[reading] Young people of today have no conception as to what some of the pioneers for social justice encountered in bringing to fruition the few privileges they now enjoy. I shall give only a few incidents and activities to prevent my going on endlessly.
Yes, we have come a long way in bettering human relations in Greensboro, in achieving dignity and deserved respect since that Thanksgiving weekend in 1942 when I paid my fare, mounted the bus, took the last short seat in the back of the bus. Upon our arrival in Burlington [North Carolina], two white men who reeked with the smell of liquor came aboard the overcrowded bus. The driver demanded that I get up for them. I refused.
When we reached Graham, two policemen with clubs came aboard and asked, “Where is that nigger woman?” I did not want to be beaten nor maimed in any way, and at that time it was not fashionable to go to jail. Then, too, I had to work. It was the most humiliating experience of my life as I stood all the way to Raleigh.
Upon my return to Greensboro, I related the harrowing episode to Mrs. Martha Sebastian, a member of the Interracial Forum. I talked with my principal and with two organizations. In each instance I was told that if I wanted to keep my job, it was best for me to keep quiet about the incident.
During these turbulent years, there was a complaint that much delinquency existed in a section of Warnersville. Dr. [William] Hampton, Mr. E.E. Smith, Mr. Goldsboro[?], and I were appointed to a committee to meet with the Community Chest Board to help plead for a recreational center. I said to the group that while our children come home to a latchkey situation, their parents are taking care of your children and preparing your meals. And our children have nowhere else to go but in the street. If they had a center where they could be disciplined, I am sure the crime rate or the delinquency rate would be less. We worked tenaciously for this cause to get a recreational center in Warnersville and finally it became a realized fact.
A little later on, another problem presented itself. Duke Power planned to cut out some of the bus schedules in our community, particularly on Asheboro, which is now Martin Luther King Drive, and Gorrell Street. All the people who were there represented, numbered just three Negroes. Al White, my husband S.C. Smith, and I went to the hearing and protested to the effect that the Warnersville children would have no other way to get to school. Our appeal was not considered until I stated that the domestic workers in this area could not get to their jobs on time if some morning schedules were lessened. [coughs] Those schedules were not changed.
At one of the Interracial Forum meetings, the Community Chest, which is now the United Way, requested that the Forum voluntarily withdraw itself as an agency of the Chest, because some of the small business companies said they would no longer support the Community Chest if the Chest continued to allot the small sum of twenty-five dollars a year for supplies for a mixed group. My retort to them that night was, “It is like asking me to put my head on the chopping block.”
The next day, the daily paper quoted me in boldface type. This frightened me. I became apprehensive as to whether someone would throw a rock against into [unclear—tape malfunction] The interracial group did not voluntarily withdraw. The Community Chest dropped the interracial group.
I feel duty bound to name some of the white unsung heroes who were[unclear—tape malfunction] acts of strength during these turbulent times. Betsy and John R. Taylor, Dr. and Mrs. Herschel [Beatrice] Folger, the Warren Ashbys, who taught at UNCG [The University of North Carolina at Greensboro], Dr. and Mrs. Franklin Parker, who now is teaching [unclear—tape malfunction]. Dr. and Mrs. Herschel Folger—I said them. The Bardolphs—Dorothy Bardolph is now on city council [unclear—tape malfunction]. Mary Taft [Tass?] Smith, Mary Francis Smith, Linda Richter[?] of Davie Street YMCA [Young Men Christian Association], Anna Seaburg[?], Mrs. Leon Ellis[?], Masie Levinson[?], Louise Broom[?], Heddie B. Harstook[?], and others. These dedicated Christians cooperated and supported us in tilling the soil and planting the seeds for a better climate here.
One example of our work together was this. Vance Chavis and Dr. Richard Bardolph as a team, Mary Taft Smith and Angeline Smith as a team went from store to store pleading for colored and white signs to be removed from the above drinking fountains. Several unpleasant incidents occurred at the now nonexistent Meyer's Department Store.
For instance, I wanted to purchase a shirt for our son. When I asked the clerk to let me see those on the shelf, her reply was, “There are some shirts on that table.” When I kept insisting to see the others, she said to another clerk, “Niggers don't know what they want,” after which she asked my name.
I said, “Mrs. Smith.”
She said, “What is your first name?”
I said, “Mrs. S.C. Smith.”
She replied, “We don't call niggers 'Mrs.'.”
I went immediately to the manager's office. Since I had been there before, Mr. Joseph T. Martin and his secretary, Miss Spencer, knew me. I related the incident. When he asked, “Which clerk was it?” I could not say a thing other than, “It was the one with the red hair.”
The next time my husband and I went to Meyer's, the young man who was parking lot attendant said, “Oh, Mr. Smith. Your wife caused Mr. Martin to become so upset that he called all of us in and told us to call everybody either Mr. or Mrs.”
During those same times, innumerable colored teachers, as they were called at that particular time, and others from neighboring cities would spend their Saturdays shopping in the Greensboro stores, especially at Meyer's. They were faced with a lack of decent restroom and dining facilities. [African American dentist] George Simkins asked the AKA [Alpha Kappa Alpha] sorority to send a representative to talk with Mr. Martin. The sorority sent me.
