they get better or how—

AT:

There was a great deal of work done to bring people together for a very serious discussion about the unfinished business of interpersonal relations in the city. There were a lot of meetings that did take place. And I was very pleased to see that happen and be a part of a lot of what took place—a lot of people who were together and talking in public forums in ways that would have not been possible, that had not been possible before.

There was an urgency to share perceptions and feelings. I think we learned a great deal about perception, and in a sense the reality of perceptions in a community. I think that the black and white community—if such a general term can be used—had different perceptions of how things were going. And the cliché of the glass is half full or half empty is probably as applicable to what the perceptions were in Greensboro about how things were and how things ought to be.

WL:

So you did see a fairly wide gap in perceptions. And I've found in the interviews I've done there's been a fairly significant gap in the way black people see the subject of race relations, and the way white—that's natural, I would think. But you feel that the gap was serious? [unclear]

AT:

The gap was serious, and certainly serious enough to bring lots of people together and to identify organizations and have representatives of various organizations come together—a very conscious effort to do that. I think the event of, or something that was noted in today's paper about the booklet or pamphlet that was published showing the financial report of Greensboro, and the fact that A&T was not represented in this booklet—this is an example of eternal vigilance being the price of liberty. I think it was well done that somebody noted the absence of the, of A&T, which is a major part of the city of Greensboro. And I'm glad that that was in the paper. But this is the kind of thing that needs to be done on a continuing basis. The question of representation on boards such as the Convention Bureau, where that became an issue—I think it's very appropriate. And the city does need to respond to that.

WL:

You were on the Human Relations Commission during this period—this period that you described as a period of very significant evolution, that [unclear] decade of the 1980s. What were some of the big issues that confronted the commission during your tenure?

AT:

The matter of employment opportunities, the matter of housing opportunities that were here, the legislation that would provide for fair housing—these were among the things that we dealt with. Something that had come to the attention of the commission—the stadium where the Greensboro Hornets played had a, it was a plaque listing the names of soldiers who were killed during the First World War. And somebody had brought to the attention of the commission that there was one section that had the title “colored,” referring to the eight or so soldiers who had died in the First World War. Rather than make this a public issue, our decision was to contact the commission, Parks and Recreation Commission, have them be aware of that, and ask that something be done about it. And they did talk about it. A letter was received that they had not been aware of this, and that they outlined what they would do to eliminate the wording and the aging process that would be used in order to have it not be that, that obvious. And I was very pleased that we were able to accomplish that without having it become a news, major news story.

WL:

The divisive issue.

AT:

Right. And that's the kind of thing that needs to be—if there's a problem, it is a—it's very important to look at whatever problems are, are presented, and to try to do something about it. And if possible—and this is a relatively small issue. But it could have been a very difficult issue contributing further conflict in the community.

WL:

What about the question of housing you mentioned? This is obviously a very complicated question, a very difficult question to solve.

AT:

Having housing available for low and moderate income families is an ever present need in the community. And back in the time that I was on the Human Relations Commission, it was a long waiting list for public housing accommodations. The matter of building housing, the latest bond issue will hopefully provide funds from public and private sources that will make low-cost housing available to many more people, even though it's a relatively modest start. I think that the number of facilities that are envisioned at the very outset, or at least based on the projections from the bond issue, would be for perhaps a hundred and twenty-five units. But that would be a start. And I would hope that this would be just the beginning of making low-cost housing available to more families.

The employment opportunities is a—this is something that back in the eighties was still a problem. There were many people who were feeling that they were out of the opportunity for good employment or advancement in employment. And these were among the issues that were brought to us. During our time on the commission we saw a gradual diminishing of the numbers of complaints.

WL:

Overall or employment-related?

AT:

Employment-related. The Human Relations Department, a lot of its work was done not by the commission as a public place, but by way of private contact. The alternative would have been to go to federal courts or federal agencies. And this provided a good community-based resource for solving problems within the community. Many times employment complaints, housing complaints, or any complaints about fairness could be addressed and resolved in the best possible way.