Prior to the first meeting with Mr. Martin about this particular matter, I checked the facilities in the basement designed for colored. This room served as a storage place for mops, brooms, buckets, et cetera. When I went upstairs to the restroom and lounge for white ladies, the maid said to me, “You can't go in there. The one for you is in the basement.” I went in anyway and counted everything in there: lounging chairs, magazine racks, floor lamps, wall-to-wall carpeting, and everything else.
All this information was presented to Mr. Martin. I said that colored patronage of Meyer's Department Store goes a long way to keeping this store open and added most of the affluent white people shop in New York. He promised that the situation would be improved. A few weeks later, Miss Spencer called and asked me to come and see the new facilities for colored. Only a Coke machine and a Nabs dispenser had been added. The brooms, mops, and buckets were still there.
A few months later the store sponsored a showing of new equipment, stoves and Frigidaires. The newspaper advertisement said, “Sorry, no accommodations for colored.”
The NAACP [The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] and other organizations decided to engage in economic pressure by withdrawing their charge accounts. This hurt the store very much. The business manager with whom I had talked previously about that ad, and he had given me the run-around, called one night and said the store would have a showing just for colored. My reply to her was that we were not interested in what they were showing, because when money goes into your cash register it knows no color. The economic squeeze continued until continued conditions began to change.
Then there were other problems facing us. The media always had a flimsy excuse for failing to project positive images of Negroes, or to publicize noteworthy events or activities of our schools and community. Mr. Shepherd of the Daily News called my principal and told him to fire me. The principal said, “Mr. Shepherd, you, too, are a public servant, just as Mrs. Smith is. You [unclear—tape malfunction].”
Another courageous white person came to my rescue as I endured the slings and arrows of [unclear—coughing]. The lady was Kate Garner, former director of Family Life Council in Greensboro. Several of us by this time had sold dinners and had engaged in other projects in order to get a building for the Pearson Street branch of the YWCA [Young Women's Christian Association] for our children. This was a struggle which only those who shared in it would understand. The building is now used as a halfway house.
Later on, meetings were being held at Betsy Taylor's home frequently, concerning plans for desegregating the schools and the YWCA. The same starlet unsung heroes joined the efforts of the NAACP with the determination to change the existing conditions in Greensboro.
In 1953, a group of white women asked me to speak on the subject, “Implications to be Expected If the Supreme Court Hands Down the Decision to Desegregate Public Schools, and If So, What Can Teachers Do to Help?” The same group asked me to cut short my planned summer vacation to stand in the receiving line at Davie Street YWCA during a reception. This was a first. At the reception, a lady said, “This is the first time I have ever seen [unclear—tape malfunction].” My reply to her was, “Well, you have missed a lot.”
As we began to put into action our plans, we encountered threats, epithets being hurled at our children, bricks being thrown through our windows, unethical handbills being passed around, and lurid letters being sent to us. Fear tactics were engaged in by rabble rousers. George Simkins, the resolute, zealous, tenacious man of our NAACP, was harassed by being sent loads of eggs, a multiplicity of flowers, and other things which he had never ordered.
During these turbulent times, we marched under threats of being burned by lighted cigars and so forth. We were kicked, shoved, and spat on. One night as we marched on Elm Street past the Mayfair Cafeteria where [owner] Boyd Morris had kept Jessie Jackson from entering, if I had not pushed a Bennett [College] girl almost to the pavement, she would have been burned by a man standing in a nook near Brownhill's store.
Yes, we have made strides over the years. The NAACP has been a stronghold which has peered into the darkness of envy, prejudice, and the weaknesses of our land. At present, the NAACP is still on the alert and can be attested to some recent happenings.
We have not fully overcome yet. Can you imagine that a council member said to me the other day, “Angie, just look what we have given you.”
I said, “Please tell me what.”
He said “We've given you the district system.”
I said—and my reply to him was, “You did not give that to us. We started working on that before you were even born.” And we laughed, the two of us laughed, because we did start working on a ward system in 1968. It is now known as the district system.
We as Afro-Americans must fully consider action in advocating justice, peace, freedom, economic stability, quality education, fair housing practices, rights and privileges to enjoy all the essential things conducive to a wholesome and good life. Despite the trials, tribulations and vicissitudes, we have kept the faith. We have kept our fight before us, we have endured, and so far we have triumphed unscathed by it.
The [unclear—tape malfunction] have had some positive effects and changed some attitudes. All of the hardships and many of the struggles paved the way for the four young men who sought our counseling prior to the sit-in movement which reverberated around the world. We have not overcome completely. Our trials are far from being over. We are still being systematically bypassed in being appointed and elected to policy-making boards and high-paying jobs. It seems to be an eternal struggle in our lives to attain the things which we so rightfully deserve. We stand by and rest upon these deep victories.
Remainder of interview recording has significant slippage, causing large parts of the interview to be missing or unintelligible, and is therefore not online. To view a complete transcript of this interview, please contact University Archives.