WL:

You mentioned employment-related complaints. Were there high incidence of housing-related complaints or a diminishing—

AT:

During that time there was, but we saw—

WL:

That diminish off.

AT:

—that diminish very nicely. The question of whether the people didn't bring their complaints or whether the problems were there—I guess an assumption was that the problems were always going to be there. And there was constantly an effort to have people aware of the existence of the Human Relations Department and its desire to help solve problems. So there was an effort to publicize the availability of resources in the community.

WL:

Was Greensboro's record on fair housing good, do you think, compared to other North Carolina cities?

AT:

I don't know how it would compare to other places. I think that some other communities did have some fair housing legislation in place before we did. I think we all learned what the process is, where a community has to go through Raleigh, through the state legislature, and then get, have enabling legislation that then makes it possible for the community to make changes. It seems to me that Wilmington was, in so many of these matters, one of the first communities to make major changes in the area, in human relation issues. And there was, there seemed to have been ways of bringing the right people together in Greensboro and Guilford County to have some of the same kind of legislation in place here.

WL:

As a final question, I guess, of our inter[view]—of our conversation, I wonder if you'd mind elaborating a little bit more on how you think relations between blacks and whites have changed, to what extent they've gotten better. I gather you're optimistic about it.

AT:

I am optimistic.

WL:

How they've gotten better, and perhaps what you see the future being, the next twenty years in this community.

AT:

I think the work that's been done in the public schools, for example, is extremely important in bringing blacks and whites together. There are many more blacks in prominent positions of leadership in our Greensboro public schools than ever before. And they are, the blacks who are in position are extraordinarily good. They are good, and it's worked very, very well. So this is something that the color factor may not even be thought of. But I know that things of that sort do not happen by accident.

I think the, looking ahead, the question of what will happen with the county schools, between the county schools and the city schools, may be one of the most important issues that this community is going to have to look at and plan for. [phone rings] There are people coming from various areas where populations are not as diversified as they are in the city of Greensboro. And the issue of merger of facilities may, that may very well be one of the big things that will be on the horizon.

The matter of low cost housing [interruption]. I think that the matter of housing is going to be a continuing issue. The matter of neighborhood redevelopment—there are a lot of buildings in the city that are eyesores. And this was something that I really learned about in this process of preparing for the bond issue. The city did get passage of the bond that will enable redevelopment to take place. And I hope that that—you know, it's so early, but I hope that the city will deliver on the promises that were made in connection with the bond issue. And so, I think this is going to be very important in many of the neighborhoods in our community.

The city administration, I think, has made an extremely conscious effort to develop good race relations. The professional community certainly has, the legal and medical communities. And I think that all of that is very good, but I think that we can, we might wind up taking a lot of these things for granted. Again, I come back to the phrase, “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” that these are the kinds of things that need to be monitored on a continuing basis, and that wherever complaints are made, they should be listened to and addressed. And the perceptions still, for many, become—perception becomes reality. And until perception is changed, it's a problem that needs to be addressed. And I think that this may be, this ought to be in the consciousness of the city, especially as it looks to its economic development and physical development as time goes by.

A lot of work is being done in building the physical structures in our city. And I think a lot of work also needs to be done to build, continue to build good human relations within the city. I am hopeful with regards to that, and especially since I've been able to see so much that's been accomplished in the past twenty years and the direction in which a lot of that is moving. The feelings are positive along with the accomplishment. In other words, you don't have the negative offhanded comments about things that are happening that may have been so in another day and time.

I've been very pleased, one of the things that—I've been one of the Who's Who judges, and Who's Who Among—or Youth of the Month judges. And it's been wonderful to see the diversity of children who are nominated for Youth of the Month and for Who's Who, and to see that as a very natural kind of thing. I think that is a very good thing.

WL:

That's been opening up a little bit more, or a lot more, I gather.

[End of Interview]